- 13 Must-See Werewolf Movies
- 13. Cursed (2005)
- 12. La Noche de Walpurgis aka The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1970)
- 11. The Wolfman (2010)
- 10. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
- 9. Wolf (1994)
- 8. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
- 7. The Company of Wolves (1984)
- 6. Dog Soldiers (2002)
- 5. Ginger Snaps (2000)
- 4. Werewolf of London (1935)
- 3. The Howling (1981)
- 2. The Wolf Man (1941)
- 1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
- Underworld Lycan Costume Mannequin
- Custom mannequin display for an original foam latex Underworld Lycan costume from the Rise of the Lycans film.
- Underworld Movie Prop & Costume Auction
- Watch Werewolf (1996)
- Introduction: Pale Moon Rising
- Chapter 1: The First Bite
- Chapter 2: The Wolf as Universal Archetype
- Chapter 3: Howling Every Since the World Began
- Chapter 5: Luna Llena
- Chapter 9: Hi-Ho, Silver
- Chapter 10: The Wolfsbane Blooms
- Chapter 13: Mark of the Beast
- Appendix 1—The Oddballs
- Appendix 2
13 Must-See Werewolf Movies
It seems that high profile werewolf movies are in short supply these days, doesn’t it? When you’re talking horror movies, there’s plenty of zombies to be had, vampires aren’t going anywhere, and slasher films will always come back into fashion.
But werewolves? They’re not so lucky. Maybe it’s because they seem to require a little more of a budget, and some proper special effects wizardry to make those transformations really pop. CGI werewolves just won’t cut it.
There have been a few signs of furry life recently, with fare like Wolfcop, Late Phases, and Wolves starting to pop up around the various full moons. But it feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had a golden age of werewolf movies. What do you call a batch of werewolf movies, anyway? Should we call them a pack?
Anyway, here are 13 distinctly different werewolf movies, each with something to offer, whether it’s incredible transformations, gratuitous gore, or unsettling imagery. Let us know your favorites, too!
13. Cursed (2005)
Director: Wes Craven
The Weinsteins and Wes Craven present…a werewolf movie that is a pretty unsubtle metaphor for adolescence, sex, and STDs. Cursed is an utterly ridiculous film, apparently edited with a hatchet, that boasts some half-decent special effects. There is a far more watchable unrated version available for the home releases.
So why the hell did Cursed even make the cut? Simple…it contains the single most hilarious scene of an enraged werewolf flipping the bird that has ever been put on screen. It makes the previous 70 minutes or so totally worth it.
Watch Cursed on Amazon
12. La Noche de Walpurgis aka The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1970)
Director: Leon Klimovsky
Why is this one “essential,” especially when most of it plays more like a vampire film than a werewolf one? Well, it’s that rare werewolf gem, the “werewolf with a heart of gold” flick. Sure, most folks afflicted with lycanthropy are tortured, good people at heart…they don’t WANT to turn into ravenous lupine killing machines every time the moon is full.
read more: The Unseen Horor Movies of Paul Naschy
But Waldemar Dalninsky (played by Paul Naschy, and this is the FOURTH film in the seemingly endless Dalninsky werewolf franchise!) decides to make the best of his situation and take out the vampiric Countess Darvula de Nadasdy. Atmospheric, bloody, and with a soundtrack that sounds like outtakes from early Pink Floyd records, this one is a fine way to waste a full moon.
Watch The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman on Amazon
11. The Wolfman (2010)
Director: Joe Johnston
Despite getting a hard time from critics (and fans) Joe Johnston’s Wolfman (a remake of the classic Wolf Man film from 1941 starring Lon Chaney Jr.) deserves a second look. While guilty of some bizarre performances from Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, the film does boast some terrific Universal-style atmosphere, and some great old-school Rick Baker werewolf make-up.
Those long shadows, run-down castles full of cobwebs, and moonlit forests, Universal hallmarks and homages to be sure, got enough blood, spatter, and decapitations added to the mix to make Hammer Films proud (and then some!)
Danny Elfman’s great (if controversial and possibly incomplete) old-school monster movie score completes the picture, and it’s a fun late October treat, despite the ill-advised final act.
Watch The Wolfman on Amazon
10. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Director: Terence Fisher
To be honest, Curse of the Werewolf is kinda tedious. Setting the film in Spain in the 1700s is an odd enough choice for a werewolf flick, which traditionally seems more at home in northern and eastern european locales. With it’s really, really extended “werewolf origin story” Curse of the Werewolf sure takes its sweet ass time.
read more: 14 Unmade Hammer Horror Movies Films
So why is it here? Simple. Makeup. The werewolf design in this film takes a page from Jack Pierce’s Wolf Man playbook and then bulks it up, turning Oliver Reed into an imposing beast, with plenty of blood dripping from his mouth. Still, this one has a strangely low body count for a Hammer film, but as the legendary horror studio’s only foray into the werewolf legend, it absolutely makes the cut.
Watch Curse of the Werewolf on Amazon
9. Wolf (1994)
Director: Mike Nichols
Three names add up to why Wolf, a sometimes unremarkable film, make the cut: Rick Baker, Jack Nicholson, and Ennio Morricone…not necessarily in that order. This is one of those “slow turn” werewolf movies, where the unfortunate lycanthrope starts off by exhibiting some relatively minor changes before the full-on change happens, and in the meantime, we get some subtle (yet utterly convincing!) Rick Baker make-up put on display.
read more – Wolf: A Werewolf Movie With a Secret Identity
Lycanthropy as a puberty metaphor is as common as dirt, but lycanthropy as a midlife crisis metaphor? Seems legit. We can forgive the ending (which is, admittedly, crapola) simply because it’s great to have our suspicions confirmed and to see Jack Nicholson drop the facade that he’s a mere mortal and just become the werewolf we’ve all known that he is for years. Seriously…does anybody think this one was a hard sell for ol’ Jack?
