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"Howling at the Moon!"

Updated: Apr 20, 2021

Illustration by Brendon Miller

One of the most recognizable monsters in the horror genre, is that of the werewolf! Massive canine teeth protruding from an elongated snout, eyes that glow against the darkness, razor-sharp claws, covered in fur, immensely strong, oversized, capable of being a quadruped or a biped, and has an insatiable urge to kill, is the image that we are all familiar with. A perfect blend between person and beast. Yet, this cinematic image was not always the case. Early versions of the werewolf were depicted as an overly hairy man, crooked teeth, and sharpened fingernails. Lon Chaney as The Wolfman comes to mind. Don't get me wrong, as a horror enthusiast I hold Lon Chaney's version of The Wolfman in high esteem. Given the time period, the conceptual design was innovative along with the cinematography to make it work. Though it wasn't until 1981, nearly 40 years after Lon Chaney debuted on the silver screen, that fans of the werewolf final get to see the beast that we have come to expect in modern film.

In April of 1981, The Howling, starring Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, and Dennis Dugan premiered and became an instant cult classic. A bit campy, with a very "unique" transformation scene, The Howling brought a very good version of the werewolf. Fierce, protruding snouts, very much in the spirit of lycanthropy, the werewolves were portrayed as biped killing machines with the mentality of join us or die. Though the movie was relatively underrated with a budget of only a million dollars and grossing at the box worldwide 18 million, The Howling not only set a precedent for an appropriate look of a werewolf but also started an ongoing franchise of werewolves that have produced eight separate films. Like the movie or not, The Howling is revered as a classic with merchandise that can be found at Horror Conventions around the globe earning a 3 Scream Rating!

When someone, anyone, mentions a werewolf, the movie that is seemingly the most famous is An American Werewolf in London (AAWL) starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Joe Belcher. Even though it was another low budget film with a bit of a hooky style released in August of 1981, AAWL still created the highest standard for a werewolf design and nearly forty years later remains the "top dog" for the best transformation scene of any werewolf movie. In fact, this movie moved the concept of this classic monster further along than any other film of its day. Another cult classic, grossing over 30 million at the box office worldwide, AAWL is heralded as the quintessential werewolf movie and, in my opinion, should have a reserved spot among any horror enthusiasts' collection earning a 5 Scream Rating!

May of 2002 marked a return to SFX that did not include CG honoring the pioneers of the werewolf concept with the release of Dog Soldiers, starring Sean Pertwee, Kevin McKidd, and Liam Cunningham. A routine military exercise goes awry when a British squad quickly discovers it is not an ordinary weekend training venture and find themselves in a fight for survival against a relentless pack of werewolves. Action packed, never a dull moment with astounding werewolf designs and SFX, Dog Soldiers is a "Howl" of a good time! Had it not been for one small scene in the film, a scene in which one of the characters changes into a werewolf that never gets fully explained, (Fans of the movie know what scene I am referring to), Dog Soldiers would've received an overwhelming five screams, but too many questions surround that scene knocking the film down to a 4 Scream Rating.

~Brian Hershey~

Want more on werewolves? Check out our podcast, "They Call It Horror", now available on Spotify, Google and Apple Podcasts!

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