By Jesse Baker
While the vampire genre has a wide variety of quality film selections for viewers to enjoy, werewolf films is a genre with slim pickings. Part of this is due to censorship issues (werewolves ripping victims to shreds would be an instant R-Rating) but also the logistics of successfully pulling off both the transformation and appearance of a werewolf. Being able to pull it off in live action films is a tough thing to do, let alone creating a werewolf monster that is both scary and realistic.
This article contains a selection of high quality werewolf films for viewing this Halloween. I’ve selected the best ones out there, so you don’t have to struggle to find them out of the many duds that exist.
The Wolfman (Universal Studios): Lon Chaney Jr.’s debut as the furry wolfman may have aged badly (in part because of censorship issues making him having to strangle people like a common killer), but Chaney Jr. does a great job capturing the angst and horror of Larry Talbot; a man turned into a wolf creature after being bitten by another werewolf. More character study than gore fest, the film captures the angst and existential dread of being a werewolf and Larry’s struggle to avoid harming others.
Werewolf Vs The Vampire Women: In the 1970s, Spanish actor Paul Naschy carved out a lengthy career as a horror icon with his won distinct “Werewolf” series. A string of low budget werewolf films with loose continuity and lot of gore and nudity, the films featured Naschy as a corrupt and debauched nobleman who gets turned into a werewolf and goes on bloody rampages; several of which have him fighting actual bad guys. Werewolf vs The Vampire Women is the most famous of these films, with Naschy fighting a lesbian vampire queen who is freed from her tomb by a pair of female archeologists that are seeking to find her tomb.
The Werewolf of Washington: A political satire released right around the time of the Watergate Scandal in the mid-1970s, “The Werewolf of Washington” was largely forgotten until the early 2010s when it was featured in the revival of horror hostest Elvira’s horror movie showcase. The film stars a young Dean Stockwell (of “Quantum Leap” fame) as a reporter who is turned into a werewolf after being transfered overseas when his boss finds out that he’s secretly dating the President’s daughter. Returning to Washington and the political beat, covering a Richard Nixon type President, Stockwell’s reporter character starts hunting human prey while trying to keep his curse a secret from his girlfriend and her father.
The Howling: Loosely based upon a novel of the same name, “The Howling” is a franchise that started with a strong first film only to immediately degrade with horrible sequels that eventually ended up going straight to video due to their awfulness. Which is a shame that the original sadly gets lumped in with it’s garbage sequels.
The original “Howling” features Dee Wallace as an investigative reporter dealing with PTSD, after serving as bait to help the police capture a serial killer and nearly dying in the process. Her therapist recommends she spent time at a local clinic in the middle of nowhere, but the clinic she goes to has a dark secret: it’s run by werewolves, who seek to induct Wallace into their ranks. Worse, the serial killer that nearly killed Wallace is a part of this group of werewolves and seeks to settle the score with his reporter rival. Featuring groundbreaking (for it’s time) special effects and an inhuman, beastial take on the werewolf form, the film was a critical and commerical hit, but was overshadowed by the next film in this article….
An American Werewolf In London: Released around the same time as “The Howling”, “An American Werewolf In London” overshadowed the more grounded “The Howling” both at the box office and in the hearts of horror fans. Directed by John Landis, the film was far more than just a werewolf film, tossing in ghosts into the mix. The film follows an American tourist in London, who gets bit by a werewolf and haunted by his victims ghosts, one of which is his best friend that constantly urge the lead character to kill himself before the next full moon. The film’s plot is less focused than “The Howling”, focusing on the main character’s descent into madness and the implication that werewolfs can communicate with their victims. Featuring some of the most iconic werewolf visuals and transformation sequenes of the genre, the film showed how far werewolf fans had come since the days of Universal Studio’s Wolfman.
Teen Wolf: Michael J Fox’s comedy film about werewolfism spawned a sequel (granted with Jason Bateman replacing Fox in the lead role), a Saturday morning cartoon, and an INO MTV drama that lasted six seasons. Fox plays a teenager who’s life goes haywire when he suddenly turns into a werewolf one night out of the blue. Fox soon finds out that his entire family is cursed to turn into werewolves, due to an ancient curse on the bloodline. But unlike most werewolfs, Fox and his family retains all of his mental faculties and self-control in his wolf form. To Fox’s dismay, his curse turns him from a nobody to the most popular kid in school and helps propel his school’s loser basketball team to victory after victory. However, he soon finds himself wondering how much of his new popularity is due to the novelty of him being a werewolf and people actually liking him as a person. The film’s humorous deconstruction of the werewolf mythology and the public’s fascination with the genre plays out, making it a cult hit and helped continue Fox’s run as one of Hollywood’s most popular actors in the 1980s.
Wolf: Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfiefer star in this 1994 werewolf outing, which mixes romance and murder mystery. Nicholson is an editor-in-chief at a publishing company who has the worst day ever at the start of the film. First he is bitten by a large wolf he accidentally hit with his care. Then he finds out that he has lost his job due to the behind the scenes manipulation of his protege (played by James Spader). And as he begins the process of becoming a werewolf, he finds out that his wife is sleeping with said treacherous protege, who Nicholson bites in a jealous rage, unknowingly turning him into a werewolf too.
As Nicholson transforms into a wolf creature, he finds a bright spot in the form of his new girlfriend (played by Michelle Pfiefer). But as their romance blooms, Nicholson becomes framed for his wife’s murder and must clear his name.
Ginger Snaps: Released with zero fanfare in the 2001, Ginger Snaps found a second life by way of online word of mouth when it hit DVD and spawned several sequels. Katharine Isabelle plays Ginger, a bullied young teenage girl who is bitten by a werewolf and seeks revenge on her tormentors. Only her beloved sister can save Ginger, but Ginger’s newfound power makes her resist her sister’s desire to save her from her newfound bloodlust.
Cursed: This forgotten 2005 werewolf classic reunited “Scream” team Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson to tell the tale of two siblings (Christina Ricci and a then unknown Jessie Eisenberg) who are attacked by a werewolf and cursed as a result. As they struggle to find the werewolf who cursed them, in hopes of killing him and negating their own werewolf curse before they end up harming people around them.
The Wolfman (2010 version): Before Universal Studios’ failed attempt to launch their “Dark Universe” Cinematic Universe starring their iconic monsters, we got a proper modern remake of the original Universal Studios “Wolfman” film. This big budget film stars Benicio Del Toro as the titular Wolfman and provides fans of the original “Wolfman” a chance to see the story retold with modern special effects and free from the restrictive nature of the Hayes Production Code.