Watch Wolf on Amazon
8. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Director: Roy William Neill
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the direct sequel to Universal’s iconic 1941 The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. as well as Ghosts of Frankenstein (which also saw Chaney in the lead…as the Frankenstein monster this time). While it’s certainly not the finest entry in the Universal horror catalog, it’s notable for Larry Talbot’s resurrection, and another tormented, miserable, put-this-poor-bastard-out-of-his-misery performance by Chaney as Talbot looks for a way to end his tortured existence.
read more: It’s Alive! 13 Forgotten Frankenstein Films
If the plight of those cursed with lycanthropy isn’t obvious enough to you, look at it this way: Larry Talbot was quite happy to consult with Doctor Ludwig Fucking Frankenstein just so he could die in peace. Bela Lugosi in the Frankenstein monster makeup completes the utterly bonkers picture.
Watch Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man on Amazon
7. The Company of Wolves (1984)
Director: Neil Jordan
Neil Jordan’s second film (a decade or so before he went in with the fanged set for Interview With The Vampire) is an eerie, surprisingly gory take on the Little Red Riding Hood story…with extra red and werewolves a-plenty. Bonus points for the inclusion of Batman (1989) production designer Anton Furst and his foggy, claustrophobic fairy tale forest.
read more: 13 Essential Mummy Movies
Based on Angela Carter’s short story, The Company of Wolves is fraught with symbolism and portent…but doesn’t skimp on the skin-shedding body horror when it’s time to make the switch from human to wolf.
Watch The Company of Wolves on Amazon
6. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
Dog Soldiers is essentially a Night of the Living Dead style “stay in the cabin while the monsters swarm outside” piece of horror. But with werewolves. And soldiers. And some genuinely cringe-inducing bits of gore (the disembowelment scene and subsequent surgery spring immediately to mind).
read more: The Best Modern Horror Movies
Ah, but there’s more to it than that. The creepy and awkward tall werewolf designs add to the “beast that walks on two legs” vibe, and the film displays an atypical sense of humor, tempering its violence with the barest hint of Looney Tunes at just the right moments. There’s no tortured soul-searching here, just lycanthropic madness at its most mindless…and fun.
Watch Dog Soldiers on Amazon
5. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
Ah, the old lycanthropy-as-puberty metaphor. Nobody (no, not even Teen Wolf) has ever done it as well as Ginger Snaps. Ginger Snaps gives viewers the slow turn that lasts throughout the movie, interspersing the scares and body horror with the occasional surreal chuckle. Strong performances by Katharine Isabelle as the titular Ginger and Emily Perkins as her sister help to elevate what might otherwise have been a more conventional horror flick.A traditionally tragic werewolf movie ending completes the picture, and Ginger Snaps holds up extraordinarily well under repeated viewings.
read more: The Best Horror Movies on Netflix
Bonus points for making parents’ groups uncomfortable around the time of its release!
Watch Ginger Snaps on Amazon
4. Werewolf of London (1935)
Director: Stuart Walker
It took a little longer for Hollywood to catch on to the appeal of werewolves, and despite successful (and closely bunched) Dracula and Frankenstein films from Universal in 1931, Werewolf of London didn’t go on the prowl until 1935.
When folks think about the classic Universal Monster lineup, they inevitably think of Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein, and Chaney’s Wolf Man as the unholy trinity. The thing is, Henry Hull beat ol’ Lon to the punch by a solid six years. Featuring make-up by Jack Pierce (he of Frankenstein, not to mention 1941’s Wolf Man fame), Hull’s werewolf boasts a Tibetan origin, a massive underbite, and a progressively more beastly transformation throughout the film.
Watch Werewolf of London on Amazon
3. The Howling (1981)
Director: Joe Dante
Joe Dante’s hip, self-aware adaptation of Gary Brandner’s novel is about as much fun as you’re likely to have on any given full moon. Worth it for all the wolf and horror in-jokes scattered throughout the film alone (including cameos from Roger Corman and Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman), The Howling ultimately delivers even more via Pino Donaggio’s note-perfect classic horror movie score and Rob Bottin’s impressive pre-CGI make-up effects.
The Howling may be a product of its cultural moment with its digs at new age, post-hippie California culture, but it’s also a love letter to the werewolf movies of the past and a fine horror film in its own right. You can skip the sequels. OK, maybe you should watch Howling II. Or maybe not. Your call.
Watch The Howling on Amazon
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
Director: George Waggner
“Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.”
For that poem alone, The Wolf Man would earn its place in the pantheon of films about lycanthropy. The Wolf Man, despite a rather glacial pace at the outset, owes it all to Lon Chaney Jr and Claude Raines’ sympathetic performances, Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup, and the incredible score, which is one of the best you’ll find in monster movies! For a film that doesn’t feature a single on-camera man-to-wolf transformation, The Wolf Man is still the template by which most others are judged.
And from a modern standpoint, keep in mind that it was The Wolf Man that managed to create the very first cinematic universe. No, seriously. Larry Talbot was the Agent Coulson of his day.
Watch The Wolf Man on Amazon
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director: John Landis
There are plenty of individual elements that make An American Werewolf in London the indispensable werewolf movie. The fantastic retro rock n’ roll soundtrack of songs about the moon, the “traditional” horror movie elements, the Universal atmosphere during the opening sequence (that it subverts with humor), and the smart, lively script.
But when it comes right down to it, we can boil this all down to one scene. Thanks to the (well deserved) Oscar-winning makeup effects by the legendary Rick Baker, David’s first complete transformation into a beast is done completely on-camera, with every agonizing moment, from head to toe (and his horrific screams) set to the soothing sounds of Sam Cooke.
It has to be seen to be believed…and it has never been matched.
Watch an American Werewolf in London on Amazon
Mike Cecchini is the Editor in Chief of Den of Geek. You can read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @wayoutstuff.
I’ve always been fascinated with Werewolves. From a young age, my mother would tell stories of distant relatives who swore that they occasionally had to fend these monsters off of their farms using rock salt, and I’d eat it all up (I guess life is more fun when you’re five years old). Hell, one of my first toys was a knock-off Wolfman action-figure that would eventually be destroyed by an actual canine. I guess my point is: Werewolves are awesome, and I get why we’ve been telling stories about them since the dawn of civilization.
