Creature Feature: WEREWOLF

Just something I wrote to take my mind of some personal issues, I don't know if anyone here is interested in reading it but I hope so. I enjoyed writing it and I'd love to give other classic monsters similar treatments, if anyone is interested in that (please be interested in that).

Artist: Bob Kehl
Artist: Bob Kehl

Werewolves have always been my favourite monster, I was recently challenged to justify this by a hater questioning the actual quality of their contributions to pop culture. Maybe I went a tiny bit overboard but whatever... This is for you, Person From Another Site...

Why do I like them? I guess I'm fascinated by the idea of a feral, savage beast hiding inside even the meekest among us - and all it needs is something to push it out... all it needs is the right recipe of circumstances: being in the wrong place, being bit by the wrong animal and a full moon (something you can't run from) and then right there your body changes as does your life. Also, I like wolves. ^_^

Origins

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It's hard to tell just how old the werewolf legend is as stories of humans turning into animals seem to have been around as long as stories themselves and peoples past have frequently sought to mimic animal behaviour as a survival/fighting advantage like the Viking Cult of Odin better known as the Berzerkers - skinwalkers who sought a level of supernatural savagery in battle they believed the hides or wolves (or bears) possessed. But as far as modern relevance goes let's look at when belief in them appears to have peaked - the Middle Ages. Some theories to explain the rise of the legend include superstitious folk looking for answers for people infected by rabies or perhaps finding mysteriously slaughtered livestock and looking inward rather outward naturally leading to, naturally, the Werewolf Trials.

From 1520 to 1630 many men were tried for Lycanthropy, there is no reliable number for how many as they were often combined with Witch Trials (often with their wives). Some notable historical "werewolves":

  • "The Werewolf of Bedburg" Peter Stumpp murdered and ate 14 children (including his own son) and 2 pregnant women, he confessed to being a werewolf and practicing black magic since the age of 12. Having his flesh stripped with red-hot pokers, his limbs broken before being dismembered and beheaded, his execution is particularly brutal and tragic as his daughter was also flayed and executed - sadly, her only crime was being raped by him...
  • Pierre Burgot and Michel Verdun confessed to Lycanthropy in France 1521, Burgot claimed to meet 3 hooded figures during who coerced him into a life being a servent of the Devil with the ability to shapeshift into wolves, the serial killer team tore to pieces a young boy, a young girl and a woman (or at least that's just as much as I could find). A third man Philibert Montot was also named by Burgot but it is unknown whether or not he too confessed. All three were burned at the stake.
  • “The Werewolf of Dole” Gilles Garnier in France 1573, a hermetic, cannibalistic serial killer murdered and ate at least 4 children (likely) raw. In addition to being psychotic cannibal, he was also a devoted husband and often brought home left-overs for his wife. Garnier testified that it was a spectre gave him an ointment to acheive his wolf-form. Burned at the stake.
  • "The Werewolf of Angers"/"The Werewolf of Caud" Jacques Roulet in 1598 was found naked and bloody near the body of mutilated, partly eaten teenage boy which he confessed to have been responsible for among others. Notably his confession does not appear to have extracted via torture nor does he mention any deal with the Devil. Later judged to actually be insane he was not executed and instead sentenced to an asylum - times were changing, this is perhaps a special case of lycanthropy recognized as a mental illness and not a supernatural curse.
  • "The Wolf of Ansbach" is a peculiar case and my personal favourite, a legitimate wolf began preying on livestock in Ansbach (now Germany) in 1685 and later humans too. The townsfolk were adamant it was their deeply unpopular former Mayor (name unknown) in werewolf form... Interesting, but what's even more interesting is the fact that said Mayor was already dead... When the wolf was eventually hunted down and killed he was then dressed in human clothes, given a human mask made of human skin and hung from a pole no doubt as a warning to other dead former-Mayors in case they too were planning to come back from the dead in wolf-form.

Belief in werewolves seems to have evolved as an explanation for cannibalism. Those in history who popularized the legend were guilty of some truly heinous crimes, they murdered and ate their own kind, tortured and raped children - so we attributed wolf-like characteristics to these monsters to separate them from us, from people, as we couldn't possibly be capable of such atrocities - the grand irony being that in the wild, wolves do not do these things... It's people who do these things.

Black Wreath's Top Ten Favourite Werewolf Movies

Note: I decided not to include cross-overs. (Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, Underworld, umm Twilight etc...)

