The Werewolf has long been the ugly duckling of the horror film monsters, possibly not deemed frightening, or aesthetically appealing enough for younger viewers. The stricken, damned beast is the most saddening of perhaps any character created, similar to Stevenson’s Jekyll & Hyde only more carnal, feral, and once bitten doomed to a soulless existence in the shadows at once a lethal threat to others and himself.
This broad neglect (not counting a particular recent franchise I choose not to recognize) is truly a shame, as some of the greatest entries in the oldest and most traditional of genres contain lycanthropes or differing variations of them (Cat People 1942 & 1982 are two exquisite examples of this), and I can’t be alone in wishing for a grand revival. For now though, we have these 10 fantastic films listed below…
Note: I haven’t included it because the werewolf element it contains is quite small, but I’m giving a special mention to Michael Dougherty’s Trick ‘r Treat (2007), which features one of the greatest “transformation sequences” of all time.
10. The Wolfman
2010, Directed by Joe Johnston
Seemingly forever in production, the high hopes horror fans held for this polished remake started fading quicker than Lawrence Talbot’s sanity, with the mediocre reviews then an exceptionally unfortunate end to the waiting. Upon reflection though, it’s startlingly clear to see just how much Joe Johnson (as the film’s eventual director) did right, maintaining a Gothic mood, ensuring a worthy transformation sequence that is part practical effects and part CG and coaxing wonderful performances from Del Toro as the tortured beast, Hugo Weaving as the determined Aberline and the beautiful Emily Blunt.
Is this a scary film? Not particularly… but its very well made and a lot better than you remember.
9. Brotherhood of the Wolf
2001, Directed by Christophe Gans
Calling Christophe Gans’ stylish cult extravaganza a werewolf film is to paint an incredibly broad and inaccurate stroke, but since it is a film based on secrets and espionage, and feaures gruesome deaths not dissimilar to others on this list, this remains the sub-genre in which it sits. A guilty pleasure of sorts, Gans’ injects his historical tale with an overuse of self-indulgent slo-mo that only adds to it’s favorable notoriety, as do our two mysterious heroes Grégoire de Fronsac and native American Mani and a typically sumptuous performance from Monica Bellucci.
I’m sure it goes without saying that this is very much a one-of-a-kind type of film.
8. Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt
2004, Directed by Paco Plaza
Exquisite; that’s the best word to describe Paco Plaza’s vivid gem Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt – a mature, exceptionally mounted mix of horror and mystery, and possibly the only werewolf film to be based on a true story. Julian Sands (Leaving Las Vegas, Boxing Helena) is terrifically restrained as the titular drifter, and is supported strongly by the largely unknown Elsa Pataky, who imbues her many highly emotional scenes with a dense vulnerability and eventually stands out as the best part of a stunning example of independent film-making.
Romasanta contains its share of suspense and gore, as well as a highly memorable reverse-transformation scene, but its viewing base should not be limited to simply those interested in horror and the bizarre, because once viewed its startlingly clear that it is one of the best low-budget films of the past decade in general.
2003, Directed by Len Wiseman
The movie that made werewolves cool again, Underworld may not be critically acclaimed, but like the Resident Evil series its fan base is loyal, vocal and unashamed to revel in its fetishistic costumes, moonlit locations and chaotic action. Telling a Romeo and Juliet inspired chapter in the age-old war between vampires and werewolves, Len Wiseman’s super-cool flick makes fantastic use of Kate Beckinsale’s enchanting appearance and has spawned 3 equally fun sequels.
6. The Company of Wolves
1984, Directed by Neil Jordan
Intriguing filmmaker Neil Jordan’s (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game, Byzantium) second feature film is a symbolic, dreamlike study of wolves in sheep’s clothing featuring a most adult take on the famous fable Little Red Riding Hood and an image of a wolf shedding its skin that will remain with you for a long time. The Company of Wolves is the work of courageous auteur, at once frightening, disturbing and very adult, and is essential viewing for those with a preference for the macabre side of human nature.
5. The Wolf Man
1941, Directed by George Waggner
Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi and Lon Chaney Jr… 3 reasons why, if you haven’t already partaken in this classic, brooding tragedy from Universal Studios it is of uttermost importance that you do. It’s not as accomplished a film as James Whale’s Frankenstein or The Bride of Frankenstein, Tod Browning’s Dracula or even Karl Freund’s The Mummy, but George Waggner’s The Wolf Man is certainly just as important and influential, being the birth of the sub-genre as we know it today and captured in beautifully evocative black and white. Seeing Chaney Jr transform into the beast in clear view is a definitive image of American cinema.
4. Dog Soldiers
2002, Directed by Neil Marshall
The feature film of one of my favorite directors, Neil Marshall (The Descent, Doomsday, Centurion), Dog Soldiers explodes from the opening frames ’till the last and revels in its relentless machismo, enthusiastically uttered coarse language and visceral intestine ripping, impaled-on-a-branch brutality. Following a troupe of British soldiers on a routine training exercise in the Scottish Highlands, who face very real danger when it’s discovered the Special Ops team they’re up against have a lethal ulterior motive and domineering lycanthropes are roaming the moonlit woods, this in an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride that represents the very definition of fun and can be re-watched endlessly.
Also, it boasts the best use of Sean Pertwee to date, and that is a great feat of itself.
3. Ginger Snaps
2000, Directed by John Fawcett
Growing up can be brutal for most, but for Ginger (the now iconic scream queen Katharine Isabelle), its truly a monster. Spending her spare time with equally disenfranchised sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) faking grotesque suicides and avoiding her unbearably perky mother, she is also, on the night of her first period, attacked by the wolf that has been ravaging the local dogs and her body begins to change in a manner not exactly taught by her physical education teacher. As Ginger grows more menacing as well as mature, Brigit teams up with the local pot dealer in trying to find a cure and reclaim the sister she adores, and whose sprouting shoulder hairs are a misfortune worth eradicating.
Sharp, funny and extremely intelligent, Ginger Snaps succeeds as both a werewolf entry and teen drama, and it’s excellence continued throughout two great sequels: Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) and the 19th century set Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning (2004).
2. The Howling
1981, Directed by Joe Dante
Joe Dante, the purveyor of anarchic entertainment and helmer of Gremlins, remains a severely underrated director, so it’s a comfort to know with certainly that at least his knowing (a werewolf film in which past werewolf films exist) 1981 classic is not. With effects by Rob Botin (who would a year later create the seminal alien masterworks of John Carpenter’s The Thing) that rival those of the great Rick Baker (see below), fan favorite Dee Wallace starring, a surprisingly dark undertone and a more-than-memorable scene featuring the late Elisabeth Brooks, The Howling is a hair-raising horror with a glowing reputation it is more than deserving of.
1. An American Werewolf in London
1981, Directed by John Landis
The deft yet enthusiastic directorial hand of John Landis, the heart-stopping grace and accent of Jenny Agutter, the use of songs only with the word “moon” in them, Rick Baker’s masterful transformation scene in broad daylight, the mixture of suspense and humor, The Slaughtered Lamb, the explicit use of recurring Landis gag See You Next Wednesday, the spine-tingling subway scene, tragic conclusion, Nazi demon nightmare, flayed neck flesh and attack on the moors…
An American Werewolf in London. The best werewolf movie ever made.
How does this list stack up against your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!