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There have been many portrayals of werewolves and other shapeshifting man/woman-beasts, in the media of film, but I can’t say there has been many memorable ones. With The Wolf Man (1941) Lon Chaney Jr. transformed into a werewolf at the full moon, and created one of the three most famous horror icons of the modern day. Werewolf fiction as since been an exceptionally diverse genre with ancient folkloric roots and manifold modern re-interpretations – from high shcool basketball players to American tourists hiking through the UK. Here is the list of my personal favourites.
Directed by: Paul Naschy
Paul Naschy, also known as Jacinto Molina Alvarez, was a Spanish movie actor, screenwriter, and director working primarily in horror films. His portrayals of numerous classic horror figures—the wolfman, the hunchback, Count Dracula, the mummy—have earned him recognition as the Spanish Lon Chaney. The werewolf Waldemar Daninsky (known in Spain as El Hombre Lobo) is without a doubt Paul Naschy’s most famous horror character, since he played Daninsky in 12 different films. In fact, Naschy holds the record for playing a werewolf the most number of times, easily beating out the great Lon Chaney Jr. (who played a Wolf Man only seven times during his career). He’s worked in so many horror films especially within the werewolf genre that I just had to include one on this list. The truth is, it is the only film from Naschy that I’ve seen – most likely because it came out in the late 80’s and was easier to track down. In Howl Of The Devil, Naschy writes, directs and stars, playing a Shakespearean actor who has a fondness for prostitutes. It’s an incredibly fast-paced but admittedly cluttered film, with several references to Naschy’s career. Naschy appears as Mr.Hyde, Rasputin, Quasimodo, Fu Manchu, the Monster of Frankenstein, Waldemar Daninsky and the Phantom of the Opera. Howl Of The Devil is incredibly entertaining and a good starting point for anyone interested in exploring Naschy’s career.
Directed by Tomoo Haraguchi
Ryuji Harada plays Kibakichi, a samurai werewolf who is constantly under attack by bounty hunters while traveling through the countryside to escape his past. Tomoo Haraguchi’s Kibakichi: Bakko-yokaiden (or Werewolf Warrior I) is, totally and unapologetically, a truly psychotropic film: a wild and explosive horror fantasy blending traditional Japanese monsters with action movie bravado. Every monster that appears in the film looks as if it was created using paper-mâché and fake fur, but is it ever fun to watch. The choreography in the sword fighting scenes and the stunt work in the film’s grand finale is amazing, and the opening is fairly memorable. The special effects are simplistic but ambitious and the cinematographer uses many filters to give Kibakichi its own unique look. This is a lone samurai werewolf movie following the style of spaghetti westerns – a one of a kind – watch it!
Directed by Michael Levesque
Werewolves on Wheels was produced by Paul Lewis, a frequent collaborator with Dennis Hopper who had only two years before directed the quintessential biker road movie Easy Rider. Werewolves is the directorial debut of Michel Levesque, who would go on to work as Art Director on the Russ Meyer films Supervixens, Beneath the Valley of the Ultra-Vixens and Up!. For a first time director he manages to handle the material with utmost care and professionalism. The film is beautifully photographed by Isidore Mankofsky, who fills every inch of every frame with interesting compositions that are never too flashy or distracting. If nothing else, Werewolves On Wheels is a product of its time, loaded with scenes mimicking the “free spirit” movement. It’s generally well made, featuring an organic-sounding score, a good rock soundtrack and a fairly decent werewolf attack.
Directed by Len Wiseman
Many critics gave Underworld a hard time, but I really enjoyed the Shakespearean werewolf vampire approach. Underworld is neither scary nor particularly suspenseful, but it’s ultimately entertaining, exciting, and stylish. Tony Pierce-Roberts’ cinematography nicely captures the gothic comic-book feel and there is just enough of both worlds for horror fans to sink their teeth into. Also worth noting is the sequels are listed under special mentions below.
#9- Dog Soldiers (2002)
Directed by Neil Marshall
Dog Soldiers takes the conventions of a sub genre and tears them apart. Writer/director Neil Marshall knows full well what his audience is after, and he doesn’t waste time. The action scenes are kinetic and exiting, the carnage is bloody and gory and the frantic extended finale is easily worth the price of a rental. A cross between Scarecrows, The Howling, Zulu Dawn, and Aliens, Dog Soldiers succeeds where most other homages fail because there’s a real sense of earnestness on the part of director/screenwriter Marshall.
#8 The Company Of Wolves (1984)
Directed by Neil Jordan
The second directorial effort from Irish director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), The Company Of Wolves is a psychologically themed retelling of Little Red Riding Hood from a slightly feminist angle. Neil Jordan’s 1984 film is based on a collection of short stories originally written by novelist Angela Carter, who collaborates with Jordan on this film’s script. While it is not terribly frightening, this film can make one marvel at its beauty and also think carefully about its allegories of leaving childhood behind and embracing maturity. The superb cast which, includes Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury and David Warner, elevates this exceptional story too, and Anton Furst’s elaborate forest settings, all created within studio confines, are a remarkable feat too – something to admire.
