The cold hard fact is that creating a good werewolf story is difficult because the storyline is so structured: bitten by wolf; slow build to the full moon; transformation; rampage; and then (usually) death. It's not easy to insert an original narrative into the werewolf tale. Werewolves are animals -- savage beasts that growl, spit, and howl. Vampires, on the other hand, are suave, cultured, and wise with centuries of contemplation. As an actor which creature would you prefer to play?
But there is hope. A glimmer of hope, anyway.
There have been a handful of werewolf movies worthy of viewing. There’re not all gold mind you – but at least they aren’t rusty pieces of old scrap iron.
So for our weeklong horror celebration DaRK PaRTY presents the list of “Seven Werewolf Movies that Don’t Totally Suck.”
The Howling (1981)
Joe Dante’s film is the grandpappy of the modern werewolf movie and the first movie in the franchise most responsible for taking the werewolf genre into the gutter. But let’s stress the positive, shall we? First, the werewolves in “The Howling” are among the best on screen. They’re scary, savage, and completely creditable.
We even get a plot here. News anchorwoman investigating a murder stumbles onto a rogue werewolf. She journeys to “The Colony” (a coastal community in Northern California) with her husband and discovers that the rustic town is an outpost for werewolves.
Silver Nugget: All the werewolf characters are named after famous werewolf movie directors of the past.
An American Werewolf in London (1981)
For a long time, “An American Werewolf in London” was the best werewolf movie ever made. It’s now second best. Two Americans are backpacking through the English moors and attacked by a werewolf. One is killed and the other, David, is mauled.
Waking up in a hospital, David falls for the nurse and ends up moving in with him. But as the full moon comes, David turns into a werewolf in what may be the best make-up transformation of man into wolf ever filmed.
Then he kills a lot of people.
The movie is a bit disjointed and can’t decide whether to be a comedy or a horror flick (so it’s both), but it’s a genuinely good movie despite being about werewolves.
Silver Nugget: David Naughton, the lead actor, was cast after director John Landis saw him in Dr. Pepper commercials.
Teen Wolf (1985)
When a Michael J. Fox comedy makes the list – you know werewolf movies are in trouble. But despite its overall blandness, “Teen Wolf” is kind of fun in a “Sixteen Candles” meets “I Was A Teenage Werewolf” kind of way.
Fox plays a high school nerd playing on a terrible basketball team. Then he starts changing and his dad informs him that he’s inherited his werewolf genes. Suddenly, Fox is the star basketball players and the most popular kid at school.
Silver Nugget: Fox was 24 when he starred in the movie.
Hollywood’s first attempt at a big budget werewolf flick and it flopped. This may be the most unsuccessful Jack Nicholson movie of all time – and it also has Michelle Pfeiffer and James Spader. But this movie is pretty good nevertheless.
Nicholson plays a has-been literary editor at a publishing house. Just before he gets the boot in favor of his younger rival (Spader), he’s bitten by a wolf and starts his glorious transformation from milquetoast to werewolf. There’s more here about becoming middle-aged that werewolf mythology (which might be why the film didn’t do very well).
Silver Nugget: Sharon Stone turned down the Michelle Pfeiffer role.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
Werewolf aficionados love “Ginger Snaps.” I’m lukewarm on it, but considering the competition – it makes the list. The movie, directed by John Fawcett, starts out with a lot of promise. Two attached-at-the-hip Goth sisters get their relationship challenged when the oldest, Ginger, is attacked by a werewolf.
The movie degenerates into a cliché ridden murder fest, but the strong performances of the cast make up for the poor writing and directing.
Silver Nugget: Lucy Lawless is the voice over the school’s PA system.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
The best werewolf movie ever made. Here it is. The tagline says it all: “Six Soldiers. Full Moon. No Chance.” Director Neil Marshall doesn’t shy away from the fact that he’s making a B-movie horror flick. Instead he embraces it.
What we get is a squad of British soldiers trapped in a secluded cottage as they are relentlessly attacked by a pack of werewolves (actors in cool costumes and make-up) rather than CGI animation. The result is just great fun.
Silver Nugget: The character of Sgt. Harry G. Wells is named after author H.G. Wells, the favorite writer of Marshall.
“Underworld,” one can argue, is really a vampire flick. Hard to argue back because the main character is a vampire and most of the movie is told from a vampire’s point of view. But the premise of this ambitious and surprisingly effective film is the ongoing war between vampires and werewolves.
Selene (played by Kate Beckinsale) is death dealer, a vampire who hunts werewolves, but when she falls for a werewolf, she needs to decide which side she’s really on. Lots of action and great werewolf effects.
Silver Nugget: The original pitch for the movies was a crafty “Romeo and Juliet between vampires and werewolves.”