Underworld’s Vampire/Werewolf War Is Not a Universal Battle

The ancient Underworld Blood Wars between vampires and werewolves aren't really that old after all.

Underworld: Blood Wars, directed by Anna Foerster, is the fifth (and possibly final) installment in the Underworld franchise. In it, Kate Beckinsale reprises her role as the death dealer Selene, who is now trying to put an end to the ancient conflict between werewolves and vampires that has been waged for over 600 years.

The thing is, there really isn’t much written about the animosity between vampires and werewolves in literature or old movies, and you would think it would be a natural. They are as different as the sun and moon, the two astronomical objects they do their best to avoid. Vampires are elegant, classy, and almost never drink… wine. You would think they always looked down on the beastly werewolves. Although, according to Underworld mythology, we haven’t heard about it precisely because it is a secret war.

But no, for the most part they got along. When was the last time you heard Grandpa even scold Eddie on The Munsters? Vampires and werewolves both did the “Monster Mash,” though not to the original song, in Mad Monster Party. Bela Lugosi’s Count Dracula loved the music those children of the night made. However, Bela was also the furry gypsy who bit Lon Chaney Jr.’s Larry Talbot, turning him into Hollywood’s first Wolf Man and this may be where the bad blood starts.

A Tale of Two Fangs

Stories of humans transforming into wolves after being bitten or scratched by a werewolf and bloodsucking entities that prey on the innocent go back to the prehistoric era. There were probably even vampire dinosaurs and lycanthauruses. The earliest vampire artifact is a vase showing a man fending off a creature who wants to suck his blood that dates back to ancient Persia. Assyria and Babylon’s favorite goddess Lilith, Adam’s first wife in the Bible, reputedly drank the blood of babies. She also got down with fallen angels. Neither old nor new testaments testify about bad blood between the beasts and those that threw the bloody feasts.

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Roman and Greek mythologies featured blood-drinking goddesses. Hindu’s Kali, among other deities, has a taste for the red vino on tap. Ancient Greeks were so afraid of the undead that they shipped dead bodies to Sicily and weighed them down with rocks to keep them from rising from their graves. In the late 1800s, Greek legends taught that the corpses of werewolves would return to life as vampires and drink the blood of dying soldiers. Roman poet Ovid’s Metamorphoses, written in 8 A.D. says a certain King Lycaeon was turned into a werewolf as a tip from gods who stopped by his palace for a bite of human flesh.

Werewolves were also perennials of Balkan folklore. Some legends said babies born with hair had the ability to shape shift into a wolf, others speculated that people who died in a mortal sin would be reborn as werewolves. America’s Colonial settlers hunted vampires as well as witches in New England. People who were believed to be vampires were stabbed in the chest with an iron or wooden rod before being buried. Vampires complained that they would sometimes dig for days before realizing they were buried upside down.

The stories were helped by real life sanguinary figures like Hungary’s Countess Bathory, who took reinvigorating baths in the blood of young virgins, and Vlad the Impaler, the Transylvanian-Wallachian scourge of the Turks who dipped his bread in the blood of fallen soldiers. Bram Stoker was the first to actually label the Christian warrior Son of the Dragon as the vampire Count Dracula and his vampire was also a werewolf in his spare time. Dracula could transform into a wolf by virtue of his mood, not the moon. In the seventies Dracula, Langella turns into a wolf to get down in the graveyard with the wrong named maiden in red.

Modern vampires started with John William Polidori’s 1819 British novella The Vampyre. Cinematic vampires started with the 1922 German horror classic Nosferatu before Bela Lugosi went from stage to screen as the quintessential Dracula.

In none of the stories did werewolves and vampires do battle.

Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein

To hear the Underworld people tell it, the battle between vampires and werewolves has been going on for centuries. But in our world it only goes back to 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, directed by Charles Barton. Larry Talbot isn’t really all that clear on what he has against the dapper bloodsucker. Sure, it’s apparent that he’s stolen a few dates and has designs on what’s left of Wilbur’s brain, but really? Talbot isn’t one to howl. Besides the countless throats he’s ripped out under the light of the silvery moon, he’s left a trail of destroyed hotel rooms not seen again until 1970s rock tours. Lon Chaney Jr., put his mark on many iconic monsters: the Wolf Man, the Frankenstein monster, Dracula, and the Mummy. But he also invented Keith Moon.

