Continuing our October Horror theme (that began with zombies), it's time to turn our evil mind's eye towards a particularly unique cinematic monster. A bogeyman born of celluloid and bred in Hollywood.
Sure, there had been plenty of examples of werewolves, lycanthropes, loup-garous and shape shifters killing with vicious abandon in literature as far back as the Middle Ages and before. But the mythos surrounding the werewolf, more than any other iconic monster that haunts our dreams, has largely been created on the silver screen. Wolfsbane, silver bullets, the full moon, the spread of the contagion by wolf-bite...these have all been perpetuated by the cinema.
But what is it that really makes a good werewolf film, you might ask. I would say that my favorite werewolf films all have the same thing in common. They were scary as hell! Man versus our own inner demons that are usually held in check by our better angels. Demons with sharp claws and teeth. Demons that hide amongst us during the daylight hours, just waiting to prey on us as the full moon rises.
I watched the third film of the Ginger Snaps trilogy over the weekend, which is what led me to post about the subject today. I love these films! While not as aesthetically scary (due to sub-par special effects or a decent monster) as some of their contemporary cousins, I like how they work as character studies and as a metaphor for adolescence. In some ways these films are among the darkest of their genre due to the strained relationship of the two sisters and their fight to cling to their humanity.
Got me to thinking about other werewolf movies and which ones where my favorites. I was saddened to find that there are really not that many great werewolf films out there. The Golden Age of werewolf films was probably the late 30's (Werewolf of London) to The Wolf Man in 1941 and it's various sequels during the next 10 years. Those films, while original, haven't really stood the test of time. The Silver Age began in 1981 with the release of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. Two superb horror films. The Modern Age was kicked off in 2000 with Ginger Snaps and two years later with Dog Soldiers.
Sadly, there hasn't been a lot to offer in the genre between these high points. A great werewolf film is out there, just waiting to be made. Especially with the advances of special effects and movie magic. CGI, however, should play a more limited role. The werewolves we have seen in Underworld and it's ilk have just been lame, in my opinion. They need to get back to scary makeup and scary storytelling for the next great werewolf film. Let's hope someone out there is intent on making it.
Were-Earl's Top Five Werewolf Films*
5. Bad Moon (1996) - A thoroughly underrated horror film, in my opinion. Focused a bit too much on the dog as the protagonist for my liking , but it has several truly frightening scenes including the opening attack and the showdown in the boy's room toward the finale. The on-screen transformation kinda sucks, but we see more of the actual werewolf in this film than just about any other that I can think of off-hand, and surprisingly it doesn't lessen the impact. And the end result is a scary offering.
4. The Howling (1981) - Unlike An American Werewolf in London, I don't think this one has stood the test of time nearly as well. It's still scary, bloody and extremely well-done. But the camp value, possibly heightened by a slew of inferior sequels, is just a bit too high. Still, the hopelessness and the feeling of being trapped by monsters in a remote setting makes this one a can't miss entry. Even with Dee Wallace's transformation into the "cuddly" werewolf at the end of the film. What the hell was that all about?
3. The Ginger Snaps trilogy (2000-2004) - I could just include the original film here, but all three have their moments that make the trilogy worth recommending as a whole. The second and third films were filmed successively with the third being a prequel, taking place over 200 years before the events of the first two films. The last one didn't really bring anything new to the genre, but our heroes are trapped in the woods at a military fort while being stalked by an entire pack of werewolves. The isolation and the hopelessness of the situation alone is enough to make this a worthy entry.
2. Dog Solders (2002) - I mentioned this one earlier. Neil Marshall accomplished exactly what any true fan of werewolf films dreamed of in this outstanding horror movie. Sure there were some plot elements that were a bit hokey, but the acing, pacing, direction and the isolated situation blended together perfectly to make one hell of a scary werewolf film. If you haven't seen it, do yourself a favor and do so immediately.
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981) - 27 years later and still the best! John Landis gave us what is to this day the best and scariest transformation scene ever filmed. Thanks to the incomparable talents of Rick Baker. While it had it's fair share of humor, it was still extremely frightening, bloody and iconic. And the contrast in setting from the moors early on in the film to London for the second and third acts was wonderful. Absolutely brilliant in just about every way.
What do you think? Did I miss any?
*Since the Golden Age werewolf films are now only marginally frightening, I have omitted them from the discussion. - Earl