Over the millennia, tales of Wolfmen and women have been used as everything from metaphors for puberty to physical manifestations of man’s animal nature, but there’s always been a common thread of tragedy reoccurring throughout all these tales, ironically making the Werewolf one of the most human monsters in mythology.
Of course, this makes for some great horror movie material, which is why Werewolves have howled on the big screen since the very beginning of cinema (in fact, most of the modern mythology surrounding these monsters was actually popularized by films as opposed to literature like most other monsters). However, with so many lycanthrope-centric films out there, I figured it was about time we tried ranking some of the best in a comprehensive list.
Naturally, there are a few rules, as we’re limiting the list to one entry per franchise, and the movies must focus on Werewolf monsters exclusively (though I still love the Lycans in the Underworld films).
So, without further ado, here are 12 of the Best Werewolf Movies, Ranked!
12. The Wolfman (2010)
After the Dark Universe debacle, if any studio announced a practical-effects-driven period-piece featuring the talents of Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins and a very inspired Danny Elfman meant as a loving homage to one of Universal’s most beloved monsters, people would be losing their damned minds! That’s why I find it so strange that folks tend to forget about 2010’s incarnation of The Wolfman.
Sure, the film bares a few scars due to the copious amounts of studio-mandated cuts and reshoots, and the script would have benefited from a bit more polish, but Joe Johnston’s love-letter to the monster movies of yore is still a riveting ride with an appropriately old-school creature and entertaining set-pieces. All in all, it’s good fun, though I do wish they would have handled that final brawl a little better, and the CGI hasn’t aged all that well.
11. Late Phases
One of the more recent entries on this list, Adrián García Bogliano’a Late Phases is a surprisingly emotional and unconventional take on the Boy who cried Wolf trope. Although, in this case, the boy is a blind military veteran confined to an incredulous elderly community, and he just so happens to be right about the Wolf!
Dealing with an isolated protagonist (played to perfection by Stake Land‘s Nick Damici), Late Phases is a poignant exploration of disability, old age and the inevitability of death. The Werewolf might not look all that impressive, at least for my taste, and the film can get bogged down with a few extraneous scenes, but it ultimately marches towards a truly heart-wrenching finale, earning its place on this list.
If you’ve ever wanted to see Jack Nicholson in his prime, peeing on a co-star in order to assert his dominance, then have I got the movie for you! Other than Nicholson, Mike Nichol’s Wolf also boasts the talents of Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Plummer and even the musical prowess of Ennio Morricone in a savage satire of corporate America.
The runtime is a bit bloated and the film doesn’t really offer anything new in terms of Werewolf plots, but the overall story (especially the romance) is still very well executed, and you can’t deny the talent going on both sides of the camera. The monster itself is rather old-school in this outing, with Nicholson’s makeup and performance harkening back to a more nuanced version of Lon Chaney Jr, but it’s the subtleties that make this movie worth a watch.
9. Silver Bullet
Stephen King’s love of B-movies has been responsible for several classic films, and though Dan Attias’s Silver Bullet isn’t exactly among the best of them, it serves as a loving homage to the low-budget monster flicks that King grew up with, while also standing on its own as a fun little Werewolf flick.
Featuring the classic Stephen King setup of a string of mysterious deaths in a small town in Maine, the film focuses on a pair of siblings (the wheelchair-bound Marty and his sister Jane, who eventually becomes the narrator of the story) that wind up in the middle of these horrific events. At times, the film does feel like a self-parody with its exaggerated characters and situations (not to mention an extremely bear-like Werewolf), but I think Ebert said it best in his review of the flick when he claimed: “I think every laugh was put in lovingly, by hand.”
Half man, half wolf, all cop! That’s all you need to know about this schlocky Canadian creature-feature that’s as much a hyper-gory monster flick as it is a charming super-hero origin story. Lowell Dean’s script is smart enough not to take itself too seriously while still presenting us with memorable characters and clever quips in a movie that’s not afraid to be fun for fun’s sake.
Leo Fafard is perfectly cast as our misanthropic/lycanthropic protagonist, but both he and the film really take off once the impressive transformation takes place and Lou Garou (yes, even the main character’s name is a werewolf pun) embarks on a face-ripping quest for justice. While WolfCop leaves you wanting more Canadian Werewolf antics, it’s a shame that the cleverly titled sequel (Another WolfCop) isn’t quite on par with the original.
7. Bad Moon
Humankind’s turbulent relationship with canines is one of the greatest examples of the duality of our species. From fearing and actively hunting wolves in the wilderness to welcoming furry little friends into our families, it’s no surprise that our relationship with dogs would eventually become the focal point of a Werewolf movie. With Bad Moon, based on Wayne Smith’s novel Thor, director Eric Red puts the family dog in the spotlight as the only character who can sense a visiting uncle’s dark secret.
While having a dog as the main character sounds like a silly idea on paper (and the film does occasionally devolve into a Beethoven-esque family picture), it actually works remarkably well, adding another level of suspense due to the animal’s failure to communicate. A lovable dog also makes for an automatically compelling protagonist (at least for dog people like myself), especially during the surprisingly brutal fight sequences. The infected uncle is also portrayed as a sympathetic figure, wishing to overcome his condition through his sister and nephew’s love, making for an unexpectedly complex antagonist in this story about family, loyalty and redemption.
Just make sure that you see the improved Director’s Cut if you’re going to check this one out!
6. Dog Soldiers
Despite the studio interference that seems to have sabotaged the recent Hellboy, I was first in line to defend Neil Marshall as an inspired choice to helm the Mignola-approved reboot. Look no further than Dog Soldiers for proof of Marshall’s mastery of action-horror, as the film chronicles the struggles of a military squad out on a training mission in the Scottish wilderness. Naturally, the mission goes awry when the group is besieged by a pack of vicious Werewolves.
