I have a confession to make to you, my fellow horror fans and brethren. I’m actually a really big wimp. When it comes to horror flicks, I can’t handle the stuff that looks like it may have a speck of a chance of happening in real life. I have seen very few of the torture flicks that were so popular up until just recently, because normal (but psychopathically or criminally insane) people are really out there, and could really come after me or mine. And the idea of that is just, well, horrifying.
The bulk of horror movies that I have always enjoyed since I was a little girl contain just enough hint of the supernatural that I could tell myself, “It’s not real” and still manage to get myself to sleep at night. Ah well, as the French say, “À chacun son goût.” What this particular proclivity has led me back to over and over, naturally, are creature flicks.
The Alien and Evil Dead series are two of my favorites, because they have (for me) just the right amount of scare and great effects, along with lead characters who are flawed yet capable.
During these last few decades of seeking out creature flicks, I have unfortunately watched many, many, many stinkers along the way. But my pain is your gain, because I am now able to share the wisdom gained from my misadventures with you.
Today, we focus on that that tortured soul, the werewolf. The poor shlub has always been a representation of our duality, and our desire to give into our baser natures without accountability. After all, how can we be held accountable if we have done nothing to alter our own consciousness, if we are unaware of the sins we commit, and we have no control over ourselves? Even for viewers not terribly interested in the moral ambiguities presented by the werewolf’s plight, werewolf movies are often attractive to lovers of the genre simply because the transformation from man to wolf and the resultant carnage has led to lots of satisfying movie magic.
Be warned. For some of these films, you’ll need to plan ahead and maybe do a little work, because they’re not going to be readily available. But from this girl’s point of view, it’s worth it. So convert your Netflix account from “stream only” to “stream & DVDs”, throw some popcorn in the microwave, lock the doors, and throw one of these bad boys into your DVD player (you still know how to use that, right?).
1) American Werewolf in London: the gold standard by which all other werewolf movies are measured. David Naughton as David is completely relatable and sympathetic in the lead role, and Griffin Dunne’s dry delivery of David’s mauled and very dead friend Jack injects several lighter (and needed) moments into the film. The pre-CGI special effects are what have always gotten the most attention here, and the attention is warranted, but the film wouldn’t have held up as well as it does if it weren’t for the performances of the two male leads. I watched this movie again with my teenage daughter last year, and it’s still amazing.
2) Dog Soldiers: If there’s a more modern movie that is anywhere close to giving American Werewolf a run for its money, it’s Dog Soldiers. British soldiers go on a training mission in Scotland. Cue the swoony accents and salty dialogue. Introduce lupus horrificus. Shake and swill with wild abandon. This is sorta Britain’s answer to the question: “What if you remade the movie Aliens, but put the grunts out in the Highlands, and the monsters were werewolves?” And yet, somehow, it works.
3) Brotherhood of the Wolf: This is a movie that defies categorization. If nothing else, it’s beautiful eye candy; I’m no expert on art direction in film, but the shots are luscious. Someone smarter than me about film production can tell me why I’m wrong, but said expert would have to buy me a coffee first. However, the move is also an engaging “who’s doing it?” mystery set in the countryside of 18th century France. Overall, the look and feel of the film is very European with an American-style action and plot. Perfect for this girl, and that this movie hasn’t gotten more love and attention in the US of A is a crying shame.
4) Ginger Snaps: Imagine, if you will, teenage Angelina Jolie … awkward yet luminous, rebellious, death-obsessed and just a little too weird to fit in with the average suburbanite teen. Katharine Isabelle (Being Human, Hannibal) as lead Ginger character is about as close as we’ll ever get. And poor girl, as if teenage angst weren’t hard enough to sort out, she has to go and get bit. As you might expect, Ginger manages her condition a little less nobly than Teen Wolf‘s Scott McCall. Disappointingly, the second and third movies in the series aren’t as strong as the first.
5) Underworld: Gorgeous Kate Beckinsale, vampires, werewolves, star-crossed romance, lots of guns, lots of latex. If you need anything else, you’re probably barking up the wrong tree.
6) The Howling: I remember first seeing the poster for this movie when I was in fifth grade, and I was mesmerized by it. I just couldn’t seem to tear my eyes away from the perfect teeth and perfect lipstick juxtaposed with the ragged fingernails and obvious cry for help. This may actually be where my interest in the genre began. Dee Wallace (E.T., The Frighteners) brings some gravitas to her portrayal of vulnerable news reporter Karen White, who is seeking solace after a recent personal trauma. Needless to say, her character doesn’t find it, but it’s a lot of devilish good fun along the way. I always eye-roll at the way the movie wraps up Karen’s story line, but there are several other great effects moments and a couple of quotable one-liners that have made this one linger in my psyche these many decades.
7) Wolfen: Perhaps misleading, because if the “bad guys” are really supernatural, then they’re shape-shifters and not true weres. However, the beauty of this little flick is you’re never really quite sure what to believe. Albert Finney (Skyfall, The Bourne series) leads the cast with small roles by Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos (Battlestar Galactica, Bladerunner). It’s been a little while since I’ve seen this one, but if I remember correctly, real wolves are used in several shots, and are far more fascinating than any special effect I’ve ever seen.
8) In the Company of Wolves: Full disclosure here. I remember liking this one even though I thought it was super gothic and trippy at the time (or maybe I liked it because it was gothic and trippy). However, I haven’t seen it in years, so I share with you the impression of an impressionable young woman whose memory has gotten hazy in the years since. If you stumble across this movie, you should give it whirl and tell me what you think.
9) Van Helsing: If Stephen Sommers were to make a classic monster movie … oh, wait, this was done by Stephen Sommers! The same guy who brought us The Mummy tackles the vampire-werewolf clash, and throws in Frankenstein’s monster to boot. The latter storyline is admittedly pretty dumb, but Hugh Jackman and Kate Beckinsale elevate the rest of the film enough to make it comfortably campy. Psst! Kate Beckinsale in a corset.
10) Red Riding Hood: In the aftermath of Twilight, I was fully prepared to detest Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood. But the movie has the strengths of Twilight (beautifully shot and studied use of color), and none of its flaws (Robert Pattinson’s American accent, and Kristen Stewart’s … well, Kristen Stewart). Amanda Seyfried brings a playfulness to the role that keeps the movie from getting either too silly or too serious. Plus, you know, Gary Oldman. If you can’t handle Young Adult anything, then this isn’t for you, but if you like or can get past the intense teenage romance aspect of the storyline, then this one is worth a shake.
Now, if you’ve been paying attention you might say, “But Leslie! None of these movies are recent!” And I would regrettably agree with you. In the last ten years, we’ve seen vampires and zombies enjoy a resurgence, at the expense of werewolves, in my opinion. Perhaps as the public tires and looks to the next new (i.e., old but refurbished), we’ll see some renewed focus on our lupine doppelgangers. In the meantime, scratch your itch with this film list and with the first season of Hemlock Grove and the first few seasons of Teen Wolf, both of which are surprisingly good.
I’ll be back soon with another list of what to watch. Until then, if you happen to give any of these werewolf movies a view, then want to do a little verbal volleyball, give us a shout; we’d love to hear from you. Lock your doors and stay safe, friends!