Friday, July 8, 2011

The Lycanthrope List - Film's Greatest Werewolves

Of all the classic monsters, I've always been particularly fond of Werewolves. While Young Marvin was still scared shitless of anything resembling supernatural, I always had an affinity for these beasts. Perhaps it was because of my love of animals, particularly dogs, but they just didn't seem as evil as vampires and ghosts.

Right now I'm 10 episodes deep into True Blood Season 3 (I don't get cable, so I've got to wait until the DVDs come out). It's a decent season, but something just doesn't sit right with me about their portrayal of my number one monsters. I think the problem is that they are just white trash dudes who turn into ordinary-looking wolves. The werewolf, as I prefer it, should be halfway between a man and a wolf. While Alan Ball and company give some reason or other for using real wolves for their werewolves, I can't help but suspect the real factor was money. It simply would have cost too much to use CGI, or better yet, some gnarly practical werewolf effects. But the fact is, they're just not very scary.

The sad truth is, True Blood's werewolves would get their asses handed to them by the Goddamned Twilight werewolves. Sure they're fluffy, but at least they're huge.

Wouldja look at that fluffy bastard?

So as a remedy for this, I've compiled this list of my top ten werewolves from all of filmdom. Keep in mind, this isn't a list of the absolute best werewolf movies, but rather the top ten werewolf designs from film.

#10 - Ginger Snaps

Just look at that bad bastard. I figure if I had a good weapon, or at least a big stick, I could fend off an ordinary wolf. But this monster? Say bye-bye to your jugular. This werewolf is not your typical lycanthrope. It is relatively hairless, and you can see its boobies hanging down. Somehow this makes it all the more terrifying.

#9 - The Wolfman
I know, blasphemy, right? Number 9? After all, Jack Pierce's werewolf design defined the beast for generations to come and is still instantly recognizable as one of Universal's most revered monsters. The reason for such a placement is that after decades of werewolves on steroids (going back to An American Werewolf in London), this fella just ain't that scary anymore. Plus, it looks like he's wearing a coonskin cap. Don't get me wrong, the original The Wolfman is one of my all-time favorite films. There's simply so much to love. If that weren't the case, this wolfman may not have made my list at all. But when you consider his predecessor:'s clear that Lon Chaney's Wolfman was a huge step forward as far as werewolf design. I'm not trying to bag of Werewolf of London or anything - it's an excellent movie as well, and probably one of the first to portray a werewolf as being a wolf/human hybrid - it's just that werewolves have come so far since then.

#8 - Cursed

I've reviewed this one before, so you'll know that I'm not in love with this movie, but it does have some great werewolf action. In this scene, soul singer Mya is trapped in an elevator with this bad boy intent on making her a tasty treat (and a tasty treat she is). This is probably the only genuinely scary scene in the movie, and probably the one that saved it for me. Well, there's also this scene:

...which cracked my shit up. Okay, so the werewolf looks ridiculous here, but that's really the point, isn't it?

#7 - Underworld Trilogy

Awww, Goddammit! Look at that thing. I don't know about you, but that thing scares the crap out of me. It's too bad that these movies aren't scary in the least. I didn't even like Underworld that much (for some reason, I liked the sequels better). But just look at it. Ewww...

I put the Underworld movies in a class with the Resident Evil movies - basically they're action movies with horror elements. But there's something about werewolves battling vampires that is irresistible to me. However, like True Blood, they tend to favor the vampires as the more intelligent, sophisticated species while the werewolves are no more than brutes. So, Underworld werewolves don't make the top five, not because of inferior design, but because of blatant species-ism.

#6 - The Monster Squad

Monster Squad took a page out of Jack Pierce's book with their elegant werewolf design. He looks like a streamlined version of Larry Talbot, with sharper features that make him wicked scary. The thing about The Monster Squad is that it mixes the ridiculous with the heart-wrenching. Just look at the relationship between Sean's parents - that fight they have just kills me. At the same time there's the classic line, "Creature stole my Twinkie." So too is it for the wolfman. Sure he is temporarily defeated with a swift kick to the nards, and his body parts fly back together after being blown apart with dynamite, but the scene where he's begging to be locked up, and when he thanks Rudy for ending his life, make you feel real compassion for this character.

Plus, nards. 

#5 - Dog Soldiers

The werewolves of Dog Soldiers are tall, mean, lean, and move with the grace of dancers. I don't know quite what it is about the creature design that gets me. Maybe it's how they're so skinny at the waist, but so powerful up top. These bad boys are freaky though. And you can empty an entire HK91 clip into them without them so much as noticing.

#4 - Van Helsing

Van Helsing has always been a guilty pleasure of mine. It's over-acted, terribly convoluted, and little more than an excuse for an epic bout of werewolf vs vampire fisticuffs. But I'm addicted to it. It helps that it is one of the few horror movies I can share with my young sons, and their enthusiasm is contagious. But regardless of the relative merits of the film, I've always dug their pumped-up, gigantic, werewolves on steroids. You'd have the be Van Helsing himself to take down one of these things.

And still they'd manage to bite you. Yep, that's the legendary Van Helsing himself transformed into a lycanthrope and fixin' to kick some Drac-ass-ula. Scream Drac-ass-ula, Scream!


