It seems that high profile werewolf movies are in short supply these days, doesn’t it? When you’re talking horror movies, there’s plenty of zombies to be had, vampires aren’t going anywhere, and slasher films will always come back into fashion.
But werewolves? They’re not so lucky. Maybe it’s because they seem to require a little more of a budget, and some proper special effects wizardry to make those transformations really pop. CGI werewolves just won’t cut it.
There have been a few signs of furry life recently, with fare like Wolfcop, Late Phases, and Wolves starting to pop up around the various full moons. But it feels like it’s been ages since we’ve had a golden age of werewolf movies. What do you call a batch of werewolf movies, anyway? Should we call them a pack?
Anyway, here are 13 distinctly different werewolf movies, each with something to offer, whether it’s incredible transformations, gratuitous gore, or unsettling imagery. Let us know your favorites, too!
13. Cursed (2005)
Director: Wes Craven
The Weinsteins and Wes Craven present…a werewolf movie that is a pretty unsubtle metaphor for adolescence, sex, and STDs. Cursed is an utterly ridiculous film, apparently edited with a hatchet, that boasts some half-decent special effects. There is a far more watchable unrated version available for the home releases.
So why the hell did Cursed even make the cut? Simple…it contains the single most hilarious scene of an enraged werewolf flipping the bird that has ever been put on screen. It makes the previous 70 minutes or so totally worth it.
12. La Noche de Walpurgis aka The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1970)
Director: Leon Klimovsky
Why is this one “essential,” especially when most of it plays more like a vampire film than a werewolf one? Well, it’s that rare werewolf gem, the “werewolf with a heart of gold” flick. Sure, most folks afflicted with lycanthropy are tortured, good people at heart…they don’t WANT to turn into ravenous lupine killing machines every time the moon is full.
But Waldemar Dalninsky (played by Paul Naschy, and this is the FOURTH film in the seemingly endless Dalninsky werewolf franchise!) decides to make the best of his situation and take out the vampiric Countess Darvula de Nadasdy. Atmospheric, bloody, and with a soundtrack that sounds like outtakes from early Pink Floyd records, this one is a fine way to waste a full moon.
11. The Wolfman (2010)
Director: Joe Johnston
Despite getting a hard time from critics (and fans) Joe Johnston’s Wolfman (a remake of the classic Wolf Man film from 1941 starring Lon Chaney Jr.) deserves a second look. While guilty of some bizarre performances from Benicio del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, the film does boast some terrific Universal-style atmosphere, and some great old-school Rick Baker werewolf make-up.
Those long shadows, run-down castles full of cobwebs, and moonlit forests, Universal hallmarks and homages to be sure, got enough blood, spatter, and decapitations added to the mix to make Hammer Films proud (and then some!)
Danny Elfman’s great (if controversial and possibly incomplete) old-school monster movie score completes the picture, and it’s a fun late October treat, despite the ill-advised final act.
10. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Director: Terence Fisher
To be honest, Curse of the Werewolf is kinda tedious. Setting the film in Spain in the 1700s is an odd enough choice for a werewolf flick, which traditionally seems more at home in northern and eastern european locales. With it’s really, really extended “werewolf origin story” Curse of the Werewolf sure takes its sweet ass time.
So why is it here? Simple. Makeup. The werewolf design in this film takes a page from Jack Pierce’s Wolf Man playbook and then bulks it up, turning Oliver Reed into an imposing beast, with plenty of blood dripping from his mouth. Still, this one has a strangely low body count for a Hammer film, but as the legendary horror studio’s only foray into the werewolf legend, it absolutely makes the cut.
9. Wolf (1994)
Director: Mike Nichols
Three names add up to why Wolf, a sometimes unremarkable film, make the cut: Rick Baker, Jack Nicholson, and Ennio Morricone…not necessarily in that order. This is one of those “slow turn” werewolf movies, where the unfortunate lycanthrope starts off by exhibiting some relatively minor changes before the full-on change happens, and in the meantime, we get some subtle (yet utterly convincing!) Rick Baker make-up put on display.
Lycanthropy as a puberty metaphor is as common as dirt, but lycanthropy as a midlife crisis metaphor? Seems legit. We can forgive the ending (which is, admittedly, crapola) simply because it’s great to have our suspicions confirmed and to see Jack Nicholson drop the facade that he’s a mere mortal and just become the werewolf we’ve all known that he is for years. Seriously…does anybody think this one was a hard sell for ol’ Jack?
8. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Director: Roy William Neill
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the direct sequel to Universal’s iconic 1941 The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. as well as Ghosts of Frankenstein (which also saw Chaney in the lead…as the Frankenstein monster this time). While it’s certainly not the finest entry in the Universal horror catalog, it’s notable for Larry Talbot’s resurrection, and another tormented, miserable, put-this-poor-bastard-out-of-his-misery performance by Chaney as Talbot looks for a way to end his tortured existence.
