I have always loved werewolf films, perhaps even more than vampire films. There is just something about a creature that completely transforms from human to beast and then tears its victims to pieces. The problem with werewolf films is that in my experience, they are either really good or they just suck. Here I present to you a variety of werewolf films to satisfy anyone’s shape-shifting needs.
To me there are two types of lycanthropic films; the werewolf and the wolf man. Werewolf films feature monsters that look nothing like their human counterparts whereas wolf men retain some of the characteristics of the human form and in most cases. still wear the clothes that were worn before the transformation. This blog is about werewolves.
What you will not find in this presentation are movies like Universal’s THE WOLF MAN (1941) and Hammer’s CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961). I also will not be covering movies that feature werewolf appearances such as WAXWORK (1988), THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) and TRICK ‘R TREAT (2008), even though all three films feature very cool looking werewolves. The 13 films presented below all feature stories that focus solely on werewolves and their mythology. They are presented alphabetically and not in any order of preference. This is also in no way a complete list of what is available out there; there are still plenty of good films available not covered here.
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
1981 was a great year for werewolf films, showcasing two of the best ever made, THE HOWLING and this entry, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. This film is a classic for so many reasons and John Landis went over the top here with perhaps his greatest film ever. Though not as dark as THE HOWLING, this film boasts a tighter story with a lot of humor thrown in as well. The werewolf effects are great but personally I have never been a fan of the four-legged variety of lycanthropic beast. The movie is quick-paced and a lot of fun to watch. Considering it is over 30 years old it still holds up nicely after repeated viewings and hopefully a company like Shout! Factory will give it the blu-ray release that it deserves, much like they did for THE HOWLING!
BAD MOON (1996)
This is definitely one of the more under-rated werewolf movies out there, with a recognizable cast and great special effects. The film opens with Ted (Michael Paré) and his girlfriend making love in a tent. They are then attacked by a werewolf. Marjorie is killed and Ted is bit before he is able to shoot the werewolf in the head with a shotgun, exploding it into little pieces. Ted then decides he must live his life in isolation, for the protection of his friends and family. He then decides to reach out to his sister Janet, played by Mariel Hemingway, and her son Brett. The family dog Thor is the first to feel uncomfortable around Ted, sensing the horror within. This really is a well-done film, though greatly overlooked. It has decent pacing, great performances by everyone and the werewolf looks really cool (though I am not sure how I feel about it having a tail). This film did raise an interesting question for me though. If you do in fact shoot a werewolf in the head with a shotgun and the head explodes, will it kill the werewolf? I would guess that it would and yet this option was never really explored in other films. Originally this film had an NC-17 rating until parts of the opening attack scene were cut out. I would love to see a company like Shout! Factory release this on blu-ray with that footage put back in.
THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984)
This film has so many great things going for it and yet I still do not know how to really categorize it. It has a very dream-like feel and you are definitely living in a fairy tale world filled with all kinds of folklore. The sets are phenomenal and the overall film is very atmospheric. I also love the use of real wolves, since they are such beautiful animals. I think what bothers me the most about this film is the special effects, even though they are practical effects and not CGI. The makeups, of the characters just getting ready to change, look great. It’s the actual transformation scenes that look very plastic to me and not organic at all. In the main transformation scene (every werewolf scene has them) the character literally tears his flesh off of his body exposing his muscles underneath, which then transform into a wolf. One of the focal points of any werewolf is its mouth of sharp teeth. During this transformation not only is it obvious that these teeth are plastic, but that they were molded as one piece since there is no gap whatsoever between them; they are just one solid row of teeth much like those cheap plastic vampire teeth you can buy at Halloween. Perhaps this was a way for the director to add to the fairy tale experience but to me, it detracted from the focal point of the film. Angela Lansbury is great in this film as the grandmother who tells her grand-daughter all kinds of sexually suggestive stories of men, wolves and women.
