04 May THE WOLF’S KNOCKING AT YOUR DOOR?
I think it’s time for me to say right here, in print, that I love werewolf movies. Ever since the original Wolf Man, I have loved them because werewolves occupy a unique space of their own. Not quite the undead, not quite vampirish, not necessarily a sinister or malevolent presence, just werewolves. One thing I find in a lot of cases, is that there’s also always a thread of remorse from the person who’s actually a werewolf, so it’s a thing with werewolf movies where the emotions are never straight-forward.
There’s something to be said about turning into a creature against your will with only your base emotions driving things. I think the analogy is that we all have this monster inside of us that can either involuntarily, out of necessity or maybe even survival, surface and take over who we are. I think it goes way, way back to our primal selves, and recognizing the wolves as being similar animals to us. Extremely intelligent animals, good hunters, strategic, sharp, and doing what they have to do to survive. And I think a lot of the legends and mythology around wolves are based around the fear that they’re too much like us. Certainly, you know, they talk about that in Roman times and medieval Europe, and the ultimate conclusion of that is a human making the anthropological leap over to the lupine side, hence lycanthropy. It’s very clear when you look at the past how this mythology of werewolves is a strong part of Western culture. And I love that that kind of awareness of wolves, I love that it’s been adopted by literature and turned into a genre unto itself.
There is one kind of werewolf which I’ve always been a bigger sucker for than others, the reluctant werewolf, and American Werewolf in London is a really great example of that angle of storytelling. It’s highly dramatic! He (David Naughton) gets bit by a wolf, and all of a sudden things start going horribly sideways for him. When we see that first transformation, I think it’s one of the greatest ever moments of werewolf cinema. The look on his face when he’s staring at his hand morphing into a wolf hand, and he’s screaming in pain, screaming with agony, he’s probably screaming in shock, surprise, anger, frustration. It really encapsulates what it must feel like to make the change from primate to lupine, and is one of the best representations of that transformation process.
We all look forward to the transformation process in the werewolf movies, I know I do, and if it isn’t a good transformation scene, well then I feel short-changed! They’ve certainly changed over the years, but the classic ones were pretty great too. In the classic Wolf Man movie with Lon Chaney, they didn’t have a lot to work with back then make-up or prosthetic wise, and special effects in general were still a new field. Yet it was still so effective, just like all the wolf man transformations that happened in the ‘40s, considering what they were working with. I am lucky enough to own a test shot wolfman ‘head’ for Lon Chaney Jr from the Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. It’s a make-up test ‘bust’ for it, and I think it might have even been screen used for a long shot or something. And that is one of the most prized possessions in my collection because of the significance of it and also because, you know, it’s a werewolf!
I also have to note The Company of Wolves, Neil Jordan’s film. The transformation scene that shows the woman with her mouth open and the wolf snout coming out of her mouth? That right there is such a great, great visual.
Something else of huge significance I need to mention. There’s a movie from 1947 called Return of the Vampire with Bela Lugosi, and there’s a werewolf in that movie. So? What’s significant you ask? Well, it’s a talking werewolf. It’s a real, bona fide talking werewolf in 1947! Up to that point, werewolves were portrayed as vicious, snarling, gnashing, savage beasts. And this one, it’s a talking werewolf wearing a pinstripe suit, and he’s basically an assistant to Lugosi’s vampire.
I love the fact that he actually has dialogue in this movie and, again, he strikes a very reluctant stance as a werewolf. It’s a really big point in werewolf cinema, and the decision to let the werewolf talk in that movie was a pretty adventurous one. And then you don’t see talking werewolves for a while, up until fucking Dark Shadows, and that werewolf would eventually utter two or three words here or there. But the best talking vampire in the world is, again, from An American Werewolf in London. Or is it Eddie from The Howling, where he says, ‘I’m gonna give you a piece of my mind’ and he pulls out a piece of his brain and gives it to the guy. Maybe it is Eddie…
There are so many great werewolf movies, and some of them are pretty crazy even for werewolf movies. I love Dog Soldiers! It’s just great, you know, any time you get a scenario with a bunch of werewolves, how cool is that? The single reluctant werewolf scenario is always cool, it always generates a lot of pathos and empathy, but there’s also a great synergy when you have a bunch of werewolves together. There’s also that recent British movie Howl. Then, of course I have to mention it again, Wolf Cop, where there’s a bevy of werewolves. There’s just something about seeing a bunch of werewolves together that to me is like totally great, in fact to use a word I rarely use, awesome.
Don’t ignore Werewolf of London with Henry Hull, 1935. There’s a great, really different looking werewolf and then there’s Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf. What’s amazing about that, is that Oliver Reed’s werewolf is based on what I ‘think’ a timber wolf/ timber werewolf would be. It’s not a really fuzzy, dark and dark furred werewolf. He has gray points to him, much like a timber wolf. And so you know, I love the fact that The Curse of the Werewolf is based more on the timber wolf than, you know, your usual stock in trade wolf. And I gotta say, that make-up is brilliant and Oliver Reed did a great job.
But again, all werewolves are great. Werewolves of pathos? Love it. Werewolves as vicious beasts who are satanic creatures? Love it. Militant werewolves? Love it. Werewolves are, ultimately, much more interesting to me than, say, zombies. And I know I might be pissing people off by saying that but I’ll go on record to say that werewolves are just really, really fucking, interesting and I like the capacity and the range of emotion that werewolves tend to possess in these stories, you know? Whereas with zombies, you take a lot of themes and emotions from the victim or the protagonist, but a zombie’s generally a zombie. Stuff like I, Zombie showed some promise in terms of shifting the direction of zombies to maybe having more dimension, but for decades of cinema I think we can safely say that zombies have generally always been zombies whereas werewolves have come in many styles and shapes.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and start channeling your inner-werewolf now!
See ya soon,
p.s. I nearly forgot, special special SPECIAL mention for my good friend Ozzy Osbourne and his pretty great werewolf in the Bark At The Moon video. In fact, Ozzy proves my point that we all have a werewolf inside us because to this very day you can still hear him howling occasionally at his gigs! Right on Ozzy!