From several memorable quips (there is no Spoon!) to the terrifying Werewolf designs, Dog Soldiers is a worthy addition to the Werewolf movie canon, and it even features one of my personal favorite narrative conventions, with the film mostly takes place during a single horrific night. The Scottish accents and expressions might require subtitles to be understood by some, but that’s a small price to pay for such a kick-ass film.
5. The Company of Wolves
Wolves are no strangers to Fairy-Tales, having been featured in cautionary stories since the dawn of time, so it’s no surprise that there’s an entire anthology film about them. In Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, we’re are faced with captivating retellings of nearly every classic wolf story, from the seductive to the terrifying, all filled to the brim with dreamlike atmosphere and impressive effects work.
Some viewers might find the surreal imagery and hypnotic storytelling a little hard to digest, but the unusual presentation somehow fits the film’s captivating weirdness. There are a few slower segments throughout the story, but this is one of those movies that you experience rather than watch, and it’s well worth the price of admission.
4. Ginger Snaps
Nowadays, teen dramas featuring supernatural creatures are almost instinctively compared to the likes of Twilight, but a lot of people tend to forget that we’ve had some legitimately good coming-of-age stories that just so happened to involve monsters and teenagers. John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps is among the best of these films, using a Werewolf infection as a metaphor for puberty and the inevitable curse of growing up.
The moody soundtrack and atmosphere, in addition to memorable performances by both Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle, make this quirky Canadian flick stand out as a surprisingly poignant look at sisterhood and the hellish trials of high school. The film was eventually followed by two sequels, and though it is a case of diminishing returns, both are worth a watch if you’d like to see more of the ill-fated Fitzgerald sisters.
3. The Howling
While Gremlins might be Joe Dante’s most cherished creature feature, the director was also responsible for another seminal monster movie. Releasing the same year as An American Werewolf in London (and featuring phenomenal effects work by Rob Bottin, Rick Baker’s Protégé), The Howling stands out with its innovative portrayal of trauma, therapy and copious amounts of bunny-eared Werewolf gore.
While the first half of the film is decidedly slow-paced, focusing on the more psychological aspects of the story, things eventually escalate into an all-out creature-feature that boasts incredible transformations and one of the most memorable endings on this list. If you can stomach the slow start, this one is definitely worth a watch!
2. Wolfman (1941)
It may not have been the world’s first Werewolf film (that honor goes to Henry MacRae’s now-lost The Werewolf, from 1913), but George Waggner’s addition to the classic Universal Monsters still deserves its reputation as the one that started it all. From unholy pentagrams to clinical lycanthropy, this classic brought all these iconic elements to the public consciousness, doing for Werewolves what Bram Stoker did for vampires.
While Lon Chaney Jr. is a likable protagonist in his role as Larry Talbot, making his ultimate fate all the more tragic, his monstrous performance really shines once the iconic makeup appears. Though his scenes are definitely the film’s most memorable, they’re also incredibly brief, making for very little Wolfman action in a movie called “The Wolfman“. This makes sense, considering how the original script didn’t even feature a monster at all, instead focusing on the main character’s possible psychosis, a concept that was sadly pushed to the sidelines in the finished picture (though it would be revisited in future films).
Nevertheless, The Wolfman remains a classic for a reason, both as a compelling and tragic character study and as an introduction to a now infamous mythology. The movie will live on, forever reminding us that even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the Autumn moon is bright!
1. An American Werewolf in London
If the last copies of every single Werewolf film ever made were being held in a museum somewhere, and that museum spontaneously went up in flames, there’s no doubt on my mind which movie I’d attempt to save first. To me, John Landis’ masterful blend of horror, comedy and tragedy is the definitive Werewolf story, borrowing elements from everything that came before and still somehow delivering a completely original and memorable experience.
An American Werewolf in London might hit many of the same notes as the original Wolfman, but the film is just self-aware and creative enough to be its own thing, benefiting from a darkly humorous tone that, while peculiar, somehow makes the inevitable moments of sheer terror (not to mention sorrow) so much worse.
Of course, I haven’t even mentioned Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning effects work that brought my all-time favorite Werewolf design to life. The transformation sequence doesn’t just look cool, it hurts, and the monster itself has a downright evil look on its face despite being less anthropomorphic than a regular Werewolf. The suffering culminates in a brief yet awe-inspiring rampage through the streets of London that harkens back to classic monster movies like King Kong.
If you can only bring yourself to watch one movie on this list, let it be this one!
Underworld Lycan Costume Mannequin
Custom mannequin display for an original foam latex Underworld Lycan costume from the Rise of the Lycans film.
This Underworld Lycan costume was brought to us by one of our clients. The Lycans are one of the breed of Werewolves featured in the Underworld film, Rise of the Lycans. Our client had almost the entire screen used costume minus the hands and feet. They were looking for a completely custom mannequin to display their costume as well as a themed base. They also asked us to recreate the missing hands and feet, to complete the life sized statue of the Underworld creature.
Using photos and movie stills for reference, we found and sourced appropriate latex Lycan style monster hands to replace the missing ones. We painted them to match the original missing hands, then we added custom fur from National Fiber Technology. We then turned back to our movie photos as reference and begun sculpting the replacement feet. When the sculptures were molded and cast in foam-filled latex, we hand and airbrush painted them and added hair so the transition was seamless between the original material and the replacement pieces.
The mannequin had to be customized to not only fit the werewolf costume (including making it through the digitigrade or “dog leg” bend) but also create a natural and menacing pose! We wanted our life sized Lycan statue to be as fearsome as he was in the Underworld movies! We finished off this display with a completely custom carved foam base finished with layers of paint and faux moss for a realistic stone finish. A custom printed full color metal plaque featuring the films title completes the display!
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Want to turn your original movie costume into a life-sized statue or museum display? Email or call today and let’s discuss your project!
