Well, here we are again my dear readers with another edition of MONSTER BLOG POST. I call them monster blog posts, not because they are about monsters (that’s just a coincidence) but because they are huge, and offer you guys a big selection of films for your viewing pleasure. This is my special Halloween post for you guys, so I hope it's to your liking. But this blog didnt come to be by my efforts alone!
On this edition, four bloggers united their knowledge on werewolf films to offer you guys 20 werewolf movies (actually a bit more then 20) to see under the full moon. Or in your living room, whichever way you prefer. You’ll notice that The Howling and An American Werewolf in London are nowhere to be seen on this blog post and that’s for a purpose. Not because they are bad films or anything, quite the contrary, both films are awesome werewolf movies. But the thing is that both of these movies have been talked to death. Unless your are a film buff that’s just starting out, then chances are you’ve probably seen both of these films, and know all there is to know about them. So we decided to avoid those two, and instead talk about other werewolf movies that don’t normally get attention. These choices arent the top of anything, they are just choices. Werewolf films we’ve found interesting or not. And we’ve written our opinions on them for your reading pleasure.
The bloggers that collaborated with me on this blog post are the following, in no particular order:
Brian Bankston from COOL ASS CINEMA, a blog that gives a wealth of information on cult movies, cool movies, kung fu movies, westerns, you name it, if its cool, you’ll find it on COOL ASS CINEMA. Brian offers us 5 Werewolf movies from Across the Globe.
Then we have Shaun Anderson from THE CELLULOID HIGHWAY. Shaun and I have been collaborating for quite sometime on various blog posts. If you are interested, check out our TOP FIVE BIZARRO MOVIES COUNTDOWN, some truly bizarre choices emerged from that collaboration I can guarantee you that! Shauns THE CELLULOID HIGHWAY is one of the best written blogs on the blogosphere, so head on over there and check out his blog, you’ll thank me later. Shaun offers us five werewolf films from the U.K.
Finally, we have a first time collaborator here on The Film Connoisseur and he is know as Johnny Thunders from JOHNNY THUNDER’S MIDNITE SPOOK FROLIC, a blog I like to keep up with because it constantly offers updates on anything horror related, new dvd releases, reviews, the best Halloween haunts and a horrorific podcast. Johnny presents us with five werewolf movies from Universal Studios.
And finally, your humble servant, Franco from The Film Connoisseur offers you guys five werewolf movies made in the U.S. of A. So anyways, I leave you guys with this Monster Blog Post, hope you guys enjoy it!
COOL ASS CINEMA’S 5 WEREWOLF MOVIES FROM ACROSS THE GLOBE:
These hairy beasts of ancient lore are more popularly showcased in both American and European cinematic expressions, but generally lacking when it comes to Asian representations in film. There's virtually none in Chinese legends (aside from Southeast Asian lore of the Nagas, shapeshifters that transformed into snakes) and Japanese "werewolves" aren't the cursed howlers of American and European iconography. The Kitsune are one form of Nippon lycanthrope, although these are more like were-foxes than anything else. These kinds of creatures are Yokai, another word for the demons, monsters and goblins of Japanese folklore. While they're more popularly pigeonholed in occidental territories, there have been some quirky instances of fang toothed films in other genres as well as other parts of the world. Grab some wolf bane and load them silver bullets while howling at some of the more bizarre instances of werewolfery from Italy, Spain, Mexico and Japan.
THE MAN & THE MONSTER 1958 (Mexico)
This is one of the most imaginative, yet frequently goofy examples of lupine horror; this one from Mexico's golden age of Gothic horror. This one deals with a virtuoso named Samuel with a penchant for the piano who sells his soul to the devil for percussive brilliance. But whenever he plays a piece, he becomes a hairy creature of the night. A reporter (played by producer and frequent Mexican horror leading man, Abel Salazar) arrives at Samuel's hacienda to find out why the amazing pianist has forsaken public concerts, opting instead to train a woman named Laura as his replacement. Old fashioned Mexican horror, while being incredibly versatile in the lore of monsters, retained much of the elder Universal Gothic template. The story is intriguing with its terrible family secret, superstitious locals, corpses and nods to JEKYLL & HYDE, but be prepared to chuckle yourself silly whenever the cursed creature makes its appearance.