10. Bad Moon (1996)

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This movie is very odd to me, the opening scene is like something from a Friday the 13th film with bewbs, blood and premarital sex and then suddenly turns into something remiscent of a child-friendly "boy and his dog" style movie... The story revolves around a heroic German Shepard's (named "Thor") mission to protect his human family from an invading werewolf who is, unknown to the family, the visiting uncle. It's surprising how well the film works considering an argument that the family dog himself is the actual main protagonist of the story but the movie is very enjoyable: I like the expressive, animatronic werewolf head and the tone has the perfect amount of cheese. The kicker? It also ends like Friday the 13th...

9. Wolf Cop (2014)

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Wolf Cop is like Teen Wolf, only with more balls and is a fantastically entertaining low budget whose sequel this year I can't wait to see. The main thing it has in common with Teen Wolf is that the werewolf curse actually improves the life of the victim: Lou Garou (nice pun on loup-garou) is an alcoholic loser and an apathetic and incapable cop until (during one of his frequent benders) he is cursed with lycanthropy - not bitten, the curse is the result of a secret cult's black magic ritual. However, werewolf Lou basically ends up becoming a wolflike Dirty Harry (Dirty Hairy?) making him a kick-ass crime-fighter. Over the decades werewolf movies have shown transformation sequences focusing on the face, the back, the hands and the feet... This is the first time I remember seeing an upclose visual of a wolfman's pecker shapeshifting.

8. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

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One of the most beloved Hammer Studios films and, if my facts are indeed correct, first colour werewolf film (and shockingly, the only werewolf movie Hammer ever made). Based on the novel The Werewolf of Paris... even though the movie never leaves Spain... and features the most English "Spanish" people I've ever seen (but whatever, it's Hammer... "I swear I'm from Transylvania, old chap!") The Curse of the Werewolf follows the typical Hammer formula of hamminess, neon blood and a lot of talking before an epic, monsterrific finale (although personally I felt this one could've used a few more flaming torches). I love the werewolf design, especially its take on the ears even though that old Spanish shirt makes him look like a bit of a man-whore.

7. The Howling (1981)

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To be fair, not all of The Howling has aged particularly well but I like seeing the mystery unravel and the third act is utterly awesome. This isn't Joe Dante's greatest horror movie but it still has his B-movie charm and the wolves look great in it in my opinion, plus you get to see a werewolf transform while hosting the news. One example of a horror movie I actually would love to see get a flashy remake today.

6. The Wolfman (1941)

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The most iconic movie on here, no list would be complete without it. The Wolfman really cemented the werewolf condition as a tragic one, werewolf stories inspired by it almost always portrayed the victims infected as moral, decent human beings and unwilling participants in the transformation: poor Larry Talbot is already a sympathetic figure being in love with a woman who is taken and becomes a werewolf trying to defend her. The Wolfman to this day is still one of the best Universal Monster movies and is still worth a look, it's more sophisticated than people think: not only did establish much of werewolf mythology it also popularized the psychological explanation as the original ending even revealed Larry wasn't shapeshifter just a tortured psychopath with two mindsets: the gentle Man and the savage Wolf before it was decided audiences would prefer a literal Wolfman - but the possibility of lycanthropy being strictly a mental illness is discussed. The original horror icon and "Man of 1,000 Faces" Lon Chaney Sr. forbid his son from following in his footsteps and Jr. only took it up after his father had passed away, I always found it interesting whether the daddy issues prevalent in real life and on screen in this movie were coincidental or not.

5. Stephen King's Silver Bullet (1985)

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Silver Bullet is tons of fun featuring typical King tropes, hokey performances and a certain particularly endearing breed of cheese I find irresistible. The film has its flaws but, to be honest, they're the kind that actually make me like it more for example: the monster effects aren't bad but I've seen better and the narration disappears for so long you forget it was ever a thing. Surprisingly I like the kids and I love the villain reveal but the movie really belongs to Gary Busey, he gives this all-or-nothing performance which by itself makes the movie worth watching.

4. Dog Soldiers (2002)

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...I tend to assume if your intestines are hanging out, you're probably not going to make it but what do I know, I'm not a doctor. Dog Soldiers is a testosterone-fuelled British werewolf cousin of Predator and defintely one of the most cult-adored on the list, it's also cool to see a pre-Seaworth Liam Cunningham and a pre-Pennyworth Sean Pertwee as well as the always-great Kevin McKidd. The plot is thin but the execution is great.

3. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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The one that's supposed to number one. John Landis' benchmark film is probably the most universally-popular werewolf film out there and combines some amazing practical effects with humour and memorable use of popular songs. My favourite thing about the movie is the sharp twists in tone such as the opening at the Slaughtered Lamb, protagonists David Kessler and Jack Goodman seem to have gotten lost on their way to a college sex comedy ended up in a Hammer horror instead. The fish-out-of-water comedy plus the werewolf angst make it come off very original and essential viewing. Gotta love that ending.