Right from the get go this movie has a lot going for it: directed by Wes Craven, effects by Rick Baker and Greg Nicotero and off course, starring the very beautiful Christina Ricci. The movie starts out great as the first kill is actually to someone you think will be a major character throughout the film, as done in SCREAM with Drew Barrymore. In this case it is Shannon Elizabeth, who is not only violently pulled from her car but then she is literally torn in half. In an attempt to save Becky (Shannon Elizabeth), both Ellie (Christina Ricci) and her brother Jimmy (Jesse Eisenberg from ZOMBIELAND) get scratched by the beast and start to exhibit heightened senses and strength. It doesn’t take Jimmy long, after waking up on his front lawn naked, to figure out what is going on and that the head werewolf needs to be killed if he and his sister want to avoid becoming werewolves themselves. The werewolf effects are achieved through a combination of practical effects and CGI, thankfully limiting those actually done on the computer. Baker’s werewolf is magnificent here and one of the coolest ever seen on film. The attack in the parking garage is very tense with some great imagery. Unfortunately, when it comes time to see the actual full transformation from woman to beast it is done entirely in CGI and it looks horrible. Rick Baker should have been allowed to shine here with practical effects! Other than this flaw, this is definitely a great werewolf film!
DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
This is one of those films that kind of came out of nowhere with very little promotion, and yet it is one of the coolest werewolf movies in a long time. A squad of soldiers during some war games exercises against special forces come to find themselves in werewolf territory. When they find the special forces team torn to bits, it is a race against time to survive. They eventually find a house for cover and a zoologist who seems to know exactly what is going on. One of the nice things about this movie is that since it was not made here in the United States, it is actually pretty original and very well done. The werewolves themselves are a sight to behold and are really nicely rendered using practical effects. It is such a relief to see such a recent release having no CGI effects! The whole film is a cat-and-mouse game that gets very tense and exciting, never knowing what is going to happen next. I cannot recommend this film enough!
FULL ECLIPSE (1993)
This is a film with a bizarre premise but it actually works. Police officers, severely injured in the line of duty, some fatally, are injected with a serum that turn them into werewolves. With this power they form a pack and go after the bad guys, with very gory results. They never really go into how this serum works or where it came from but I guess with movies like this you really just need to suspend disbelief totally. The effects are old school (in other words, no CGI) and the werewolves look really cool and despite the offbeat story, it is a lot of fun. There are a lot of recognizable faces in this film too, which I believe is a direct to video HBO production.
GINGER SNAPS (2000)
This is a great coming of age tale between two high-school aged sisters, only with werewolves. I had no expectations with this movie and found it to be surprisingly really well done. The story, the first of three, centers around sisters Ginger and Brigitte, who are social outcasts in school and are obsessed with death. Their obsession is even brought into school, with a slide show project featuring pictures they staged of each other showcasing various ways to die. At the same time that these two girls are being bullied in school, there has also been various animal mutilations in the area; are they from the girls or something more? I can’t imagine how awful it must be for a woman to get her period but in this case, when Ginger gets hers, her first, it attracts a werewolf who bites her unleashing the curse. To complicate matters more, you can spread the curse, much like a venereal disease, by having unprotected sex. As Ginger slowly transforms into womanhood, and werewolf, she starts to change. Not only do you notice very subtle changes in her physical appearance but she also starts to become more aggressive, not only towards her classmates but her family as well. I am not a big fan of the look of the final werewolf but the way Ginger’s appearances change little by little is fun to watch. The changes are so subtle at times that you wonder if you actually saw something. There is no actual full transformation, made famous in movies like THE HOWLING, which it too bad because I would’ve liked to have seen that. Liberties are also taken with actual werewolf lore in that they can actually be killed by something as simple as getting hit by a car. All in all this is a really fun movie with strong performances by both Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins. Mimi Rogers is also great as Ginger and Brigitte’s mother, who will do pretty much anything to protect her girls.
GINGER SNAPS 2: UNLEASHED (2004)
This first sequel centers around Brigitte, who is now becoming a werewolf herself after injecting herself with Ginger’s blood in the original film to be more like her and to understand what she was going through. She tries to keep herself in check by injecting herself with an extract made from monkshood, aka wolf’s bane, and then cutting herself recording how quickly she heals. Ginger, killed in the last film, appears in Brigitte’s mind warning her of the change and the fact that there is a werewolf hunting her, seen attacking a librarian early on in the film. Brigitte’s slow transformation is more disturbing in this film and is very akin to someone with a drug addiction in rehab (and yes, most of this movie takes place in a rehabilitation facility). This is a tough film to watch at times, making it all the more realistic. Emily Perkins should be commended for her fine performance. The werewolf chasing Brigitte, shown in quick cuts, looks really good and is a huge improvement over the werewolves shown in the first film.