URSUS, TERROR OF THE KIRGHIZ 1964 (Italy)
Antonio Margheriti has done some fine films in his career as one of the most fanciful directors of Italian cinema Fantastique. Sadly, this isn't one of them. The storyline reeks of genre bending brilliance, but ultimately settles for cult film kitsch. Ruggero Deodato was heavily involved in this production, so it's difficult to say how much is actually Margheriti's work. Still, this movie, marketed as a Hercules picture in America as HERCULES, PRISONER OF EVIL (a title with oodles of exploitation potential) deals with super strong Ursus (a beardless Reg Park) battling a sinister sorceress who turns men into werewolves. These musclebound "monsters" look more like brutes with bizarre patches of hair over their bodies than any lupine threat. The movie does show promise when the villainess, Amiko puts ursus under her spell. Unfortunately, we don't get a rampaging Ursus turned into a full moon monster, but bad movie buffs will find a lot to howl about with this one.
SAMSON & BLUE DEMON VS. DRACULA & THE WOLFMAN 1973 (Mexico)
More movie madness from Mexico came in the form of the Lucha Libre genre wherein masked wrestlers moonlighted as crime fighters when they weren't leaping from the top rope, or applying wrestling holds in the ring. Santo was the most famous and here you get two times the masked mayhem as he's joined by Blue Demon to take on the double trouble of Dracula and the Wolfman! The story is pure nuttiness as Dracula revenges himself on the descendants of an old wizard that destroyed both him, and his lupine servant. Professor Cristaldi hires the two part time avengers to protect his family. There's also a hunchback, a divine weapon called the Dagger of Boidros and an army of creatures that do battle with our heroes. Santo also fought a werewolf in the classic B/W Mexi-horror, SAMSON VS. THE VAMPIRE WOMEN (1962). This color entry featuring tag team action is hokey as all hell, but fans of cheese will find a tasty morsel here.
THE BEAST & THE MAGIC SWORD 1983 (Spain)
Paul Naschy's monstrous masterpiece is a Spanish-Japanese co-production that begins in Medieval Europe and ends up on the Asian continent. The Spanish horror icon really shines behind the camera for this opulent picture. Featuring werewolves, evil spirits, a wicked sorceress, naked female ninjas assassins and swordfights backed by an obviously bigger budget than Naschy was normally accustomed to, this thrilling horror action epic is the most elaborate of the Daninsky films. Here, Irineus Daninsky is cursed by an evil witch after slaying her captive barbarian lover in a duel. Years later, Irineus's descendant, Waldemar, seeks a cure for the curse. His journey takes him all the way to Japan to find a samurai sorcerer belonging to a secret order of wizards with the power to cure him. The gore is minimal, but everything else is wildly ornate in this tenth Paul Naschy portrayal as the famed Polish lycanthrope.
KIBAKICHI 2004 (Japan)
You rarely ever see a bonafide werewolf movie from Japan (Sonny Chiba played a pseudo wolfman in WOLFGUY based on the popular manga), but director Tomoo Haraguchi's (SAKUYA: SLAYER OF DEMONS) movie focuses on various Yokai monsters while adhering to a more familiar western look for its hairy protagonist. The film is about a nomadic ronin named Kibakichi. Wishing to live peacefully among humans, this wanderer arrives in a small, desolate village and encounters other Yokai both good and bad in addition to Yakuza wishing to kill the Yokai and bizarre futuristic, black leather clad villains brandishing modern day weaponry like machine guns. Oftentimes resembling a gaudy, low budget, live action anime, it has LONE WOLF & CUB style bloodletting and the monster fights borrow sound effects from Toho's Godzilla series! Sense is something this film does not make. It's best to sit back and enjoy the riotously over the top theatrics with your brain on auto pilot. It's followed by an equally nutty sequel.
