Favorite monster? That's easy - Wolf Man. He's not a sociopath like Dracula, and not a blithering idiot like Frankenstein and the Mummy. He's kind of like the Hulk - instead of Banner it's Talbot plagued by his bestial side. Plus, it's got the time honored "duality of man" thingy going for it - a la Jekyll and Hyde. Yes. It's settled. The Wolf Man wins.
I know, the poor lycanthropes were tainted by Twilight, but they'll weather the storm; there's a rich cinematic history that spans a hundred years which ensures that not even "Team Jacob" can destroy its legacy.
I'm going to give you the rundown of the werewolf in pop culture - I'll cover movies, TV and comics (with the painful omission of music - I just don't have the time). So, it's by no means comprehensive, but I think you'll find it interesting nonetheless.
THE EARLY YEARS
The first time audiences got to see the werewolf up on the big screen was in the creatively entitled silent film THE WEREWOLF (1913). It was a whopping 18 minutes long about a Navajo witch who transforms her daughter into a werewolf to get even with the white man.
Then in 1924 there was a movie called THE WOLF MAN - but it turns out to be about a drunk; nothing to do with werewolves. It wasn't until 1932 that audiences got to not only see the werewolf on the big screen, but also hear it, with the first werewolf talkie LOUP GAROU. Unfortunately, it was in German.... so Americans were still SOL.
THE UNIVERSAL YEARS
In 1935 you had THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON, but that had more in common with Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde than werewolves. The first "legit" werewolf movie would come out seven years later - THE WOLFMAN (1941) starring Lon Chaney, Jr. who had just recently won an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the big dumb Lennie in OF MICE AND MEN.
Now the werewolf is big time, and Hollywood was no different then as it is now - tons of imitations flooded the market:
THE UNDYING MONSTER (1942) - Werewolf as a sort of Jason Voorhees who kills off family members on an isolated English estate. No hockey mask, just really hairy.
TERROR HOUSE (1942) - Again, he's like a slasher but on the Yorkshire moors.
THE MAD MONSTER (1942) - A mad scientist creates an army of werewolves to fight the Nazis. Hell to the yeah!
RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE.(1943) - Sure, it's about a vampire (Bela Lugosi), but he's got a werewolf helper (Matt Willis). What side will you choose - Team Bela or Team Matt?
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1943) - Lon Chaney Jr. reprises his role as poor Larry Talbot who gets a hold of Baron von Frankenstein's diary. Sounds lame, but actually a good film.
HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN (1944) - The mother of all monster movies - this film's got monsters comin' out the yin yang. Chaney's back as Talbot the Wolfman, but there's also Frankenstein, Dracula, and.... wait for it.... a bloodthirsty hunchback. Frankenstein's monster dies by quicksand, if that gives you any indication of the quality of film we're dealing with here.
HOUSE OF DRACULA (1945) - Chaney's back.... again. But this time we finally get to see Talbot cured once and for all. It's like Bill Bixby never having to turn into the Hulk again - what a relief! Unfortunately, the altruistic scientist that cures him is himself infected by..... wait for it.... Dracula's blood! And it gets even better - this new vampire decides to revive.... wait for it..... Frankenstein's monster! (Sweet Jesus, it's too much)
SHE WOLF OF LONDON (1946) - Is it a werewolf movie for chicks? False alarm (and spoiler alert) - it's just a delusional chick being framed by her crazy bitch aunt. No werewolves to be found in this movie.
ABBOT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948) - Chaney's back again as the Wolf Man who's actually on A&C's side - to help them against baddies Dracula (Lugosi) and Frankenstein's monster. Favorite quote: "You may not belive this - but I turn into a wolf each night", says Lon Chaney, Jr. to which Lou Costello responds, "You and twenty million other guys."
THE DRIVE-IN YEARS
For the next several years, the werewolf went on a hiatus. Science fiction was the "in thing" for drive-ins and the horror genre was "outsville". Even when they did try their hand at a werewolf movie, it still had sci-fi overtones. THE WEREWOLF (1956) features scientists who want to turn the population into werewolves to avert nuclear war (Don't ask. It's a long story.)
But then there came one of the most influential horror movies of all time - I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1958). Fans of the horror genre know that this film, along with the Hammer films and Famous Monsters of Filmland, brought the horror genre back to the fore - in a big way. Indeed, the genre remained strong for the next thirty years (before reaching a horrible lull in the nineties).
And speaking of Hammer, their foray into the werewolf domain begins with CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961). Oliver Reed plays it with amazing skill, possibly the best performance of his career. As with most Hammer films, it was done intelligently. The script was actually based of a French novel The Werewolf of Paris (1933). Americans, being much dumber than the Brits (just kidding... no, actually not kidding), released WEREWOLF IN A GIRL'S DORMITORY (1963) a couple years later.
FACE OF THE SCREAMING WEREWOLF (1965) - Lon Chaney, Jr. is back as a werewolf mummy!
DR. TERROR'S GALLERY OF HORRORS (1965) - Not a werewolf mummy, but a werewolf vampire-hunter!
