13 Werewolf Movies to Howl About
Article By: Tony Timpone
Prepare yourselves for some howling good times ahead. While vampires and zombies get the most love from fright fans these days, now our furred friend, the werewolf, seems poised to make a big screen comeback. Independently produced chillers Wer, Wolves, Late Phases and the self-explanatory Wolfcop will be out before the next full moon or two, with a long-rumored An American Werewolf in London remake panting in the wings. This wave will ramp up the popularity of werewolves, which currently continue as TV fixtures on the hit scare series Teen Wolf, Hemlock Grove and True Blood, as well as the recently wrapped Penny Dreadful. So for this edition of The Friday 13, we put away the silver bullets to salute 13 Werewolf Movies to Howl About! (Titles arranged according to year of release.)
1. The Wolf Man (1941)
“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…” One of the all-time greats from the Universal monster factory invented most of the werewolf folklore that continues to be adhered to till this day: full moon transformations, silver bullets, the mark of the pentagram, etc. Lon Chaney, in the part that defined his career, stars as poor Lawrence Talbot, who inherits the curse of the werewolf after killing gypsy Bela Lugosi. Sporting top-shelf production values and tons of backlot atmosphere, as well as Jack Pierce’s iconic creature makeup and transformations, The Wolf Man remains an enduring monster mash.
2. I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
A pre-Little House on the Prairie Michael Landon fills the title role of a hypnosis-created monster in this exploitation hit that took drive-ins by storm back in the day. Sort of a Rebel Without a Cause with claws, the success of this quickie put renowned indie distributor American International Pictures on the map and launched an endless wave of new horror films geared to young adults. Dig Teenage Werewolf’s way cool varsity jacket!
3. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Unlike their multiple Frankenstein, Dracula and Mummy movies, Britain’s Hammer Studios, inexplicably, only made one werewolf film, but at least it’s a doozy. In his first major starring gig, a brooding Oliver Reed plays Leon, a young man in 18th century Spain who tears up the town not unlike one of Reed’s notorious real-life benders. We’re never sure why he becomes a werewolf: it’s either because his mother was raped by a filthy, beastly beggar or that she birthed him on Christmas Day (?!). Though the rousing monster action starts late in the game here, it’s worth the wait. Plus Reed’s unique werewolf makeup also makes this one of the finest lycanthopictures.
4. The Night of the Werewolf AKA El Retorno del Hombre-Lobo (1981)
Spanish horror star Paul Naschy limned tormented werewolf Waldemar Daninsky a dozen times across three decades. His ferocious, saliva-dripping beastman could tear you apart in seconds and tangled with assorted sexy vampires and witches, Dr. Jekyll and even the Yeti! In this atmospheric entry, the late actor’s personal favorite, he goes tooth and nail against real-life blood countess Elizabeth Bathory.
5. The Howling (1981)
E.T.’s Dee Wallace plays an undercover reporter investigating a colony of trendy California werewolves in director Joe (Gremlins) Dante’s entertaining horror sleeper. Movie buff Dante stocks The Howling with tons of references to past werewolf favorites and enlisted a dream cast (John Carradine, Kevin McCarthy, Dick Miller, Slim Pickens, etc.), but what stands out the most are Rob Bottin’s superb creature FX, including a kick-ass transformation scene. The only bad moon rising is the string of horrendous direct-to-video Howling sequels.
6. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Released a few months after The Howling (what a year!), John (Animal House) Landis’ classic horror comedy delivered the ultimate man-into-werewolf metamorphosis. Rick Baker took home an Oscar (his first of many) for his FX efforts, though AWIL’s likable characters (David Naughton, Griffin Dunne) never get lost in the monstrous makeup mayhem. Landis also crafted a sharp, scary and funny script. Throw the Landis-less “sequel” An American Werewolf in Paris to the wolves.
7. Wolf (1994)
Hollywood also paged Rick Baker to turn Jack Nicolson into a human wolf (talk about typecasting) in this literate horror film directed by Mike Nichols (The Graduate, The Birdcage) of all people. After losing his job and wife to Yuppie scum James Spader, book editor Nicholson literally bites back after a transformative run-in with a wolf late one night. His senses become heightened, his hair grows thicker and before you know it, he’s bedding the boss’ hot daughter (Michelle Pfeiffer). Wolf stumbles during its “WTF” last act, but the movie still scores as an interesting adult horror drama. Look for a bit part by Friends’ David Schwimmer as a cop.
