But despite some things scaring me and others not, it was until I was a bit older that my fear of werewolves finally went the way of the tooth fairy. I won't say how old. Trust me, I was *cough* older. Don't know why really. I was always a bit arachnophobic and I trace that back to living in the country when I was a tot in a house my Dad built by his own wit and industry. As good a house as it was, you just can't do anything about spiders in the country.
Maybe it was a 'traumatized as a kid' thing. It was back then that I remember first seeing a 'werewolf' movie. On an old black and white TV we had, my sister and a friend had some monster movie matinee going. And to this day I don't know the movie, but it had a fellow who rolled down a wooded hill, and when he popped up - Bang! He was a werewolf. Meaning he had hair on his face and fangs. But when you're no more than 5 years old (we moved right after my 5th birthday), that's all it takes. So that's probably why it took years to shake the shakes when it came to the legendary shapeshifters. Thank goodness my wife was there to protect me!
So in the spirit of my somewhat well received and popular Movies to Scare Kids By post, I thought I'd do my favorite howl-at-the-moon movies! Just what everyone who comes to a Catholic blogger expects.
1. The Wolf Man (1941)
What can I say, the movie that many people think captures the various legends about werewolves in fact invented many of them. Autumn moons, silver bullets, pentagrams, the perpetual need for gypsies, all of
But like most Universal movies, the real star is the build up to the monster, and the heavy-enough-to-crush-you atmosphere. Never is it not foggy in the world of Larry Talbot. Towering trees, fog-choked woods, an imposing castle, an androgynous European-styled village (supposedly in Wales), all give an extra level of depth. True, by now WWII was well under way, and America's final days of youthful innocence are winding down. I can't help but think that, by then, audiences were not quite as terrorized as we sometimes think. Oh, they may have been scared, having nothing to compare it to. But even then, the real horrors of what non-shape-shifting men are capable of was all too real, and too common in that mid-industrial era of history.
2. The Curse of the Werewolf
Hammer Films made its mark by taking the classic monsters of Universal days and colorizing them. By then, most of the cast of legendary monsters had been reduced to fodder for the high jinks of an aging Abbot and
Enter Hammer Films. With Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing leading the way, they repackaged and resold the classics in new, vibrant and brooding ways. The literary inspiration was as often as not tossed out the window even more than the Universal versions. Sometimes the very heart and soul of the stories were changed. But there was always a shard, something keeping them connected to the source materials and folklore, even if bright blood and colorful sets were now the norm.
Unlike most of the Hammer catalog, The Curse of the Werewolf has neither Cushing nor Lee, but instead turns to up and coming Oliver Reed to show his inner animal. Not content with simply rehashing the made-up legends of The Wolf Man, Curse of the Werewolf actually taps into ancient folklore and Christian superstition, and spends a great deal of the movie building up characters we should care about. An important thing in classic horror, since in almost all cases, they are meant to be tragic.
3. The Werewolf of London
Overlooked were it not for Landis's pseudo-remake and Warren Zevon's addictively awesome song.
Over the years, a slow but steady respect has grown for the movie. It suffers from wanting to do many things, and never quite getting around to focusing on what. But the concept of traveling to Tibet, being attacked by an Asian Werewolf (where foxes or possibly tigers might have substituted), of a werewolf with hat and cape, all seem to be enough to make the watching enjoyable. Performances are solid enough, and in the tradition of J&H that finds itself played out in werewolf legends of later years, the wolf part becomes more pronounced with each change.
Send the kiddies to be with these next two:
4. An American Werewolf in London
As a keen interpreter of social and philosophical movements, John Landis is a decent filmmaker. Made famous by Animal House, and culminating with his work on Michael Jackson's Thriller, Landis had a knack for producing better products than his rather shallow commentary on events suggests he should. Oh, none of them are deeper than an average mud puddle. But he had a certain something, and worked well with the first generation of SNL alumni who tried with varying levels of success to make it to the big screen.
It's also worth noting, BTW, that many see this as one of the turning points in movies in which killing and violence begin to mix with humor in such a way that eventually they become indistinguishable.
5. The Howling
Following in the 'werewolf as porn metaphor' , The Howling uses the same groundbreaking effects that Landis has at his disposal, but on a tighter budget. In hindsight, it's easy to see that this had less of a budget to work with.
The story of a community of werewolves living behind the scenes, attempting to fit in with modernity, has an almost psychological element. The screenplay was, in fact, written by a man not with a degree in screenwriting, but with a background in psychology. Long and short, he wanted the movie to rebel against the idea that the way to civilization was eliminating repression. He wanted to take the opposite view: get rid of repression, and what you get is animals. Given the last couple hundred years of teaching man is nothing but a glorified animal, I'm inclined to agree.
Despite its shoestring budget, it manages to stir up some pretty hefty suspense, and some pretty terrorizing werewolves. It still suffers from the 80s 'look at our glorious porn culture!' mentality. Beyond that, the concept, as well as the 'don't show more of the monster than you need to' approach to film making, reminds us that usually our minds conjure up worse images than anything Hollywood can imagine. Usually. Though I'm not so sure that applies here. Seeing this film on our large screen TV for the first time, I actually shrunk down in the couch. Those are some pretty horrifying looking werewolves if you think about it. The camera work, the eerie music, the right amount of supernatural flare, and just a touch of humor and homage, makes this almost a competitor for the better movies in any lycanthrope list.
Honorable Mention: Dog Solders
Saw this one on TV years ago. Didn't know what it was. At first I thought it was Rambo goes to Scotland. But as I watched, I had to admit, it was fun. It wasn't really scary, but by now, I probably
It's a bit like Night of the Living Dead meets Aliens meets The Howling. I can't account for the budget since I don't know British movie financial comparisons. It makes due with what it has, but contains a bit too much gore and guts for my taste. Still, the acting is solid enough, since to my Yankee ears, any actor with a British accent is one step off Olivier. I wouldn't go about recommending this for an Oscar. But it's one of those movies that set out to do something, and in the end, did it. For that, and just the general creepy 'what would I do in that situation' feeling of it all, it gets a nod.
The Winner: The Wolf Man
In the end, I still default to the great one. Perhaps because so many people assume the things this movie invented are rooted in the ancient past. Given our grasp of history, that's not hard to imagine. In any event, the movie has so many classic tropes of the Gothic Horror genre that you just can't imagine any other movie that doesn't end up being measured against this version. There are only four screen deaths, and only one is actually shown. One - the woman - is not shown at all, and the deaths of the two lycanthropes are hidden by camerawork and well placed trees.
Special note. It had long puzzled us why the first werewolf is shown as a full blown wolf, while Larry Talbot is famously a man with wolf like features. My boys figured it out this year. As mentioned above, and maybe this was intentional, maybe not - the longer you're a werewolf, the more wolf like you become. Mystery solved.