Spring is almost upon us and here at Ravenous Monster this season is a time for werewolves….and flowers, baseball and green things, but mainly just werewolves. I’ve compiled a list of five of the best werewolf movies. This list is by no means comprehensive, nor is it in any particular order. In fact, these movies will be more familiar to most of you than you’ll ever want to admit in public. For you, this list is a friendly reminder to revisit these harrowing and hairy fright flicks. For the few of you horror neophytes out there, however, these movies should be added to your bloody bucket lists. Read on, lycanthrope-lovers.
The Wolf Man (1941)
I hate to use clichés, but The Wolf Man is the granddaddy of ‘em all. Although it wasn’t first (Werewolf of London – 1935), The Wolf Man is most responsible for what became the cinematic representation of the werewolf. Standing tall alongside Dracula and Frankenstein’s monster, the wolf man is part of the iconic ledger of beasties brought to life in the Universal Studios monster movies. Directed by George Waggner and starring the great Lon Chaney Jr. in the titular role, the cast also includes Bela Lugosi and Maria Ouspenskaya rounding out a roster of horror legends in this true archetype of the werewolf film.
When Larry Talbot returns to his home in Wales to reconcile with his father, he meets a young lady – Gwen, with whom he falls in love. Then he gets bit by a wolf while trying to rescue Gwen’s friend, and he inevitably becomes a werewolf – quite a homecoming! Talbot prowls the countryside, terrorizing the population and struggling to come to grips with his affliction. This culminates in one final unavoidable confrontation with his father. Talbot, being both a victim and a predator, is as dynamic a character as there is in horror movie history. Lon Chaney’s performance as the tragic beast and tortured soul, combined with the incredible gothic sets, huge score, and fantastic make up FX, make The Wolf Man a compelling tale even 70 years after those first howls sent shivers down the backs of unsuspecting movie goers.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Written and directed by John Landis, starring David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, and featuring eye-popping visual FX by Rick Baker, winning him the inaugural Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Make Up (He’s gone on to win several Oscars including one for his work on last year’s The Wolfman), An American Werewolf in London is every bit as much a ghost story as it is a werewolf movie, making it the most unique film on the list.
Two American men, Jack and David go on a backpacking holiday in England. While hiking at night in the moors they’re attacked by a werewolf, killing Jack and maiming David. While David recovers in the hospital, he’s visited by the gory visage of his deceased best friend, who informs David that he’s now a werewolf and he must kill himself before the next full moon. While David struggles to find out the truth, the locals deny the existence of his affliction. After being discharged from the hospital and moving into a London apartment with Alex, a young nurse from the hospital, David finally transforms (in legendary and graphic fashion) and goes on a killing spree. The next time he’s visited by Jack, his recent victims are there as well, all telling him that he must kill himself and setting up a high tension showdown.
Sometimes funny and sometimes horrifying, An American Werewolf in London is a one of a kind take on the werewolf mythos.
The Howling (1981)
First, let’s just agree that 1981 was a great year for werewolf movies. This era in general was a bit of a mini-renaissance for classic monsters, but I digress.
The Howling is a potent werewolf tale brought to us by a talented cast and crew. It’s directed by Joe Dante, and stars Dee Wallace along with a dynamic cast including John Carradine and Slim Pickens. It also features outstanding FX by then whiz kid and current legend, Rob Bottin whose FX work from this era is among the best in the history of film. Over the top and laced with black humor, The Howling delivers the goods in a huge way from start to finish.
Dee Wallace plays Karen White, a Los Angeles TV news anchor who’s stalked by a serial killer. She cooperates with police to catch the killer. The plan is successful, but it leaves her traumatized and suffering amnesia. Karen’s therapist, Dr. Waggner recommends she spend some time at “The Colony”, a countryside resort where he sends patients to recover. When Karen and her husband Bill arrive at the resort they encounter an assortment of weirdoes – weirdoes who happen to be werewolves as well as one very familiar serial killer. Absolute chaos ensues which eventually culminates on Karen’s stomping grounds – Live TV.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Written by Karen Walton and directed by John Fawcett, this Canadian product is arguably the best of the films on this list. Ginger Snaps is analogous to a Romero zombie flick in that it uses lycanthropy as a metaphor to explore much more meaningful, sociological issues – female sexuality and coming of age. Here, becoming a werewolf represents the much more horrific, real life plight known as puberty.
Ginger Snaps stars genre stalwarts Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle as sisters Brigitte and Ginger, Goths and outsiders who spend afternoons staging and photographing their own gory deaths, when they’re not busy discussing how their hated classmates may meet their makers. One of these discussions leads to a confrontation between Ginger and Trina, one of the aforementioned hated classmates.
While the sisters are out planning their revenge on Trina, Ginger gets her first period. Immediately after processing this revelation, they’re attacked by the Beast of Bailey Downs, a “wild animal” blamed for killing pet dogs around the community. The beast drags Ginger screaming into the woods where she’s eventually rescued by Brigitte. As the sisters run for their lives with the beast in tow, they’re nearly hit by Sam’s van, which hits and kills the beast instead.
Ginger’s wounds from the attack heal much faster than they should and she sprouts hair from them. Then Ginger grows a tail. A rift soon forms between the sisters, not so much because Ginger is becoming a werewolf, but rather because she’s complicating the issue by aggressively pursuing boys, doing drugs, and having unprotected sex (which spreads the lycanthropy).
As time runs out, Sam and Brigitte try to put together a cure for Lycanthropy while keeping Ginger’s issues under wraps. All the while Ginger is transforming into a full on werewolf bad ass. And you thought your adolescence was difficult.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Dog Soldiers is how the brilliant British horror maestro, Neil Marshall learned to make his subsequent terror opus – The Descent – while managing to craft one hell of a cool werewolf movie in the process. It’s a high concept backdrop against which a werewolf story plays perfectly and it’s represented realistically and intensely, and free of the humor and explicit metaphor of the other entries on the list. To put it simply, Dog Soldiers goes for the throat.
A group of six British Soldiers is dropped into the Scottish Highlands for a routine training excursion where they find the brutalized remains of a Special Forces crew also there to train. The crew’s survivor, Cpt. Ryan and the British Soldiers are soon stalked by the predators responsible for the attacks on the Special Forces crew. As they retreat, they suffer casualties. When they eventually come upon a road they encounter Megan, a zoologist who takes the survivors to an isolated house. As they hunker down in the house, their attackers surround it and the soldiers discover what they’re up against – werewolves!
Dog Soldiers is scary, fast paced and original making it one of the more solid, straight forward interpretations of a classic monster to grace the screen.