Underworld Movie Prop & Costume Auction
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Watch Werewolf (1996)
A team of archaeologists with unplaceable accents unearth a skeleton at a dig in an Arizona quarry. The Native Americans on the dig instantly recognize it as the remains of a werewolf, so the team leaders immediately take it to their lab and stare at it. Natalie, one of the team members, thinks it’s absolutely fascinating, but Yuri siezes on greater ambitions when one of the dig assistants, who injured themself on the remains, becomes infected and turns into a werewolf in full view of hospital personnel. Yuri then conducts an experiment infecting other people in town to see if they turn into werewolves as well. When Paul arrives at the lab to assist in analyzing the remains, Yuri infects him, too. After Paul’s transformation (under a week-long full moon), Natalie tries to save him.
Tagline:REST IN… BEAST Release:1 Jan 1995 Language:English Budget:$ 350.000,00 Director:Tony Zarindast Cast:Adrianna Miles, Federico Cavalli, Joe Estevez, Jorge Rivero, Jules Desjarlais, Lisa Frantz, R.C. Bates, Richard Lynch, Tony Zarindast
Introduction: Pale Moon Rising
Where Shall I begin my tale? This one has neither beginning nor end, but only a perpetual unfolding, a multi-petaled blossom of strange botany.
–The Werewolf of Paris (1932)
In the classic cinematic incarnation of the werewolf myth, Universal Pictures’ The Wolf Man (1941), Larry Talbot, the conflicted and remorseful werewolf of the title, stalks his victim from tree to tree in a foggy, moonlit night. It’s an appropriate image for someone making their way into the Lost Forest of the werewolf genre. The forest is deep, full of lurking dangers and traps, and only the brave few can make their way through it without falling prey to the beast.
I’ll assume that someone picking up this book wants some guidance, a Virgil into a wolfish underworld. As with the vampire mythos, the werewolf has been reimagined multiple times for every generation since the advent of film itself. And while the werewolf has fewer successful adaptations than the vampire, it has far more than its share of failures and strange interpretations. Often the culprit is that centerpiece of every werewolf movie: the transformation. Beyond ranking and grading the films themselves, they can be organized by the success or failure of the “turning.”
The viewer often has the impression that, especially for the lower budget pictures, the choice had to be made between special effects on the one hand and the acting, writing and set design on the other. The result is sometimes poor films in all respects but with wonderfully realized monsters, for example, the werewolf segment of Waxwork (1988). On the other end are superbly acted and written films with the most basic makeup poorly applied, like the Mike Nichols film Wolf (1994). The best films do both and the failures do neither, although some do neither with enough character and spirit that all is forgiven, like Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985).
Chapter 1: The First Bite
Even a man who is pure in heart,
and says his prayers by night,
may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms,
and the autumn moon is bright.
–The Wolf Man (1941)
The year 1981 was a special one for werewolf movies. It saw the release of both John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London and Joe Dante’s The Howling. Both sit atop any list of essential werewolf films, trading for the top spot dependent on the lister’s taste like Citizen Kane and The Godfather on mainstream lists. Both pictures are helmed by fantastic directors who know how to use humor in the right doses to accentuate the horror. Landis, who directed Animal House, Trading Places and The Three Amigos, actually crafted American Werewolf as a horror-comedy.
The Howling, though darker, still plays for laughs in many scenes—not surprising since it comes from Dante, who also gave us Gremlins a few years later. Both movies also feature set-piece, show-stopping transformations, particularly Rick Baker’s makeup in American Werewolf. A comparison of the two films illustrates the flexibility of the Werewolf genre. Each uses traditional tropes like silver, pentagrams, and the moon, but both introduce original elements like American Werewolf’s rotting specters which haunt the wolf, or Howling’s colony of lycanthropes who can change at will.
The werewolf film is a strange flower, with roots that branch deep into our prehistory, into pagan soil. Vampires are only night creatures because they fear the light. The werewolf is tied to the moon like the tides. The vampire fears the cross, holy water, and the stake, products of man’s civilization. The werewolf fears silver pulled from the deep, wolfsbane and the shadow of the ash tree. The vampire in film is in control of its power, stands away from man in its pride, hunts us as food and for entertainment.
But the werewolf in film is not only feared and despised by society, but it is also ashamed and hateful of itself, an outcast that wishes it could cast away the mark of the beast. We’ll save for later chapters a detailed discussion of several of these tropes. But to create a comprehensive ‘must-see’ list for werewolf cinema is difficult if not impossible and depends on taste and age of the viewer. It’s possible to build whole lists of movies that have very little similarity in tone, gore, aesthetic, or fright and yet are all still something we choose to call a “werewolf movie.” I love Teen Wolf (1985), Bad Moon (1996), and Ginger Snaps (2000) but to put them on the same list seems arbitrary.
So, I offer just these two movies (An American Werewolf in London, The Howling) as the only ‘must-see list’ that makes any reasonable sense. These are certainly not the only good or great werewolf movies. We’ll discuss many more in the course of this book, but these two, as examples of a particular year, in a particular genre, eliminate enough variables to allow an uninitiated viewer to have a basic idea of what is meant by a “good” werewolf film.
Chapter 2: The Wolf as Universal Archetype
Even a man who is pure in heart,
and says his prayers by night,
may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms,
and the moon is full and bright.
–House of Frankenstein (1944)
Lon Chaney Jr. is the most famous but he was not the first. Henry Hull in 1935 was the first Universal Wolfman in Werewolf of London, a title referenced in Warren Zevon’s song “Werewolf of London” and the previously discussed An American Werewolf in London. The Wolf Man came six years later. Both movies featured the makeup of Jack Pierce, who tried to use his more famous design in the earlier film but it was rejected as too costly. In 1944, Bela Lugosi resumed his role as Dracula in Return of the Vampire (1944), featuring a werewolf assistant who remembers his humanity when he finds a crucifix and drags the vampire into the light killing him.