8. Ginger Snaps (2000)
This modern classic from Canada subverts the traditional werewolf tale for a story of sexual awakening. Emily Perkins and Katharine (Hannibal) Isabelle play devoted Goth-lovin’ teenage sisters who won’t let boys, budding maturity or a little lycanthropy—older sis gets bit by a werewolf on the eve of her first period—upset their sibling bonds. Brimming with subtext, honest emotion and a reality far removed from typical horror fairy tales, Ginger Snaps will have you baying with pleasure. Followed by two decent sequels.
9. Dog Soldiers (2002)
This exciting horror actioner from Britain’s Neil (Game of Thrones) Marshall follows a team of British soldiers on a training mission in the Scottish Highlands that goes horribly awry when they encounter into a pack of ferocious werewolves. No one told them about that in basic training! Loyalties among the men get tested further after they hole up in an isolated cabin, the hairy monsters huffing and puffing outside. Familiar Brits Sean (Elementary) Pertwee, Liam (Game of Thrones) Cunningham and Kevin (Grey’s Anatomy) McKidd bleed testosterone, battling FX maestro Bob (Hellraiser) Keen’s impressive critters.
10. Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004)
In this historical horror picture set in the mid-1800s, the suave Julian (Warlock) Sands portrays real-life serial killer Manuel Blanco Romasanta, a travelling salesman who trolled the countryside looking for victims, mostly women, and made soap from their fat. At his trial for at least 15 murders, he claimed lycanthropy as a defense! Director Paco ([REC]) Plaza weaves a fascinating story of mystery, drama and terror, while letting the viewer ultimately decide on the Gothic story’s veracity.
11. Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009)
The werewolves seize center stage and series star Kate Beckinsale stays home in this fun Underworld prequel, arguably the best of the litter. The story borrows a page or two from Spartacus, as the plot sets in motion the ages-old conflict that began when the aristocratic vampire clans enslaved the Lycans. The werewolves revolt under the leadership of Lucian (classy Michael Sheen of Masters of Sex and Twilight), who seeks to overthrow vampire lord Viktor (scenery-chewing/sword-wielding Bill Nighy). The fur and fangs fly in this thrilling live-action horror comic book.
12. Game of Werewolves (2011)
Spanish writer/director Juan Martinez Morena revives the gory days of ’80s fright films and the old Universal style of the ’40s in this wild horror comedy. Frustrated scribe Tomas (Gorka Otxoa) returns to his ancestral home where he encounters duplicitous villagers, ancient gypsy curses and a town overflowing with werewolves! Only a human sacrifice—unfortunate Tomas himself—will set things right. Moreno keeps the hairy critters old school (men in suits) and the humor unapologetically sophomoric (watch for the cute dog and the severed finger). Catch Game of Werewolves before the next full moon.
13. When Animals Dream (2014)
Lauded at the recent Cannes and Fantasia film festivals, this stunner from Denmark won’t be out till later this year, but put it on your radar now. Teen Marie (Sonia Suhl) lives in a remote fishing village with her wheelchair-bound mother and secrets-hiding father. When Marie begins going through unusual physical changes (enlarged canines, alarming hair spurts, superstrength… you know the drill), the concerned villagers decide to take matters into their own hands. Sensitively directed by Jonas Alexander Arnby, the movie posits lycanthropy as a metaphor for puberty. When Animals Dream does for werewolves what Sweden’s Let the Right One In did for vampires, taking these time-worn monsters in a refreshing new direction.
You can catch more full moon fever with Universal’s Werewolf of London (1935) and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943); the fairy tale-inspired and arty The Company of Wolves (1984); the Stephen King-scripted Silver Bullet (1985); and the warring werewolf rumble Skinwalkers (2006).
Tony Timpone talked about horror and his years at FANGORIA on the Rabbit in Red podcast. Listen here.