GINGER SNAPS BACK: THE BEGINNING (2004)
The 2nd sequel to the very popular film, GINGER SNAPS, takes place in the 19th century at Fort Bailey, home of the Northern Legion Trading Company. Once again werewolves are on the loose, connected to the Fitzgerald sisters, and they must do everything they can to survive. After Brigitte is injured in a bear trap, the sisters are taken to the Fort and allowed to stay. Apparently werewolf attacks are the norm at this fort, as the outside perimeter is loaded with huge, bloody scratches. At first it is thought that Brigitte had been bit by a werewolf with her injury, but the company doctor performs a test on her revealing her to be human. Who would’ve guessed that leeches can tell if you are a werewolf or not? Ginger is once again bitten and the story focuses on Ginger trying to break the curse, as well as the survival of the company men. This is a great period piece and was actually a lot better than I thought it would be. The werewolf effects once again are done with practical effects and they look great here.
THE HOWLING (1981)
This is the 2nd of 3 werewolf films released in 1981 and it is, in my opinion, the best of the best. Though many people will say AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is their favorite werewolf film, this one will always go down as mine. First off, I prefer my werewolves to be vertical. Though the werewolf in AWIL looks really cool, there is just something about a werewolf standing on its hind legs that make it look so cool, and less dog-like. The effects in this film still look amazing, over 30 years later, and the werewolf design used her, in my opinion, is the best ever put on film. This movie is more serious than AWIL, and perhaps that is why I enjoy it more. There are strong performances throughout as well as some fun cameos to look out for. My only real complaint in this film is one short scene near the end, where multiple werewolves are shown full body. This was achieved through animation as opposed to practical effects and the effect is just too obvious. Aside from that, this film is amazing and is one that should appear on everyone’s top 10 werewolf movie list. It was released in a great blu-ray edition which you can order HERE.
NEVER CRY WEREWOLF (2008)
If you can get past the fact that this is an almost scene-by-scene remake of the 1985 films FRIGHT NIGHT, then you will probably really enjoy this film! The similarities between the two films is so close, in fact, that the writer of this film, John Sheppard, could be accused of plagiarism! This time a werewolf moves next door to teen Loren, played by Nina Dobrev, probably better known for her work in the television series The Vampire Diaries. It is up to her to not only convince her friends that there actually is a werewolf but she must also save the day. Despite the fact that this is a made-for-tv movie, it is quite entertaining. The cast put in great performances and the werewolf effects are actually pretty good! Go into this movie with no expectations and you will really enjoy it! Kevin Sorbo is in the Peter Vincent role here as a big game hunter who has his own television show and big surprise, he has never hunted an animal in his life.
SILVER BULLET (1985)
This film, based on the Stephen King novella “Cycle Of The Werewolf,” is a fun entry in werewolf films. It features a great cast, including Corey Haim, who plays Marty, a boy in a wheelchair. After a series of grisly murders in town, Marty sneaks out one night to light fireworks and is attacked by a werewolf. Before getting away he is able to shoot the beast in its eye with one of his rockets. Now it is up to Marty to convince everyone that the murderer is actually a werewolf and that he knows who it is, based on the eye injury. This movie is quick paced and fun to watch. The only real drawback is the design of the werewolf itself. Though it is one that stands on two feet, or paws, the design of the face leaves a lot to be desired. In profile it looks ok but to see it straight on reminds me of the face of a baby bear. Not too menacing if you ask me. Don’t let this prevent you from watching it though. It is still a great film.
This is the third werewolf film from 1981, and probably the weakest of the three. As a stand-alone this film is really good, but when compared to AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING, it just does not hold up. The attacks are grisly and the special effects are really good. The way the story plays out you never really know what the wolves are; are they werewolves. shape-shifting Indians or just actual wolves displaced from their natural habitat? I did like the use of real wolves here, showcasing how beautiful these animals really are. A lot of the film is also done through the eyes of the wolves, which is a neat technique. The setting of New York is also great as it showcases the darkest and dirtiest areas, places you wouldn’t be caught dead in, adding so much to the atmosphere of the film. Give this film a chance with little expectations and you will enjoy it!
So, the next time you are looking for something to do and there is a full moon outside, why not play it safe by staying inside and watching one or more of these great films. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!