2. The Company of Wolves (1984)

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I wish I'd seen this one when I was a kid, it would've f***ed me up nice and good. The Company of Wolves is a dream-like film sewn together of numerous short segments into a big whimsical nightmare, it reminds of that old TV show Jim Henson's The Storyteller with John Hurt (if anyone remembers that) only creepier (if memory serves me correctly, no mean feat), the wolves very much look like puppets but damn they're scary ass-looking puppets. For a film that, in some respects, resembles a children's film this is exceptionally eerie and does not shy from the gruesome, the opening scene I still today find quite unsettling and I really admire this film for its commitment to depicting truly nightmarish fairy tales unflinchingly, something I wish Red Riding Hood had been willing to do. My favourite thing however, is just how creative and varied it gets with its transformation sequences. A work of art.

1. Ginger Snaps & Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2000 & 2004)

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I'm counting them as one because I can't discuss the sequel without spoiling the original (and I wanted to put another movie on the list) but the fact I have to cheat to get all the movies I want on my list should be proof that this genre has plenty to offer and does not deserve to be the unloved child of horror some position it as. Ginger Snaps is not only the best werewolf movie but also the most creatively titled (though if you look above you'll realize that not really a difficult achievement), the film centers on two social outcast sisters Ginger and Bridgett Fitzgerald. Ginger is the rebellious leader, Bridgett is the awkward follower, both are morbid pariahs and and nothing can drive them apart until one night Ginger is attacked by a mysterious animal which just happens to coincide with her finally getting her first period. Ginger blossoms into becoming a woman the at same time she experiences a departure from humanity, leaving her younger sister Bridgett behind putting the once-inseparable siblings at odds with one another as Bridgett desperately tries to cure her sister, protector and best/only friend - who is becoming increasingly uninterested in remaining a part of the human race. The chemistry between Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins always feels real and the movie's one weakness (it's budget) is usually camouflaged expertly.

Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed is a movie I can't write about without spoiling the first one so continue at risk. The sequel follows Bridgett and her desperate attempts to stave off the werewolf infection while also haunted by the memory of her domineering sister. Placed on suicide watch in a facility Bridgette finds herself in the older sister role to the childlike Ghost. Emily Perkins' performance is awesome and the plot is unique within the subgenre my only complaint is the twist ending which I initially thought was cool but now feel Bridgette deserved a better ending after such compelling character development.

Honorable mentions

  • Late Phases (2014): Late Phases is a wonderful film that surely would have made my Top Ten had I not already written it by the time I finally saw this, the highlight is Nick Damici's performance as Ambrose - a misanthropic, blind Vietnam veteran who realizes fairly quickly his new retirement village has werewolf lurking among it and the Lion-in-Winter prepares himself for one last fight in time for the next full moon. The father-son drama is compelling and the score is just beautiful, it also features one of the most epic transformation scenes I've seen outside of An American Werewolf in London. My only real complaint is the faces of the werewolves remind me of Gremlins.
  • Howl (2015): A train full of difficult archetype passengers breaks down at most inconvenient of locations during a full-mooned night and our group come to realize they're surrounded by a pack of werewolves closing in. I quite like this movie though it is frustrating for me as it features so much greatness amongst a few aspects I really didn't care for namely the designs of the wolves which look amazing from a distance but up close look like that mutant dog thing from Ninja Turtles II, not to mention the death of one character that should've been a more emotional moment is castrated by the ill-fitting music that accompanies it. What I liked: the premise is a simple yet awesome survival scenario and one scene in particular stands out as a favourite of mine - on board the train one character is suddenly pulled onto the roof by a wolf from above while the other passengers (and the viewer) are left to imagine in horror what is happening up there as the carriage starts shaking and blood begins pouring down the windows! Brilliant!
  • The Undying Monster (1942): A movie that definitely deserves to be on a higher pedestal, The Undying Monster is a gothic detective story that features some awesome atmospherics and haunting scenery that's right up there with what Universal were doing at the same time. It's about a detective duo trying to uncover a dark secret hiding within the Hammond estate, a Haunted Mansion-esque setting where everyone acts suspiciously. A surprising amount of spotlight is given to its female characters for a movie of this time period and in the opening scene Ms. Hammond grabs a gun in the opening scene with intent to shoot whatever is howling, she holds onto the weapon even when men (without guns, themselves) are in the scene and this is not portrayed as strange in anyway - refreshing to see in a Golden Age flick. I found the characters so compelling I didn't mind this has so little werewolf onscreen. Also features Marmarduke.

