Werewolves Got Bite
When it comes to horror sub-genres, “creature features” are a favorite of many, and one can break down that sub-genre into other segments, like a centipede, human or otherwise, if you prefer. But the hairiest of them all – besides King Kong and Mighty Joe Young, of course – are tales of werewolves.
This is not a personal favorite because of the limitations of the beast in recalling who it had annihiliated in the wake of a full moon; the notion of the full moon itself because even if the satellite is not full, the moon is still present with its gravitational pulling power; and since silver is so prevalent and realitively easy to come by, it’s not too difficult to take out a weremonster on the silver screen, no less.
Sympathy for the Hairy Devil
The central element of most forays into wolfdom involves a “good man” who becomes the “bad beast.” In this case, the individual has given up humanity, a consideration for others, and becomes a cannibal or tooth-and-claw shredding machine relying on base instincts. The beast within is our animal instincts made real. It’s as if we’ve gone back 2.8 million years to our hairy ancestors, the Homo Habilis, who stood on two legs in the continent of Africa, and had to navigate the world’s dangers in order to achieve “survival of the fittest” mega-status. This is undoubtedly why most motion pictures depict Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Mr. Hyde” as a primitive and often hairy man. After all, we don’t want Mr. Hyde to look like the rest of us because that means we’re all bad. Dr. Jekyll’s alter evil is the base form of humanity giving into the dark side of the self we often choose not to express.
Like Mr. Hyde, the human turned werewolf isn’t just bad to the bone, but wears its evil on the outside: hairy, pointed ears, larger nose, and gnashing teeth (Hyde also has some kind of deformity). It’s visual proof that this character is to be avoided at all costs.
Why Eight is Gr8
What follows is a list of the top eight werewolf films ever made to date. Why not the average top ten? Because this is it. The rest are 3 stars or less out of five, and that doesn’t make the cut. And that’s because most werewolf movies rank really low due to weak storytelling that usually involves someone (a guy mostly), who either becomes a werewolf from a bite, or who already is one, but either does or doesn’t know it, or someone thinks he is and can’t prove it… Well, you know the story. The clichés are virtually endless – as well as the disappointment. But what follows are great looking films with twists to the tried, true, and tropey, that make us embrace the wolf like Seth Green’s Oz in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and keep us free from a trap:
The Wolf Man (1941) – 3.5 stars
The hairy grandwolf of them all, because the 1913 silent, The Werewolf had been destroyed in Universal’s 1924 fire, George Waggner’s tale from the pen of Curt Siodmak features Lon Chaney Jr. as the tragic Larry Talbot (the surname means an extinct dog with large ears). Larry’s a pragmatic soul who doesn’t heed the warnings of “you can’t go home” and ends up being bitten by a wolf. He becomes the monster, the wolf man, and his demise, his fall from humanity is one of the saddest stories in all of horror.
Late Phases (2014) – 3.5 stars
If anyone should have been nominated for best actor in 2014, it was Don Damici for his portrayal of the elderly and blind veteran, Ambrose McKinley. Bitter about his move to a retirement community, he’s soon concerned that people aren’t dying of old age, but from “dog attacks” in the neighborhood. Like a famed blind samurai, McKinley stakes his ground and fights back – hard. As a writer, Eric Stolze delivered something different than the usual youthful fare.
Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004) – 3.5 stars
Ever see a werewolf film based on a true story? Sure we had Brotherhood of the Wolf, but that went right off the rails. Elena Serra and Alberto Marini deliver the story of Romasanta, Spain’s first recorded serial killer, who killed thirteen women in the mid-1800s and turned them into soap (Fight Club made real). He avoided “death by garrotte” mostly due to his statement that he was a werewolf. In the film, Julian Sands plays the man who wooed women to their demise in Paco Plaza’s dramatic horror.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) – 4 stars
This masterful horror/comedy from writer/director John Landis, with phenomenal special make-up effects from guru Rick Baker, tells the story of David Kessler, played by David Naughton, who should have listened to the locals and stayed indoors. Instead, he heads out, gets attacked by a werewolf, and… Well, the rest is up to you. The narrative took the sad sack story of 1941’s The Wolf Man and made it more introspective, yet maybe just as sad.
Wolf Cop (2014) – 4 stars
After winning $1 million in a contest to make an independent film, writer/director Lowell Dean delivers the over-the-top story of Lou Garou, portrayed by Leo Fafard, who’s a drunken bum of a cop, but when fur hits the fan, steps up and finally does the right thing to save his town, and maybe even himself. If you want a fun ride, this one will leave you howling at the moon.
Howl (2015) – 4 stars
Coming out of nowhere, if Train to Busan is the best zombie film on the rails, take a ride on Paul Hyett’s train to Furtown where the werewolves come straight out of Creep City to punch your ticket. Ed Speeler’s is Joe, an attendee of spineless proportions who doesn’t want to step up and engage in the hero’s journey. He’s checking tickets and using his best customer service skills to keep ticked off passengers at bay, when the amazing Sean Pertwee, in a cameo as the driver, hits a deer and brings the train to a halt – and then all Hell breaks loose.
Ginger Snaps (2000) – 5 stars
Hard to believe that so long ago the horror world came face to face with Emily Perkins, Kris Lemche, and Katherine Isabelle, whose careers were launched from a coming of age parable in bloody wolf form. This very dark comedy of perfect proportions features two death worshipping who want to keep womanhood and the world at bay, but end up fighting against everything they ever wished for.
Dog Soldiers (2002) – 5 stars
Sean Pertwee leads his boys on a military exercise in the Scottish Highlands, only to discover that the drill is definitely over when werewolves come out to play and decimate his squad. Kevin McKidd stands tall, and with his breathren, do everything imaginable to truly keep the wolves at bay. Neil Marshall’s amazing film captures a military unit at its realistic best and keeps us rocking on a gut-ripping ride of action, mystery, suspense, and a ton of carnage.
No, I didn’t forget lycanthropes of The Howling, Wolfen, Silver Bullet, or The Company of Wolves. They just didn’t have enough bite. Underworld and Monster Squad didn’t make it because the onus was on the vampire who led werewolves around on sometimes invisible leashes. But what do you think of this list? And what are your favorite big teeth, big eyes, and hairy beast movies? Let me know and we’ll chat about it.
Billy Crash (aka William D. Prystauk) loves great in depth characters and storytelling in horror, and likes to see heads roll, but if you kill a dog on screen he’ll cry like a baby. Billy co-hosts THE LAST KNOCK horror podcast on iTunes, and can also be found on Twitter, LinkedIn, IMDb, Amazon, and his professional website.
(Photo of Dog Soldiers Buffy from Dog Soldiers Wikia.)