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The count, who was traveling incognito as the slightly less conspicuous mad scientist Dr. Lejos, had no beef with young people making the most of life – while it lasts. Talbot, however, was a whining bully, who overshares about the horrible experiences he has whenever the full moon rises. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein was the comic duo’s first pairing with Universal’s horror stable. They would go on to wreak havoc on the Invisible Man, who smokes out a cameo, the Mummy and both Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Monsters have had a sense of humor since Frankenstein’s creature gave the blind fiddler a bad review and King Kong munched on native New Yorkers waiting for a crosstown bus.

Universal Pictures Meets the Monsters

Universal Pictures owned Dracula and the Wolf Man. If any motion picture studio had any sense of the tides of the Underworld war, they would have warned us.

Werewolves and vampires got along just fine in House of Frankenstein from 1944. Directed by Erle C. Kenton from a script by Curt Siodmak, it was the sequel to Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. It was the first all-star monster movie from the studio. It brought together their entire stable and it was where Glenn Strange played Frankenstein’s monster the first time.

House of Frankenstein starred Boris Karloff as the mad, well, sometimes cross, scientist Dr. Gustav Niemann and Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man Larry Talbot, with John Carradine putting a darkly seductive spin on Count Dracula. Zombie favorite George Zucco plays traveling showman Professor Lampini. One of its early titles was Dracula Vs the Wolf Man, but they found that the pair really didn’t have anything to fight about. The werewolf doesn’t kill the vampire. The count is disposed of by Dr. Niemann, who kills him by hiding his coffin.

For 1945’s House of Dracula, Count Dracula, again played by Carradine, this time posing as Baron Latos, wants to cure his vampirism through a transfusion. Talbot wants to see what spores and mold can do about his lycanthropic propensities. They both go to the same doctor, albeit Talbot clears the waiting room with a crucifix while Dracula is killed by Dr. Edelmann.

Bernard Schubert wrote a script for a film that was to be called The Wolf Man Vs. Dracula, which Universal was supposed to release in 1944. It was going to be the first Universal Monsters movie done in color and would have starred Lugosi and Chaney Jr. The studio shot publicity stills for it and did some pre-production promotion, but it never got made. In spite of the title, the two classic horror characters never do battle in the screenplay. They don’t even appear onscreen together.

White Wolf Masquerades as a Vampire

The war between vampires and werewolves seems to have really started with White Wolf’s World of Darkness role-paying games. This means it started from basic human desire. We wanted to see the vampires fighting the werewolves. We wanted to be the vampires fighting the werewolves.

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To fit this into a historical setting White Wolf’s Storyteller System spun several games into period pieces. Some took place in the Dark Ages, a natural starting point. Vampire: The Masquerade also set battles in the Victorian Age and The Wild West.

White Wolf characters included the Garou, which were half-flesh, half-spirit, and all fang. They’d been fighting the Shadow Lord tribe’s Kindred for as long as they can remember. And they can remember as far back as the mid-90s. The werewolves were known Fera and there was also the Bastet line for the more devilish players.

The animosity between the two species is never clearer than when they comingle. When a shapeshifter in the White Wolf world turns into vampire they are labeled Abominations. The game provided more subtle nicknames, like Undying Children, Pale Ones, Luna’s Demons, Damned Urrah, and Vrykolas, but they were just as reviled, powerful as they may have been. Abominations usually go crazy and are a constant embarrassment to the Masquerade and the Veil.

Twilight’s Last Gleaming

Twilight, the film series based on Stephanie Meyer’s novels, takes the war back centuries and spans continents. Twilight’s shape-shifter werewolves are descended from the Quileute tribe of Native American Indians. They turn wolf to protect humans from vampires. The Volturi are an Italian coven of Royal Family vampires. They have enemies besides the feral woolies, including other vampires like Victoria and Laurent.