1946 gave us She-wolf of London, which is not an actual werewolf movie, but about a mentally ill woman tricked into believing she is one. Lon Chaney appears in several more films as Larry Talbot, THE Wolf Man, starting with 1943’s Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. This is the first werewolf film to tie the transformation into the wolf directly to exposure to moonlight, not just the lunar calendar. This early crossover was followed by a slate of “monster-rally” style pictures. Starting with 1944’s House of Frankenstein, which featured the mad scientist, the hunchback, Dracula, Frankenstein and the werewolf. In 1945 we got the sequel, House of Dracula, which again features the unholy trinity of the Dracula, Frankenstein and Wolf Man. It’s an odd movie on all counts featuring attempts by Dracula and the Wolf Man to cure themselves of their affliction using mold-spores. The Universal Werewolf ended in the same place as most of the classic monsters in the 1948 film Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein, a funny movie but not the most interesting for our purposes as everything is played for slapstick laughs.
That gives us a timeline, but it’s not an understanding of what makes the Universal Wolf Man. Or to ask it another way, what do the Universal Pictures make of the werewolf? If you watch just these wolf movies, you’ll get plenty of the expected, silver in bullet and other forms are there, the moon, always beautiful as shot on black and white film. The werewolf form is still predominately humanoid, it looks like a hairy man with claws, later in film history as special effects improved, the beast starts to dominate more as the human form recedes. But there are less discussed aspects that we will give more attention to in their own chapter.
Botany and plants are a major presence in most of these films. From the very start, Werewolf of London features a botanist werewolf growing a rare Tibetan plant to cure his affliction to the monster-mash films like House of Dracula where the monsters seek out a botanist for a plant-based cure. And the base test for any werewolf aficionado has to be memorization of the poem from Wolf Man, quoted at the beginning of this book, tying the transformation to the blooming of wolfsbane. In the end, the Universal wolf encompasses the driving emotion of the werewolf: regret. Lon Cheney’s werewolf sees his powers as a curse, an affliction, something of which they would be rid. They are half in the human world and half in the monster and their sadness is…
Chapter 3: Howling Every Since the World Began
Some things never change,
Some things just stay the same.
And the forest looks so green again,
And I worship, at your feet again,
–”The Howling by Babel” from the Howling II soundtrack
No other series of movies epitomize the diversity, the varying quality, and the divergent tones of the werewolf genre like the Howling franchise. If you just watched the eight movies in this series, you’d be forgiven if you had no real idea what the hell being a werewolf was all about. In fact, except for a confusing attempt at continuity in the second film, none of the sequels have anything to do with the original. Even in Howling II: Your Sister is a Werewolf (1985) unless you are really familiar with the first movie, you’d have no idea from the acting, direction, or tone that it was intended as a direct sequel. It even changes the mythology from silver to titanium for no real purpose or effect. That is said not to steer you away from part 2. Watch it. I may have seen it more times than any werewolf movie. It does everything so badly that it circles back around to greatness, like the best Ed Wood movies.
Howling 3: The Marsupials (1987) is unique among werewolf movies, something made clear right in the title. Like Sister, Marsupials is a movie bad enough to be entertaining and it never takes itself seriously. Somehow, werewolves have become marsupials (and we do get werewolf pouches). It’s an early meta-film, with the plot revolving around an actress performing a role in a werewolf movie and it echoes back to the final reporter transformation on television in the original but ups the stakes to multiple werewolves transforming live at an awards show…
My personal favorite of the series is Howling 6: The Freaks (1991), which uses a time-honored horror setting, the carnival freak show. Looking at my notes for the film, the very first states “this movie is oddly filmed, with unusual pacing but the weirdness only adds to the charm.” It’s a very small movie, literally a small budget but also lots of enclosed spaces like darkened carnival tents and set in a small town where the carnival is visiting. It introduces some unusual features into its mythology such as an incantation that the vampire can use to cause the wolf to turn and the requirement that the silver bullets be melted down from chalices blessed by a priest. The highlight of the movie is the last twenty minutes when we see a fight between the vampire and the werewolf, a favorite scenario of the genre since House of Frankenstein. This is one of the first movies, if not the first, to have one human bit simultaneously by both creatures, creating a super-beast.
Chapter 5: Luna Llena
When the heliotrope starts growing among rough rocks,
And the full moon shines at night,
In a certain area of the earth,
A man turns into a wolf.
–The Fury of the Wolfman (1972)
Unlike the Howling series, the Hombre Lobo series is substantially the work and passion of one man, Paul Naschy, also known as the “Spanish Lon Chaney” because of his appearance in dozens of movies as almost every classic monster. Hombre Lobo movies are typically unrelated in plot, time or location but all are related by the appears of Naschy’s werewolf, Count Waldemar Daninsky. Beyond that, all the movies share a similar style, even across the decades from 1968’s Mark of the Wolfman to 2004’s Tomb of the Werewolf. Even fifty years apart the films have the same low-budget, broadly-played sense of style that is both endearing and risible.
Besides the Daninsky character the films share certain elements throughout the series. The most consistent theme is the vulnerability of the wolf only to weapons wielded by a woman that loves them, most times a silver dagger or a silver bullet. It’s a piece of mythology lifted directly from Werewolf of London, which features the same restriction. The rule is stated best in the fourth film of the series, The Fury of the Wolfman from 1972: “It’s impossible to go on. I (Daninsky) have to be destroyed either by another beast or at the hand of a woman who loves me enough to kill me using a silver bullet. She must put that bullet through my heart.”
Not every one of the twelve Hombre Lobo films is a winner (technically eleven, as one is a lost film). Some are not so-bad-they-are-good, they are just so-bad. But if you can only watch one film in the series, I’d definitely recommend The Return of Walpurgis a.k.a. Curse of the Devil (1973). It has everything and the lycanthropic kitchen sink. Firstly, silver shotgun shells are used, my own personal favorite weapon in all of werewolfdom. Daninsky is cursed by a satanic coven who summons the devil during a black mass and is given a wolf skull which is used to pierce Daninsky’s chest, when seduced by a beautiful witch, giving him the mark of the pentagram. The witch that curses him, is Countess Bathory, who, though a witch in this movie, appears as a vampire opponent in another great movie in the series, Walpurgis Night a.k.a. The Werewolf vs. Vampire Woman (1971).