If the plight of those cursed with lycanthropy isn’t obvious enough to you, look at it this way: Larry Talbot was quite happy to consult with Doctor Ludwig Fucking Frankenstein just so he could die in peace. Bela Lugosi in the Frankenstein monster makeup completes the utterly bonkers picture.
7. The Company of Wolves (1984)
Director: Neil Jordan
Neil Jordan’s second film (a decade or so before he went in with the fanged set for Interview With The Vampire) is an eerie, surprisingly gory take on the Little Red Riding Hood story…with extra red and werewolves a-plenty. Bonus points for the inclusion of Batman (1989) production designer Anton Furst and his foggy, claustrophobic fairy tale forest.
Based on Angela Carter’s short story, The Company of Wolves is fraught with symbolism and portent…but doesn’t skimp on the skin-shedding body horror when it’s time to make the switch from human to wolf.
6. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
Dog Soldiers is essentially a Night of the Living Dead style “stay in the cabin while the monsters swarm outside” piece of horror. But with werewolves. And soldiers. And some genuinely cringe-inducing bits of gore (the disembowelment scene and subsequent surgery spring immediately to mind). We dig into the complete history of the film and its gory mix of action, horror, and humor right here.
Ah, but there’s more to it than that. The creepy and awkward tall werewolf designs add to the “beast that walks on two legs” vibe, and the film displays an atypical sense of humor, tempering its violence with the barest hint of Looney Tunes at just the right moments. There’s no tortured soul-searching here, just lycanthropic madness at its most mindless…and fun.
5. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
Ah, the old lycanthropy-as-puberty metaphor. Nobody (no, not even Teen Wolf) has ever done it as well as Ginger Snaps. Ginger Snaps gives viewers the slow turn that lasts throughout the movie, interspersing the scares and body horror with the occasional surreal chuckle. Strong performances by Katharine Isabelle as the titular Ginger and Emily Perkins as her sister help to elevate what might otherwise have been a more conventional horror flick.A traditionally tragic werewolf movie ending completes the picture, and Ginger Snaps holds up extraordinarily well under repeated viewings.
Bonus points for making parents’ groups uncomfortable around the time of its release! We wrote about how Ginger Snaps explores the horror of young womanhood right here.
4. Werewolf of London (1935)
Director: Stuart Walker
It took a little longer for Hollywood to catch on to the appeal of werewolves, and despite successful (and closely bunched) Dracula and Frankenstein films from Universal in 1931, Werewolf of London didn’t go on the prowl until 1935.
When folks think about the classic Universal Monster lineup, they inevitably think of Lugosi’s Dracula, Karloff’s Frankenstein, and Chaney’s Wolf Man as the unholy trinity. The thing is, Henry Hull beat ol’ Lon to the punch by a solid six years. Featuring make-up by Jack Pierce (he of Frankenstein, not to mention 1941’s Wolf Man fame), Hull’s werewolf boasts a Tibetan origin, a massive underbite, and a progressively more beastly transformation throughout the film.
3. The Howling (1981)
Director: Joe Dante
Joe Dante’s hip, self-aware adaptation of Gary Brandner’s novel is about as much fun as you’re likely to have on any given full moon. Worth it for all the wolf and horror in-jokes scattered throughout the film alone (including cameos from Roger Corman and Famous Monsters of Filmland editor Forrest J. Ackerman), The Howling ultimately delivers even more via Pino Donaggio’s note-perfect classic horror movie score and Rob Bottin’s impressive pre-CGI make-up effects.
The Howling may be a product of its cultural moment with its digs at new age, post-hippie California culture, but it’s also a love letter to the werewolf movies of the past and a fine horror film in its own right. You can skip the sequels. OK, maybe you should watch Howling II. Or maybe not. Your call.
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
Director: George Waggner
“Even a man who is pure of heart, and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.”
For that poem alone, The Wolf Man would earn its place in the pantheon of films about lycanthropy. The Wolf Man, despite a rather glacial pace at the outset, owes it all to Lon Chaney Jr and Claude Raines’ sympathetic performances, Jack Pierce’s iconic makeup, and the incredible score, which is one of the best you’ll find in monster movies! For a film that doesn’t feature a single on-camera man-to-wolf transformation, The Wolf Man is still the template by which most others are judged.
And from a modern standpoint, keep in mind that it was The Wolf Man that managed to create the very first cinematic universe. No, seriously. Larry Talbot was the Agent Coulson of his day.
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Director: John Landis
There are plenty of individual elements that make An American Werewolf in London the indispensable werewolf movie. The fantastic retro rock n’ roll soundtrack of songs about the moon, the “traditional” horror movie elements, the Universal atmosphere during the opening sequence (that it subverts with humor), and the smart, lively script.
But when it comes right down to it, we can boil this all down to one scene. Thanks to the (well deserved) Oscar-winning makeup effects by the legendary Rick Baker, David’s first complete transformation into a beast is done completely on-camera, with every agonizing moment, from head to toe (and his horrific screams) set to the soothing sounds of Sam Cooke.
It has to be seen to be believed…and it has never been matched.