The werewolf pack is led by Sam Uley, played by Chaske Spencer in the Twilight movies. The vampire coven is headed by Aro, played by Michael Sheen. The Voltari are hungry for the fresh blood of Kristen Stewart’s character Bella Swan to swell their membership, but Robert Pattinson’s Edward Cullen and Taylor Lautner’s Jacob Black are hot for the young human in other ways.

At their hearts, the vampire/werewolf competition is a dating game. The forbidden lovers at the heart of the stories are the roving Romeo and Juliet of the underground. Their clans divide the Jets from the Sharks in a danse-macabre-off.

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True Blood’s Bad Blood

Charlaine Harris threw some romance novel heat into the lycosanguine trail mix. Facebook would categorize all of Sookie Stackhouse’s relationships as complicated. Her fairy blood makes her a tasty delicacy to vampires far and wide. Local vampire Bill Compton and Shreveport’s Fangtasia club owner Eric Northman both find themselves somewhere between madly in love and lust for her. Her scent also captures the attention of furrier courters.

Joe Manganiello played the werewolf Alcide Herveaux on the HBO series True Blood, when he wasn’t being portrayed by Thunder. Alcide is a werewolf packmaster living in Shreveport. He runs a construction company with his father, Jackson Herveaux in Jackson, Mississippi, who will die in a battle to lead the Long Tooth pack. Alcide first encounters Sookie on an errand he earns to work off his old man’s gambling debts in the third novel, Club Dead. Vampire Bill was kidnapped by his maker Lorena and the usually-shirtless-but-still-warm shapeshifter goes in to sniff him out.

When he meets Sookie, Alcide is dating the werelynx Debbie Pelt. He dumps her by banishing her from the Shreveport pack for taking part in vampire Bill’s torture and maybe for dating a were-owl. Sookie finalizes the split by killing Debbie in self-defense. Alcide gets a whiff of this at the end of the book.

Alcide doesn’t pine for Sookie badly enough not to date here, there and werewomen, like the cheating Annabelle and fearsome Maria-Star Cooper, who is assassinated in a power grab after Hurricane Katrina. Alcide dies in “Fire in the Hole” in the TV series’ seventh, and final season. But in the book, he marries a werelynx named Callie Brown, who bears him five children. Alcide’s sons go to work at the construction firm and one of his daughters wins Miss Louisiana.

In the end, he is angry at individual vampires, for short periods of time, but there is no truly bad blood there.

A Penny for your thoughts

Larry Talbot and Dracula danced their square off again in Penny Dreadful. Posing as traveling Wild West performer Ethan Chandler, played by Josh Hartnett, the werewolf is on the run from a series of ghastly unsolved murders on the frontier. The American werewolf in London trains his six-shooters on a gaggle of bloodsuckers in the first season, but doesn’t encounter Dracula until the series finale.

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Dracula rises in the guise of anthropologist Dr. Alexander Sweet, played by Christian Camargo. In the show’s mythology, he is a fallen angel, the brother of Lucifer, who landed on earth instead of hell. Their historic battle is of Biblical proportions, Talbot’s current incarnation fulfills his prophesied role as Lupus dei, the Wolf of God.

The father of vampires embraces Vanessa Ives, played by the mesmerizing Eva Green, to usher in an era of darkness on Earth. The mystically in-tuned need their angel food cake as much as they need the dark surge of seditious liquids. Both fill a need. Feral and beastly, classy and understanding, vampires and werewolves have it all. The battle is between two individuals, not the species, and it is again over love, but the palette is vast.

There were no werewolves in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, but the woman who also wrote The Songs of the Seraphim and Lives of the Mayfair Witches did take a nibble on the hound’s tale in The Wolf Gift Chronicles series.

Underworld’s secret war began in the beginning of the 6th century in the Hungarian village of Alexander Corvinus in the aftermath of a great plague. It ended in 1202 A.D. when William Corvinus, the first Lycan, was imprisoned and the first-generation of werewolves were exterminated. The war may very well reach its conclusion in Underworld: Blood Wars, but the war between the vampires and werewolves is still getting started.