#3 - An American Werewolf in London

Okay, this isn't an actual screenshot. Give me a break, I don't have it on DVD yet because who is their right mind would sell this film to a pawn shop. As far as I can tell, this is either an actual prop from the film or a replica on display as it should be - as a work of art.

Is any explanation needed  for why An American Werewolf in London is in the top 3? John Landis has never topped this perfect mix of horror and comedy. Rick Baker got famous for this formidable werewolf design, which remains one of the absolutely most terrifying werewolves in film history. I've always liked that his werewolf walked on all fours while remaining fully a supernatural creature rather than an ordinary wolf. I also love how the climactic scene in Piccadilly Circus is iconic enough to keep showing up in other films, particularly in the 2010 version of the Wolfman. Landis also references it in his "Deer Woman" episode of Masters of Horror.

#2 - The Howling 

For my money, the Howling is the most terrifying werewolf movie ever, with some of the all-time best werewolves. They have always reminded me of the Big Bad Wolf, with their tall, pointed ears. These bastards tower above their victims, and Joe Dante films them with a master's sense of space, making you aware of their power and menace like no other. And yes, Dave Allen's stop-motion homage to Ray Harryhausen leaves something to be desired, but by and large, the visual effects are top-notch (for its time). All I know is that when I have nightmares of werewolves, this is what they look like. Well, except for the Dee Wallace Pomeranian werewolf at the end. But Hell, she was supposed to be sympathetic rather than menacing.

#1 - The Wolfman (2010)

What do you mean WTF? Yeah the Anthony Hopkins werewolf is number one. Just look at him. He's both a scary-ass werewolf and Hannibal Lecter rolled into one. What I love is how this design pays homage to Jack Pierce's Wolfman, improves upon it, and is still recognizable as Anthony Hopkins. People accuse Sir Hopkins of phoning in his performance, but they're obviously brain-damaged. I've never seen him have so much damned fun with a role.

Whatever the film's shortcomings (and admittedly, there are many), it gave me everything I wanted to see. Spooky atmosphere, menacing monsters, and an epic showdown between Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. Add to that the stunning Emily Blunt and the always riveting Hugo Weaving, and what's not to love. I will say that if you caught this in the theater, you need to see the director's cut, if only for the scene where Anthony Hopkins eats an apple. Seriously. He eats an apple and stares at Emily Blunt without ever responding to her questions, and its the best scene of the film. You'll also see Max von Sydow pass the torch, er, wolf's head cane, to the new generation. The one drawback of the director's cut is that you have to suffer through del Toro's portrayal of Hamlet. I love Benicio, but somehow he can't pull off playing an actor. Embarrassing.

But he makes an excellent werewolf, and he earned my respect by making this movie happen through the sheer force of his love for the original. How can you hate on a Universal Monsters fan?

Also, did I mention the gore? I wasn't expecting this movie to be in the least bit gory, but when the werewolf starts tearing shit up at the gypsy camp, the blood flows freely. Your great-grandfather's wolfman this is not.

Honorable Mentions: The Company of Wolves

Okay, I'll be the first to admit that the werewolf design in this movie isn't fantastic. But this image, the wolf snout emerging from a human mouth, has haunted me since I saw the VHS cover when I was a kid. The cover stared at my from the shelf of my local grocery store's video shelf, and I couldn't pass it without staring for a good two minutes. It was years before I'd work up the courage to actually watch this film, and I'd say its probably my favorite werewolf film ever. Then, there's also this guy:

Notice how the eyebrows meet in the middle? A dead giveaway of lycanthropy. This dude is far creepier in his human form, and I love how the teenage girl never lets him get the upper hand, but rather becomes his consort. All-in-all, a beautiful film despite some very dated special effects.


Oh shit, did I just dis Jack? While I've always dug his werewolf movie, it's just a tad understated for my taste. It's good - I like it, and it would definitely make my top twelve, but I'm just not blown away by its werewolf design. Hate me if you will.

Teen Wolf

This movie gets a pass purely for nostalgia's sake. And Michael J. Fox has always been one of my favorites. I was raised on this shit, and I'm not turning my back on it now. But seriously, did a werewolf ever look more like a little hairy old man? Even as a kid I thought this werewolf looked dumb. But nilla could play some basketball. Now, don't even get me started on Teen Wolf Too. Jason Bateman's cool, but it was exactly the same movie with boxing rather than basketball. As much as I loved the original as a kid, I think I only sat through the sequel once. And I won't be revisiting that one.

So there you have it. My overblown self-important declaration of the greatest movie werewolves. What did I miss? Any Paul Naschy fans care to lambaste me? Oliver Reid? I still haven't seen Curse of the Werewolf. Anyway, I leave it to you, readers, to tell me how I did. Who's your favorite lycanthrope?


  1. Nice wolf list! Werewolves have always been one of my top fav monsters.

  2. Nice list, but I think Dog Soldiers should be number one......they are BAD ASS!!!

  3. Sarah,

    Yes, they really are all-caps BAD ASS.

    Since making the list, I also picked up a copy of Stephen King's Silver Bullet. That too had a pretty bad ass werewolf, and I might have had to bump something in its favor. My only complaint is that the bad ass werewolf is completely outshined by an even bad-asser Gary Busey. Wait, that's not a complaint.


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