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Archive for December 17th, 2009

Werewolves

Werewolves have always played second fiddle to vampires in movies, IMDB has less then two hundred werewolf movies listed, in comparison there nearly seven hundred vampire movies listed, over a hundred of them featuring Dracula. Many of the werewolf movies listed are actually vampire movies that feature werewolves. With The Wolfman coming out early in the new year it seems like a good time to look back at some of the best lycanthrope movies.

The Wolf Man (1941): Universals entry into the werewolf genre fails to live up to their Frankenstein and Dracula movies but is still worth a look. Although not the first werewolf movie it is responsible for a lot of the mythology that we now associate with the genre in a similar way to what Nosferatu did for vampires. The story and the plot work well as does the dark moody photography. The only real fault is that it does look dated, cheep and wooden in comparison to Frankenstein that is actually ten years older.

 

The Curse of the Werewolf (1961): Hammer were better know for making vampire movies, in fact this was there only werewolf movie. Directed by Terence Fisher (also responsible for the studios best Dracula movies) who does a great job creating an atmospheric horror. Moving away from the usual bitten by a wolf origin, the story is always interesting and compelling but lacking the violence and gore of more recent movies of the genre. The real draw though is Oliver Reed who is outstanding displaying all the inner torment of the wolf-man.

 

An American Werewolf in London (1981): Classic is an overused word, and when it comes to comedy horror it is seldom justified, when referring to An American Werewolf in London it is more than justified. Following an attack by a strange creature, an American backpacker who has to deal with the becoming a werewolf and being haunted by his friend who didn’t survive the attack. The pre CGI werewolf transformation is still surprisingly effective nearly thirty years on.

 

The Howling (1981): Made by Gremlins director Joe Dante The Howling is a great early 80’s horror that dispenses with many of the conventions of the genre. The film plays out like a conspiracy thriller and in the sprit of All the President’s Men and The Parallax View the main character is a journalist. A film of the same era as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling is less comical and more satirical but also in the conspiracy thriller style it is actually a little subversive, the wolf effects aren’t as good and look a little dated but aren’t bad.

 

The Company of Wolves (1984): Werewolves are viscous beasts whilst vampires are symbols of sex and sexuality, all that changed with The Company of Wolves. Loosely based on Angela Carter short story of the same name the film weaves a sumptuous horror fantasy around the Little Red Riding Hood fairytale. The meaning of the film is left perfectly open to interpretation but is filled with themes of fear and desire and has an undercurrent of sexuality and loss of innocence.

 

Wolf:  (1994): Wolf works best as a social satire, surprisingly grounded and realistic, the supernatural element is toned down. As a movie it actually starts to lose its way the more we get into the werewolves and the further we get from the human side of the characters. Jack Nicholson is surprisingly low-key for him and gives a strong performance but is sometimes overshadowed by James Spader’s brilliantly detestable yuppie. Michelle Pfeiffer is criminally underused, but makes the most of the part she has given as absolutely oozes with sexuality the way she did at times in The Fabulous Baker Boys and Batman Returns. Not one for gore fans but a good solid film.

 

Ginger Snaps (2000): Wit budgetary constraints comes artistic invention and Ginger Snaps $4million budget would barely pay the coffee budget on the Lord of the Rings movies. Fantastically developed characters full of teen angst, the film is more gritty, earthyand  visceral than the pithy ironic style of most horror movies of the time. With themes of alienation, despair and transformation the entire film is a metaphor for teenage in particular puberty.

 

Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001): loosely based on a real-life Beast of Gévaudan. A series of killings in France in the 18th century that caught the attention King Louis XV who sent professional wolf-hunters to solve kill the wolves responsible. Not actually a werewolf movie, but I like it so it makes the list (my blog my rules!). The beast (I won’t give away the plot for those who haven’t seen the film) is always a beast and doesn’t change form to or from a human. It does however do some vicious killing when let out of the shadows. There is also a plotline relating to the beast and a plot to undermine public confidence in the king, something that works well as the film is told in flashback from the time of the revolution. As well as some good horror the film is also a pretty good action movie, and best of all it features Monica Bellucci and Vincent Cassel, what more could you ask for?

 

Dog Soldiers (2002): Soldiers on a training mission gone wrong in the Scottish highlands sounds like a rip-off of Walter Hill’s Southern Comfort, in a way it is but writer/director Neil Marshall (who went on to make The Descent) isn’t afraid to borrow from the best, later scenes are equal parts Night of the Living Dead and The Evil Dead with the end being pure The Howling with a British spin. As is often the case film makers are at there most inventive whist constrained by a limited budget, this film is no exception making great use of their none CGI monsters. Again for budgetary reasons the werewolves spend a lot of time where they traditionally belong, in the shadows. The final victory of the film is the perfect blend of horror and comedy, something that is hard to get right.

 

Underworld (2003): Making the most of its relatively small budget underworld is a hugely stylish movie. The sets are amazing and the Budapest locations are used to full effect giving the film a perfect blend of modern and gothic horror. But the real victory for the film is the premise, the war between vampires and werewolves gives an extra dimension to the plot and means that the vampires have a worthy advisory. The wolves also end the film as the more sympathetic and virtues creatures, that makes an interesting change.

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