Werewolves: The most underused of the classic monsters.

September 26, 2019

 

It's no secret that horror films move in trends. In fact, most films move in trends, right? I mean, look at the cinematic landscape as it currently stands, a slew of remakes, reboots, sequels, shared universes, franchises and... basically just blockbusters as far as the eye can see. It's a trend (I sincerely hope), and eventually it'll move on (I sincerely hope).

 

But looking specifically within the genre of horror, we see certain trends return and drop and return. Trends like the zombie movie, which recently had a big run that kind of culminated with World War Z, and while there are still other zombie movies being made, the sub-genre has, by and large, sort of returned to the shadows. Ghosts have also made a big comeback in recent years, with James Wan's output, including The Conjuring universe, and the likes of Paranormal Activity. Before that we had so-called "torture porn", another one Wan has dabbled in, and before that there were countless other examples of the horror sub-genres appearing and disappearing, gaining popularity, and then shrinking back into the shadows.

 

But there's one movie monster that doesn't seem to have this sort of everlasting return and drop off. Vampires come and go. Ghosts come and go. Even Kaiju, apparently. But not werewolves. Werewolves never seem to gain much popularity. Why is that?

 

Well, I have a theory. Obviously there have been examples of successful and beloved werewolf movies; The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr. is perhaps the most obvious example, but we also have the likes of John Landis' An American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante's The Howling, Stephen King's Silver Bullet and, *ahem*, Teen Wolf, starring Michael J Fox.

 

It's not like werewolves haven't be covered within the pantheon of film, it's just that they never really seem to catch on in the way others do. And it's my belief that this is down to one, simple factor: werewolves are hard.

 

I don't mean werewolves are all Phil Mitchell, they're not "'ard", they're hard. Hard to get right. Hard to make work on the big screen. They're a difficult beast, if you will. And mainly, I believe anyway, that's down to the fact that they don't really stand-in for anything. There's nothing that werewolves are easily identifiable as in terms of real world issues, and real world issues are sort of where all good horror movies jump off from.

 

Let's take zombies, for example. Zombies are us. They are mankind. They are a stand-in for the worst of humanity. Be it George A Romero's bleak take on consumerism in Dawn of the Dead, to Danny Boyle's frightening portrayal of viral outbreak in 28 Days Later (and yes, it's a zombie movie! I don't care that they're "infected", if it looks like a zombie movie, sounds like a zombie movie, and follows all the tropes of a zombie movie then... death of the author and all that) the zombie works as a parallel for mankind.

 

Hell, even Edgar Wright knew this. It's no accident that the opening credit sequence of Shaun of the Dead moves swiftly through the zombie-like monotony of day-to-day life, and the iconic sequence where Shaun walks to the shop and back is so on the nose it's basically poking you in the eye.

 

Werewolves don't really have an all encompassing parallel that they can draw from. What do we recognise werewolves as? Nothing, really. They're just creatures, right?

 

Now, look, there have been movies that have managed to find a real world parallel for the werewolf. The best example, I can think of at least, is John Fawcett's 2000 cult movie, Ginger Snaps. Here the werewolf becomes a metaphor for puberty, and the change within our bodies as we "come of age". Teen Wolf also touches on this, although obviously doesn't explore it as deeply.

 

Puberty is a good one, since most of us have experienced it ourselves. But it isn't the only metaphor werewolves have been used as. 1994's Jack Nicholson starring Wolf uses the werewolf as a stand-in for a sexual predator, and this concept is something that goes all the way back to the Brothers Grimm and Little Red Riding Hood. There has almost always been something sexual and predatory about wolves, and as a result about werewolves. But, again, none of these really took off as the recognised approach.

 

Perhaps the issue lay within the fact that werewolves are just too specific. The stand-in, in each of the examples listen above, is specific in a way that doesn't leave room for much else. Zombies, meanwhile, can become the entirety of humanity.

 

Whatever the reason, I think it's a shame. The werewolf has always been one of my favourites of the movie monsters, and as a sub-genre is has plenty of offer; from body-horror (I mean, just look at the transformation scene from American Werewolf, it's as iconic now as it ever was, and remains some of the finest visual effects work ever committed to screen) to bleakly comic siege movie (seriously, why don't we discuss Dog Soldiers more? What a movie!) there is just so much that can be done. We need a new werewolf movie... hey! That gives me an idea...

 

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© Alex Secker 2018