#7 Ginger Snaps (2000)
Directed by John Fawcett
Karen Walton’s sharp screenplay, along with the strong female cast and biting satire of teenage life, makes Ginger Snaps far more memorable than your average werewolf movie. Surprisingly smart and capably made – not to mention gory and scary – this Canadian horror flick breaks past the usual werewolf mythology, allowing Ginger Snaps to play more like The Fly, whereby the unlucky Ginger gradually shape-shifts into the beast. Violent, campy, socially conscious, and witty, Ginger Snaps is a cut above the average horror film.
#6 Hound of Baskervilles (1959)
Directed by Terence Fisher
From Britain’s Hammer Studio, a remake of one of Conan Doyle’s most famous and popular Sherlock Holmes stories. Peter Cushing delivers a sterling performance as always. Here he captures the energy, arrogance, and mannerisms you’d expect of Holmes. The cinematography is stylish and gaudy, with that distinctive Hammer look. Jack Asher, the cinematographer, did an excellent job of providing the proper atmosphere and the subtle lighting tones to bring the picture to life. One of the best remakes and better Hammer films to date.
Directed by George Waggner
The Wolfman is by far the most entertaining and effective Universal monster movie since Bride of Frankenstein, released a decade earlier. Held together by Chaney’s appealing performance and great supporting players like Bela Lugosi, Claude Rains and Ralph Bellamy, The Wolfman hasn’t lost its punch in spite of its age. The emotional impact, sheer terror, tragic ending, stunning cinematography and score are some of the finest in any of the Universal monster movies. The script, by Curt Siodmak, was so rich and well written that some of the concepts he invented for the film have taken root in many of our minds as real, old-world werewolf folklore. Without any roadmap to follow nor a classic novel to adapt – nor a common genre template to fall back on; Siodmak put together a story that would inspire hundreds of films to come.
Directed by Michael Wadleigh
Based on a novel by Whitley Strieber, this urban horror is inspired by the legends of American Indian shape-shifters. Albert Finney turns in one of his best performances as the New York cop investigating strange murders and director Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock) makes the most out of the urban environment of Manhattan creating an exceedingly chilling atmosphere. Even more interesting is that much of the story and carnage caused by the beast is delivered from the perspective of the monster itself. Certainly one of the most intelligent and imaginative of all werewolf movies.
Directed by John Landis
Thriller is not so much a music video as it is a short horror film, featuring choreographed zombies performing with Jackson. It was directed by John Landis who had previously directed the hit film An American Werewolf in London and choreographed by Michael Peters who worked with Jackson on Beat It. The video contained a spoken word performance by horror film veteran Vincent Price, co starred former Playboy centerfold Ola Ray and incidentally contained music by composer Elmer Bernstein (who also worked with Landis on An American Werewolf in London). The video set new standards for production, having cost $500,000 to film and the choreography in Thriller has become a part of global pop culture, replicated everywhere from Bollywood to the Philippines. The Thriller short film marked an increase in scale for music videos, and has been named the most successful music video ever, firmly cementing the notion that videos could be something more than just commercials for singles. The result is an exciting film full of Gothic imagery that still holds up decades later.
Directed by Joe Dante
Based on the best-selling novel by Gary Brandner, this horror film makes effective use of the classic werewolf tale but more importantly The Howling deserves respect simply for being the innovative modern werewolf flick, that is the first to actually show the lycanthrope transformation process in slow, painstaking detail through a combination of clever edits and animatronics. The Howling may not be as polished or effective as John Landis’ 1981 An American Werewolf in London, but the film delivers more action, gore and true scares letting the wolves bite in and howl more often than not. Werewolves are the least-regarded of all the classic monsters. Unlike vampires and mummies, werewolves have never had much luck at the box office. 1981 changed all that with not one but two movies baring these hairy beasts.
Directed by John Landis
One of the all-time great horror movies, with a pitch-perfect mix of comedy and genuine scares. Directed by the brilliant John Landis and made before the advent of CGI, it features werewolf transformations (courtesy of genius effects wizard Rick Baker) that are more realistic than those of recent horror films. Landis – who was 19 when he penned the first draft – delivers a clever mixture of comedy and horror which succeeds in being both funny and scary. Along with the thrills, atmosphere, romance, sex, nudity and a witty assemblage of moon-themed songs (“Blue Moon”, “Bad Moon Rising”, “Moondance”), American Werewolf In London remains the best werewolf movie to date – so good that Rick Baker received a well deserved Oscar for his makeup (in the first year of that category).
Special Mentions: Werewolf Hunter: The Legend of Romasanta (2004), Teen Wolf (1985) and the Underworld and Ginger Snaps sequels.