Written by: Daniel McDonald
In the last few days, (STILL) waiting for some post-SPLIT horror on the big screen, I’ve decided to take a fresh look at some recent members hanging out in my favorite genre’s family tree: WEREWOLVES! As I’ve said before, my first horror film was at age 6 in 1963 when I watched Universal’s THE WOLF MAN, which is still in my top 5 favorite films. George Waggner’s seminal masterpiece (yes I enjoyed the tastefully reserved WEREWOLF OF LONDON, where Henry Hull played the most polite WEREWOLF I’ve ever seen) seemed to have a perfect storm of technical excellence across the board behind the camera. Adding to that a fine script and an absolutely sterling company of seasoned performers (Claude Raines, Evelyn Ankers, Ralph Bellamy, Bela Lugosi, the irreplaceable Maria Ouspenskya and LON CHANEY Jr. giving one of the Universal Monster canon’s most tragic yet galvanizing performances, that still rings true today.).
From there we moved through Chaney Jr.’s numerous reprisal in the role, to Don Megowan and a surprisingly emotional Steven Ritch in the independent, low budget (for its time effective FX/makeup) THE WEREWOLF updated to 1956 with a totally different tone and backstory. Next up (I’m NOT doing a full filmography, just listing some “tent poll” projects in the genre) one of my favorite guilty pleasures, 1957’s I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF, a 50’s rock & roll take on the beast story which had 2 major highlights: Gene Fowler and AIPs ability to stretch a dollar (some nice atmosphere, a truly vicious, drooling interpretation of the titular beast) and an outstanding performance by a pre-Bonanza star Micheal Landon as the monster.
The 60s-70s brought in several overtly violent and sexual Spanish WEREWOLF films starring one of that country’s biggest stars, Paul Naschy. Also in 1961 acclaimed HAMMER Horror Factory ventured into werewolf territory with the critically praised CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. As with Spanish horror, violence and sexuality were much more evident. The film introduced audiences to (now) well known leading man, Oliver Reed whose “overt style and passion” were lampooned by some critics with one writing “it’s a Werewolf film yes, but does that call for him leaving teeth marks on the scenery every time he’s onscreen?” As with most HAMMER projects of that era, production values were more extravagant than in American International releases. Directed by Hammer “go to guy” Terrance Fischer, the film earned a solid box office return.
The 70s was a period in cinematic history when small, cheaply made, for “a quick buck” horror films flooded Drive-In theaters and 2nd run houses with titles like THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (remade in 2010), WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON, WEREWOLF IN A GIRL’S DORMITORY, WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS and THE BEAST MUST DIE, none of them earth shattering, but fun (often campy) watches, just the same.
The 80s and 90s found the WEREWOLF genre regaining it’s footing with some very well done (and successful) projects. Ambitious, imaginative productions with ample budgets like the three masterworks of 1981 – WOLFEN, THE HOWLING and AN AMERICAN WERE WOLF IN LONDON were all critically well received and earned heathy profits for their studios. Naturally studios leaped on the possibility of making a dollar with some highly questionable horror/comedy mixes like FULL MOON HIGH, TEEN WOLF and it’s inevitable sequel TEEN WOLF TOO, (they both made money).
Since we did indeed mention the litany of sequels from franchises like HOWLING 2 – God only knows how long that could’ve gone on!
There were also curiosity pieces like THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (stunning), THE BEAST WITHIN (gory as hell) WAXWORKS (which couldn’t make up its cinematic mind what it wanted to be) and SILVER BULLET a Stephen King graphic novel that the studio “SPEILBURGATIZED” all of the fun out of. WOLF, a Mike Nichols, Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer project about present day werewolves in the business world, BAD MOON, a dog vs WEREWOLF film from Eric Red, much more successful than it should be! AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, a long awaited sequel to the 1981 classic, great cast but CGI Werewolves? We should have kept waiting. Horror maestro Wes Craven took a bit of a misstep with a “sliced to PG-13 WTF?” solidly budgeted, wonderfully cast film “R rating would have been so much better, but now it’s kind of a comedy” CURSED. (Boy that title fit.)
The (in my humble opinion) wildly overrated DOG SOLDIERS was not enough horror, too much of a war film, but director Neil Marshall went onto bigger and better things. With diminishing returns on sequels but a dynamite debut feature GINGER SNAPS – equating adolescent WEREWOLF horror with the maturity of menstruation and demands of high school was a minor hit. The huge budget Hugh Jackman vehicle, a VERY video game inspired (or uninspired), VAN HELSING underperformed due to unrealistic expectations. Kate Beckensale’s UNDERWORLD franchise, the first two (especially the second) were fresh, edgy and fun, after that came cinematic apathy (editor’s note: RISE OF THE LYCANS is an excellent film that put more emphasis on story than arguably any other film in the franchise). Speaking of apathy, I swear to the cinema Gods that the ONLY reason I mention this, is because of its impact socially (I don’t know what the people were thinking) and of course financially (I don’t know what the people were thinking) the ” ALPO commercial ” that was, is and will always be THE TWILIGHT SAGA, with its LASSIE werewolves and twinkling vamps.
Now onto just three more films (I know dude, I’m tired too!). The first is a film that every time I see it, I understand SOME of the problems audiences had with pace, a bit of a convoluted narrative…but it still takes my breath away that Universal gave Joe Johnston the budget he needed to get the BEST OF THE BEST in period re- creation, art, set, costume, make-up, cinematography, editing, SCORE, and four of the best actors working today…yet several reviews pointed out that the film was SO MUCH gorier than it needed to be…it’s about a fucking flesh eating WEREWOLF!! Yes I am speaking of one of the most vilified, underrated, pretty much ignored by horror and cinema fans film – the 2010 remake of one of my all-time favorite films of any genre THE WOLFMAN. I took its failure far too hard (the image of Del Toro on the rooftop howling at the moon will stay with me forever!).
Quickly (I know, too late!) I wanted to mention two “if you haven’t seen them yet, give them a try” WEREWOLF films.
In HOWL a train full of passengers breaks down in the middle of nowhere then they realize they have become an all you can eat buffet for whatever is trying to get on board the train with them…tense, action packed, rather violent (the FX are top of the line) – a fine example of what a bit of thinking outside the box can do for a shopworn project.
And finally a film I watched earlier this evening. Not very highly regarded by critics or your beloved KETCHUP FACTORY. WOLVES, starring a gap model handsome type who looks like the love child of Matt Damon and Drew Barrymore, but has the acting chops to carry an “almost in every scene” starring role, Lucas Till. Remember that name. Also a beauty with eyes that’ll melt the M&Ms in your pocket and a fine actress, Meredith Patterson and as the 4 star VILLAIN who makes you think– “I don’t know if I wanna kick the s*** outta you or make your breakfast” on the brink of stardom, Jason AQUAMAN Momoa.
It’s a fun (sometimes unintentionally funny) film with a few really “so awful they’re laugh out loud” lines of dialogue, good FX tons of aerial stunt work, plenty of gore, some fyyyne folks to look at, and an interesting take on Lycanthropy (the name of the town made me giggle ), this one looks like a cross between LOST BOYS, ANIMAL KINGDOM and CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON. Hence the WTF? title of this article…new horror is coming, meanwhile check out HOWL (3/5) and WOLVES (3/5).
As always, I’m just saying….