Chapter 9: Hi-Ho, Silver
A werewolf can only be killed by a silver bullet, or a silver knife, or a stick with a silver handle.
–The Wolf Man (1941)
Silver, in the mind of the ancient alchemists, was tied to the moon, and the moon, as we’ve discussed in prior chapters, is tied to the werewolf. The alchemical name for silver was ‘luna’ and the symbol was a crescent moon. It was associated with the feminine and with purity. This tradition has seeped into werewolf lore. As early as 1767, Jean Chastel killed the werewolf of Gevaudan with two silver bullets melted from a holy medal of the Virgin, as succinct an image of purification and femininity in association with silver as one can find. The Wolf Man mentioned silver bullets among other effective weapons, but bullets are used to kill for the first time in House of Frankenstein.
Sometimes it can be just any silver, sometimes the silver must come from a special source, like the silver chalices in Howling VI or blessed crosses in The Curse of the Werewolf (1961), which features a detailed, close-up scene of crafting the bullets. Silver can be used to detect a werewolf. In Wes Craven’s Cursed (2005) a stainless steel frame is confused for silver, which allows the werewolf to escape detection, and in The Beast Must Die (1974) silver candlesticks are used for the same purpose, with the hunter requiring each person in the house to grasp a stick. The Hombre Lobo film, Return of the Wolfman (1980), features a silver cross/knife that can repel both the werewolf and the vampire nemesis.
One of my own favorite scenes in a werewolf movie is one that takes place at the gunsmith shop. Silver Bullet (1985), appropriately features a very effective one, with the gunsmith holding up a bullet proudly declaring it the best work he ever did. The Howling novel by Gary Bradner, the basis for the film of the same name, as well as The Howling IV (1988), features a very similar scene in which the gunsmith and the hunter discuss specifics of crafting the bullets, including a prior scene of the main character buying silver bullion to melt.
The pilot for the short-lived television series Werewolf (1987) has a near-identical scene in which the gunsmith is handed a stack of silver coins. All three films, in these same scenes, make reference to the Lone Ranger, famous for his silver ammo, mainly as an explanation for why they want the bullets made. Interestingly, the Howling film adaptation removes the gunsmith and instead has the bullets procured from an occult bookstore that stocks them somehow. One of the more recent werewolf movies, and an excellent one at that, is Late Phases (2014), which uses the creation of silver bullets at the gunsmith as a pivotal plot point in uncovering the wolf.
Chapter 10: The Wolfsbane Blooms
Oh, they’re nice as pie until they’ve had their way with you. But once the bloom is gone, the beast comes out.
–Company of Wolves (1984)
I wasn’t bit by a wolf or cursed by a gypsy. It just…happened. I picked some flowers for the vases in the church vestry one day last November. Up by that pretty little cemetery on Sunshine Hill. I never saw such flowers before…and they were dead before I could get back to town. They turned black, every one. Perhaps that was when it started to happen. No reason to think so, exactly…but I do.
– Cycle of the Werewolf by Stephen King, the basis for the film Silver Bullet (1985)
There is nothing in all of werewolf mythology, from the movies to the books, to the folktales more unique and necessary to its identity than botany. The very first werewolf movie ever, lost now and simply titled The Werewolf (1913), was about a Navajo witch-woman, a person with an understanding of herbs and plants in a time before botanical sciences, using that knowledge to transform into the wolf for revenge. The first major adaptation of the werewolf is Werewolf of London, which we have discussed in prior chapters. The plot involves multiple botanists, including the main character, attacked while on an expedition in Tibet looking for rare plants. For the remainder of the movie we get beautiful shots of the mysterious ‘mariphasa’ growing in a lab under what look like repurposed ray guns. The Wolf Man doesn’t rely as heavily on plant lore but it does give us the famous poem that linked the transformation, not with the moon, but with a plant in bloom: wolfsbane.
House of Dracula stands apart from other werewolf films centered around plants. First in the manner of becoming a wolf. It’s blamed on skull pressure and self-hypnosis. Larry Talbot, the Wolf Man, seeks out a Dr. Edelmann, who is alleged to have found a cure using mold extracted from a rare tropical flower called the ‘Vivaria Formosa’ which roughly translates to Taiwanese greenhouse. And in fact, several scenes of the movie are shots of mysterious plants growing in the lab. The cure is effected by using the mold to soften Talbot’s skull until the brain swelling no longer causes him to turn. If it weren’t for the presence of Lon Chaney Jr. it would be difficult to consider this movie in the mainline of werewolf films.
Wolfsbane (aconitum) grows in the mountainous areas of Europe and was traditionally used as both a medicine and a poison, depending on the dose. Just plucking the plant can kill a human being. It was often placed in meat left outside in order to poison and kill wolves. This historical and medicinal relation led to the plant’s association with werewolf lore as an effective way of combating the wolf. Not only is it believed to repel or kill the werewolf, keeping it close at hand can prevent a person from turning. Wolfsbane plays a major role in the Ginger Snaps films. A serum developed from dried wolfsbane, for some reason sold at a local craft store, is injected in order to prevent the turn.”Scarlet Cinema” (1989) is an episode of the television series Friday the 13th and features a cursed camera that turns its user into a werewolf with heavy use of wolfsbane throughout the plot. The Beast Must Die, not a stellar film otherwise, does have a greenhouse where the main character grows wolfsbane.
Often the use of flowers is simply evocative instead of impacting the plot. For example, in the Hombre Lobo film, Mark of the Wolfman (1968) we first find the werewolf in a crypt with a silver dagger in his heart and covered in wildflowers.