  • Wer (2013): Shot in a kind of documentary style, Wer is set in the French countryside when a large hairy man is accused of some fairly brutal murders - our protagonist is his lawyer wishing use the man's rare medical condition to prove his innonence until medical testing accidently unleashes his inner Wolfman (and this movie is very much paying homage to The Wolfman) upon the city. Wer kind of brings the werewolf myth into a more modernized grounded light (and on that note - there's a lot of light since they can change during the day time in this), focusing on it as genetic mutation similar to how zombies have been treated as something of a contagious virus in the likes of 28 Days Later etc. The movie succeeds in bringing initial sympathy for the afflicted and boasts some exciting sequences but found-footage style formats aren't for everyone (though this is well shot, not your typical shaky cam) and personally though I do like The Wolfman I like my werewolves to be more than just really hairy guys.
  • Teen Wolf (1985): I wonder how many kids got hurt van-surfing, the shit people did before the internet. Interesting in that the werewolf curse is portrayed as a heriditary condition with no infection needed and also Michael J. Fox can change at will and it doesn't ruin his life, he becomes extremely popular due to it. If you like 80's teen comedies (I do) this might be your favourite but if you like seeing werewolves slaughter people (again, I do) this is not that kind of monster movie. Michael J. Fox carries this movie well enough but the kid playing his arch-rival... really sucks. Oh and there's that puberty thing I mentioned earlier, I like that too. (I want that "Obnoxious" t-shirt, I think I could pull that off well and it would give people ample warning.)
  • Wolfen (1981): Wolfen has many fans and while I think it is an interesting movie, working as a gritty old-school crime thriller but with a supernatural edge paying homage the legend of the Native American skin-walkers (it is certainly better than the movie Skin Walkers - very much absent from this list :P). My disappointment comes as a monster movie fan, we get many scenes from the wolf's point of view before we get to see it for ourselves and they're in Predator Vision style which in my experience is a way hype the monster's appearance only the pay-off is... a wolf! Just an every day wolf, no bigger than... an every day wolf!
  • Werewolf of London (1935): Holding the distinction of being the first werewolf movie (other than 1913 silent short The Werewolf which no longer exists), it was also a re-adaption Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Some claim it actually better than it's more famous succesor (though they aren't connected) The Wolfman, while I wouldn't go that far (the afflicted protagonist Henry Hull's arrogant Dr. Glendon considerably less likeable than loveable oaf Larry Talbot) but I will say that I like the make up better in this. Interestingly the werewolf is not reduced to all-out savagery here (he even gets dressed) and his attacks are motivated by emotion not bloodlust.
  • Cry of the Werewolf (1944): Often over-looked, it's actually a pretty interesting mash-up of and old-school crime flick with some gothic horror scenes thrown in the mix. Some nice moody scenes almost Cat People-esque, I absolutely adore the use of shadow. Features a beret that is worn so tilted it's almost vertical, beauty was pain back then. Also, a cat repeatedly features.

Comics

In no particular order.

Wolf Moon by Cullen Bunn

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Wolf Moon is an exceptional Vertigo series about a werewolf hunter named Dillion Chase obsessively following the trail of a werewolf having previously suffered great tragedy because of it. The most notable appeal of Wolf Moon is what it introduces to the mythology: Dillion isn't hunting the monster, he's hunting the curse itself... The difference between this depiction and traditional ones is that no infection is required to become a wolf - the curse takes victims at random once a moon cycle which leaves Dillon a tiny window of time to operate and a moral dilemma since those changing shape do so with no warning - they are as innocent a victim as those they kill who are left haunted by the guilt and trauma of what they involuntarily did as the Wolf - one particularly memorable quote being "The Wolf doesn't just reshape flesh and bones. It reshapes lives." All of this coupled with the fact that this is one of most formidible werewolves I've seen depicted, proving to be considerably difficult to kill and quite visually terrifying too. The serious treatment of the subject matter, near impossible challenge presented to the protagonist, the fact I really felt the emotional toil the characters have gone through and, maybe best of all, the beautifully gruesome artwork make Wolf Moon my personal favourite werewolf comic. Totally recommended!

Werewolves on the Moon: Versus Vampires by Dave Land & the Fillbach Brothers

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With the Moon being so important to werewolf lore, it's amazing no-one thought to actually put them on it until this. In the not to distant future, three werewolves (dimwitted ones) stow away on aspace flight to a colony on the Moon and causing major problems for the humans onboard until a mutual, pre-existing threat reveals itself... Turns out, vampires were already living on the dark side and of course a war breaks out. Werewolves on the Moon's premise is amusingly stupid and its dialogue made me chuckle on more than a few occasions. What it lacks in subtlety it makes up for in its talent for effective irreverant, lowbrow humour and would honestly make for a fun animated film. Honestly, a really entertaining book.