1965 yielded what is commonly regarded as the greatest werewolf comic of all time. Published in the premier of CREEPY, the story "Werewolf" is a classic for the ages with artwork by none other than Frank Frazetta. A couple of years later, in 1967, the worst werewolf comic was also released: JIMMY OLSON #104. The mildly retarded friend of Lois Lane is transformed into a werewolf in one of the dumbest stories ever put to paper.
THE MALTESE BIPPY (1969) - Rowan & Martin film featuring a motorcycle riding werewolf. That same year also produced BLOOD OF DRACULA'S CASTLE about a werewolf gangster.
DRACULA (THE DIRTY OLD MAN) (1969) - Low budget horror skin flick. The sound quality was evidently so messed up they had to re-dub the whole film - and they obviously said "screw it" and just had fun. It's as if the dubbers did a MST3K on themselves. Dracula was actually voiced over with a comically thick Hebraic accent. This marks the low point in werewolf history, for in one graphic scene the wolfman rapes a woman. Not one of the finer moments in the timeline.
THE LEAN YEARS (AKA THE TV MOVIE YEARS)
I don't know what else to call the 1970s. There were certainly a number of theatrical releases, but they were all lackluster and low budget. No landmark werewolf films to be found, and even quite a few made for TV movies done on the cheap. The seventies weren't kind to the werewolf genre.
Paul Naschy officially ushers the werewolf into the 70s.. Our friend the werewolf pops up in a ton of Naschy's foreign language flicks including: NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1969), FRANKENSTEIN'S BLOODY TERROR (1970), ASSIGNMENT TERROR (1970), FURY OF THE WOLFMAN (1970), and DR. JEKYLL VS. THE WEREWOLF (1971). All of Naschy's films are woefully low budget and an acquired taste.
At about this time, EASY RIDER and a host of biker movies were dominating the youth market. So, naturally, we find WEREWOLVES ON WHEELS (1971). A biker gang beats the hell out of a satanic cult, so the cult leaders get even by turning a couple of the gang into werewolves. A damn fine movie with a killer soundtrack - the best werewolf picture of the decade.
A werewolf TV movie reared its ugly head in 1972. MOON OF THE WOLF starring David Janssen as a sheriff who has to kill a werewolf whose killin' folks in his once peaceful little town. I give the film three stars and a resounding yawn.
Also in 1972, Marvel released WEREWOLF BY NIGHT - the first comic book to feature a werewolf as its continuing character, and became the longest running werewolf comic title to date. Indeed, the seventies weren't kind to the werewolf genre on film; however, the seventies could be said to be the Golden Age of werewolves in comics. The list of kick ass appearances in VAMPIRELLA, CREEPY, NIGHTMARE, EERIE, MONSTERS UNLEASHED, PSYCHO, HOUSE OF MYSTERY, etc. is legion.
THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON (1973) stars Dean Stockwell as the lead lycanthrope. This films tries too hard. It's a metaphor of some kind about corrupt politics, but it gets lost in its philosophy and forgets that a film can be both intellectual and entertaining; they are not mutually exclusive.
SCREAM OF THE WOLF (1974) - Another TV Movie (they were big in the seventies). The script was written by Richard Matheson (I AM LEGEND) and directed by Dan Curtis (DARK SHADOWS).... but it still falls short. Sort of a werewolf version of "The Most Dangerous Game".
THE BEAST MUST DIE (1974) - Stars Peter Cushing and features a machine gun loaded with silver bullets. Yet, somehow, this film still manages to not be good.
THE WEREWOLF OF WOODSTOCK (1975) - Yet another TV movie - this one is a Dick Clark production. The werewolf is a hippie hater whose "silver bullet" is the sound of an electric guitar. A godawful mess.
The seventies have truly arrived for the werewolf genre with DAUGHTER OF A WEREWOLF (1976) featuring a lesbian werewolf with lots of gratuitous nudity and sweaty sex. Made in Italy, of course.
DEATH MOON (1978) - Another TV movie - this one starring seventies stud (and Robert Reed lookalike) Robert Foxworth. Foxworth turns into a werewolf because of a Hawaiian curse... not unlike the Brady Bunch Hawaiian episode (with yet another uncanny link to Mr. Brady).
BIG IN THE 80S
THE HOWLING hit the big screen in 1981, bringing the werewolf out of a decade of relative hibernation. Great special effects and genuinely frightening moments. A worthy savior to resuscitate a lycanthrope who was in danger of spending its dying days in TV movie hell.
Then, that same year, we got AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. How can anyone not like this movie? In fact, I can just about guarantee that everyone who is reading this right now has seen it. And if you haven't - what are you waiting for?
|CRAZY magazine parody of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON|
THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1984) - Sort of stylized metaphor for something I-don't-care-what by the guy who brought you THE CRYING GAME. I liked it when I saw it on VHS, it bored the hell out of me when I saw it on DVD.
The 1980s saw a number of other big time productions in the werewolf genre: WOLFEN (1981), SILVER BULLET (1985), TEEN WOLF (1986), and THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987) being the most popular. There were also a ridiculous number of HOWLING sequels. However, we are fast reaching the end of Retrospace territory, so I will stop there. I've enjoyed traveling with my hairy friend across the decades, but I'm afraid this is where we part ways.