Chapter 13: Mark of the Beast
Both The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man were written by screenwriter Curt Siodmak, a refugee from Nazi persecution, who is on record stating that he saw himself as a Jew in the monster he created. It contributed to the Wolf Man’s sense of being cursed and afflicted, hunted by everyone, and hated for something he could not control. The most obvious manifestation of this legacy is something now inseparable from the werewolf legend but essentially created by Siodmak in the Universal pictures: the mark of the pentagram, an obvious echo of the Star of David by which Jews, like Siodmak, were marked in Nazi Europe. Its use is pervasive throughout his films. The Wolf Man features it not only on Talbot’s palm but also on the silver cane used to kill him.
The Hombre Lobo films make heavy use of the mark in several movies, including naming a film in the series after it (Mark of the Wolfman), though it’s depicted on the chest instead of it’s original and more typical placement on the palm. In An American Werewolf in London, we also see the pentagram, painted in red on a pub wall in a sort of protective altar. In Waxwork (1988) a section of the film takes place in the werewolf exhibit, which acts as a portal to a cabin in the woods being attacked by a werewolf. The werewolf before it turns wears a pentagram on a chain.
The Werewolf television series has a red pentagram appear on the palm of the werewolf’s hand when the change is near, the star begins to bleed when the change is imminent. The only pieces of The Werewolf of Washington (1973) worth remembering are the fact that the killings are made in a pentagram pattern that references the esoteric city-planning of Washington, D.C., both echoed by the pentagram on the werewolf’s palm (in an early role of Dean Stockwell). Cursed is a more recent film to feature pentagrams on the palm, though even that can’t save this train wreck of a movie.
The connection between the werewolf in film and anti-semitism through Siodmak actually places an unusual scene in An American Werewolf in London into context. Amidst all the carnage caused by the mutant-were-Nazis it’s easy to miss the menorah sitting over the fireplace, just to its right. Landis never calls attention to it, but we specifically see it destroyed by bullet spray from the machine guns. The message is clear, this is a family of Jewish persons being attacked by Nazis, and since this is a nightmare of the main character we can see this as a sublimation of the very same fear of persecution Siodmak placed in his Wolf Man.
In the decades since Siodmak’s creation, the pentagram has obviously been pulled far from any reference to persecution as he experienced it. Safe to say that the assumption in contemporary film is the pentagram signifies the satanic roots of lycanthropy, ideas inherited from the folktales that lay behind the genre. But I believe it’s important to keep that original experience in mind as we watch these movies. That sense of dehumanization, isolation, and lack of control over forces of history are a keystone to the tragic temperament of any great werewolf incarnation on the silver screen.
Appendix 1—The Oddballs
Some werewolf films are so strange they stand in a category of their own. I’d feel remiss if I didn’t point out at least a few that have their peculiar merits and I can’t help but think this list could provide an entertaining marathon movie experience:
- Werewolves on Wheels (1971)—Tarot Decks, deserts, satanic monasteries, black masses! When you jam together Easy Rider, The Ninth Gate, and Howling II, the resulting, entertaining mess would be Werewolves on Wheels.
- Wolfen (1981)—Ecologically-conscious, indigenous wolf-spirits hunt big-city developers Predator style, heat-signature vision and all.
- The Company of Wolves (1984)—Very heavy on the fairy-tale and Angela Landsbury aspects of the werewolf mythos. Seriously, this is a surprisingly good werewolf movie, which emphasizes the hirsute nature of wolves with warnings against men with unibrows and explaining that “the worst wolves are hairy on the inside.”
- Monster Dog (1984)—My personal favorite of this list. Directed by Claudio Fragasso, known most famously for directing Troll 2. But that’s not even the big draw here. That belongs to Alice Cooper’s starring role. We get not one, but two full-length music videos. Please, right now, search online for ‘Identity Crisis’ and enjoy.
- Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)—I’m included this one against my will but it has so many defenders in werewolf fandom I felt forced to address it. It’s a loose retelling of the Beast of Gevaudan legend but it’s not a wolf story at all. It’s a werewolf movie as much as a giant lion in a mechanical exoskeleton is a werewolf. Not even a bit apologetic if I just spoiled that surprise for you.
The Author’s Top Ten Personal Favorites – In Chronological Order
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David Kessler (Mr. Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Mr. Dunne) are attacked by a monster early in the movie, and it’s hard to say who fares worse of the two. Jack is mauled and relegated to the ranks of the undead, which in a movie like this hardly means he won’t be heard from again. David is due to become a monster every month, which is something Mr. Landis signals by playing Van Morrison’s ”Moondance,” Creedence Clearwater’s ”Bad Moon Rising” and two more versions of ”Blue Moon” on the soundtrack. How Warren Zevon’s ”Werewolves of London” escaped him is the movie’s one big mystery.
When David makes his transformation, he goes through much the same ordeal William Hurt experienced in ”Altered States,” including very similar special effects and some morning-after misery in a zoo. The werewolf gimmickry, though it is plenty scary, is only part of what Mr. Landis offers in the way of horror. The movie can’t fail to catch its audience off guard, because many of David’s savagely violent fantasies begin as harmless, realistic-looking conventional scenes.
The biggest jolts come with these moments of the unexpected, but there is another brand of horror here, too. Jack keeps coming back, in worse and worse states of decomposition, to chat with his friend. ”I realize I don’t look so hot, David, but I thought you’d be glad to see me,” he chides the first time. David isn’t, and you won’t be either – though the camera lingers on Jack and his ghoulish makeup for a very long time. ”The undead surround me!” Jack tells David on one stopover. ”Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! I’m lonely!” This is just too much flippancy for a rotting, ripped-up carcass – a ”walking meatloaf,” David calls him – to carry off.
In addition to Jack’s various visits and David’s worries about the full moon, the movie has a love-story subplot, with Jenny Agutter as a nurse who’s friendly and available but perfectly humorless. The romance does not mix well with anything else in the movie, and Mr. Landis’s including it is a measure of his occasional indiscriminateness. By the end of the film, he has graduated to car crashes a la ”The Blues Brothers,” with the dubious new ingredient of bodies to be crushed between the cars.
The last part of the story cries out for some emotion over David’s fate, since werewolfhood is not a condition for which the director has a cure. All Mr. Landis offers in the way of sentiment are some dented fenders.