The Werewolf of New York by Batton Lash

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No he's not that big in it. The Werewolf of New York is set in the Supernatural Law world where monsters are real and recognized as citizens. But being monsters of course, that means they're probably going to need lawyers sooner or later, Wolff & Byrd represent supernatural beings, the main focus of the story is the trial of a werewolf named Leon Reed and subsequent rehabilitation (and subsequent relapse due to the People for the Rights, Interests, and Concerns of Shapeshifters - or PRICS for short). Very David E. Kelley. But with monsters.

Werewolves by "Alice Carr"

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Maybe not technically a comic book but an illustrated book nonetheless, I'm including it just because I love it. Werewolves is comprised of the diary entries and sketches of a young girl named Alice who (along with her brother Mark) have been bitten and infected by the werewolf curse and their subsequent joining of a werewolf pack the journal entries and the sketches serving as second-hand relivings of the experience through Alice's eyes and memories including her mentorship under the Alpha of the pack, dealings with werewolf hunters and how she handles the sight of the poor treatment her brother recieves becoming the Omega of the group. The book handles like the printed equivalent of a found-footage film, like a werewolf Chronicle but on page even including nice touches of realism like sketches drawn to reflect varying moods/care in detail, scribbled out words to reflect frustration and the book is even credited to the fictional "Alice Carr". I found this to be a very interesting find.

Full Moon by Jeff Zornow

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Full Moon is a short story as a part of Image's Horror Book compilation in conjunction with Cryptic magazine. A neat little Gothic horror/dark fantasy-action story, this one takes place in the Carpathian Mountains under the curse of an insidious vampire princess named Wandessa who torments the human population with her monstrous undead servants. When she targets the townsfolk children, the local priest decides to fight monsters with monsters and employs the help of a werewolf with no name to save them. Wandessa throws all her evil in his way as the wolf runs through a gauntlet of zombies, giant spiders, giant bats, a beautifully over-the-top, two-headed, steampunk Frankenstein's monster and naturally the vampire princess herself. I love the designs and the classic Universal-esque imagery and the battles are thrilling too.

LycAnthems

  • Bad Company: Running with the Pack
  • Blue Öyster Cult: Subhuman
  • Bobby Vinton: Blue Moon
  • The Cramps: I Was a Teenage Werewolf
  • Creedance Clearwater Revival: Bad Moon Rising
  • David Bowie: Changes
  • Dead Kennedys: Dog Bite
  • Disturbed: The Animal
  • Duran Duran: Hungry Like the Wolf
  • Five Man Electrical Band: Werewolf
  • Fiona Apple: Werewolf
  • Grace Slick: Full Moon Man
  • Heart, Ann & Nancy Wilson: Wolf
  • Heather Alexander: Wolfen One
  • Iced Earth: Wolf
  • INXS & Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders: Full Moon, Dirty Hearts
  • Kansas: Howling at the Moon
  • The Marcels: Blue Moon
  • Metallica: Of Wolf and Man
  • Metallica: Am I Savage
  • Misfits: We Bite
  • Misfits: Wolf's Blood
  • Moonspell: Full Moon Madness
  • Moonspell: Lickanthrope
  • Moonspell: Sanguine
  • Moonspell: Wolfshade (A Werewolf Masquerade)
  • Moonspell: Wolves from the Fog (you can probably tell Moonspell like werewolves...)
  • Nazareth: Hair of the Doghe omen
  • Ozzy Osbourne: Bark at the Moon
  • Queens of the Stone Age: Someone's in the Wolf
  • Radiohead: Wolf at the Door
  • Rainbow: Wolf to the Moon
  • Rob Zombie: Werewolf Baby!
  • Sam Cooke: Blue Moon
  • Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs: Little Red Riding Hood
  • Shakira: She Wolf
  • Six Feet Under: Lycanthropy
  • Special Poetry Slam: Werewolf
  • Sonata Arctica: Ain't Your Fairytale
  • Sonata Arctica: Full Moon
  • Tragically Hip: I'm a Werewolf, Baby
  • Type O Negative: Wolf Moon
  • Van Morrison: Moon Dance
  • The Vision Bleak: Wolfmoon
  • Warren Zevon: Werewolves of London
  • The Young Werewolves: Under the Full Moon

Obligatory Cat Picture

AROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
AROOOOOOOOOOOOOO!
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