THE CELLULOID HIGHWAY’S 5 WEREWOLF MOVIES FROM THE UK:
THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (Terence Fisher, UK, 1961)
It comes as no surprise that the first British horror film to deal with the subject of lycanthropy was produced by Hammer Film Productions. It would also be Hammer’s only entry into the folklore of the Werewolf, but thanks to a performance of searing intensity by Oliver Reed, the excellent special make up effects of Roy Ashton, and the authentic production design of Bernard Robinson, The Curse of the Werewolf has become a pre-eminent gothic horror film. The film was based on the novel Werewolf of Paris by Guy Endore, but screenwriter/producer Anthony Hinds altered the setting to Spain, in order to make use of sets built for a film that didn’t go into production. The Spanish setting adds a unique flavour, even if the class politics and theme of repressed sexuality were long a staple of Hammer and Terence Fisher’s. The film opens with one of Hammer’s most repulsive depictions of the aristocracy, a bunch of brutal sadists led by Anthony Dawson, who set a chain of events in motion which sees a mute serving wench raped by a desperate beggar. Her child is born on Christmas Day, and so begins one of the least subtle allegories of the Jesus myth. Fisher clearly warms to the Messianic themes of the screenplay, and unlike most Hammer films of the time, the boundaries between good and evil are blurred. This unusual attitude to depictions of good and evil is as much to do with the substance of the Werewolf myth as it is anything Hammer did. The myth is one of tragedy, bad luck, and loss of control. The werewolf is rarely a figure of pure evil, but instead a character to be pitied and sympathised with. In this regard Reed does a truly superb job. He invests in Leon a natural charisma and intelligence, qualities that nevertheless strain under the weight of a haunted conscious. All of Hammer’s key thematic interests are here, but are downplayed in favour of a rich character study that ends with revelation and self sacrifice.
THE BEAST MUST DIE (Paul Annett, UK, 1974)
Aside from the brief tale ‘The Werewolf’ which opened Amicus Productions’ creepy anthology Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965), the Anglo-American production outfit had avoided our hairy friends. The Werewolf had simply failed to ignite the imaginations of British horror producers, but Amicus’ single narrative film The Beast Must Die was anything but lacking in imagination. Perhaps the ideas within it were too good, and would have benefited from a much larger budget. The film exhibit’s the schizophrenic attitude to genre that was seeping into most cinema in the 1970’s. Here we have a combination of Agatha Christie whodunit in the mould of Ten Little Indians, the horror and fantasy of the Werewolf, and the blaxploitation/action element offered by the casting of Calvin Lockhart and the groovy score by Douglas Gamley. In best Amicus tradition Max J. Rosenberg and Milton Subotsky were able too assemble an outstanding cast that included Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Charles Gray, and Anton Diffring. These actors invest in the material the necessary conviction to aid believability of a ridiculous, but very fun premise. The screenplay by Michael Winder was based on the short story There Shall Be No Darkness by James Blish, and the themes of hunting, surveillance, voyeurism and entrapment are brought to life through a suitably isolated setting in the English countryside. More famous now for its gimmick of having a break in action so the audience can choose who they think the Werewolf is, The Beast Must Die still works as an action vehicle. Lockhart’s performance is especially woeful, but the others more than make up for this. This is a highly inventive little film, and although it doesn’t quite work, Amicus should be applauded for trying something slightly different with Werewolf mythology.
THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (Neil Jordan, UK, 1984)
The 1980’s was a particularly fallow period for the British horror film. A few seeds were scattered but only rarely did they bloom into something special. In 1984 Irish filmmaker Neil Jordan followed up his debut film Angel (1982), with something that couldn’t be further from the social realism and political intrigue of that film. The Company of Wolves was a visually ravishing fantasy based on the story by feminist writer Angela Carter and set in the fairy tale imagination of a pubescent teenage girl. A cautionary tale of burgeoning sexuality which overflowed with symbolic and metaphoric images. A cinematic textbook of Freudian pyschoanalysis. The real world is depicted as lifeless and bland, a realm of entrapment and boredom. A sphere in which self expression is limited by the family institution, and in which female autonomy and sexual awakening would be viewed with ambivalence rather than celebrated. For this reason Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) vanishes into a world based on the fairy tale Little Red Riding Hood, and must come to terms with her physical and psychological changes in the company of wolves. The wolves of course are a metaphor for masculinity and male sexuality, which means that the Werewolf is being adapted here for a different purpose than that seen in the majority of Werewolf films. Although we do get an impressive transformation sequence, the horror elements of the narrative are subsumed into the fairy tale structure. Granny (Angela Lansbury) provides matriarchal and Victorian values and is punished for her conservatism, which hints at the radicalism of this film in 1980’s Britain. The narrative structure is not dissimilar to an anthology film, with several cautionary episodes existing in linkage to Rosaleen’s real world. The final moments in which the fantasy world literally smashes into reality indicates the loss of innocence that comes from the rites of passage experienced by the girl in her fairy tale world. Along with Clive Barker’s Hellraiser (1987), this is the most important British horror film of the 1980’s.
DOG SOLDIERS (Neil Marshall, UK, 2002)
The Werewolf had once again endured a long period of inactivity in British horror, its piteous howling at the moon ignored by a film culture more intent on producing moronic romantic comedies or dusty period drama. That is until young writer/director Neil Marshall decided to redress the balance with the highly impressive and revisionist Dog Soldiers. Since his 2002 feature film debut Marshall has gone on to greater prominence, most notably with his second film The Descent (2005). But Dog Soldiers’ enthusiasm, sense of humour, and generic zest is unlikely to be matched, even if Marshall makes films for another forty years. The highlands of Scotland become a terrifying wilderness in which the isolation of the misty woodlands and the distant howling of something feral and ferocious creates tension within a group of soldiers on a training mission. Marshall’s dialogue emphasises the macho masculinity of the hardened soldiers, but this is really about the weakness of masculinity in the face of an unnatural and unreasoning enemy. The humour at times destabilises attempts to create suspense, and the scares when they come are predictable and easily telegraphed. But Marshall does an excellent job of humanising the soldiers, and their reactions and behaviour to the inexplicable events comes across as authentic. The Werewolves are very impressive, standing as they do on hind legs, and their power is conveyed with the merest slash of a claw. Less successful are the conspiracy elements represented by the character of Captain Ryan (Liam Cunningham), and scenes of action suffer from over-editing. Nevertheless Dog Soldiers represents a major return to form for both British horror and the Werewolf.
OTHER LYCANTHROPIC MOMENTS
In addition to the above films, British cinema has seen a number of other films dealing with the transformative nature of lycanthropy. In 1975 Tyburn Film Productions followed up their previous horror film The Ghoul (1974) with the Freddie Francis directed obscurity Legend of the Werewolf. Peter Cushing led the cast in a film written by Anthony Hinds. Unfortunately the film was woefully out of touch with the times, but there is enough here of interest to warrant re-examination. In 1981 American director John Landis turned up on British shores, and with the backing of Universal Pictures shot An American Werewolf in London - an affectionate tribute to The Wolf Man (1942) brought to life by 1960’s pop songs and incredible special make up effect by Rick Baker. In 1985 The Howling franchise began its long association with British cinema, with Howling II: Stirba - Werewolf Bitch, a UK/US co-production which featured a very bemused and embarrassed Christopher Lee. Its always great to see Lee slumming it in utter garbage, and still trying to maintain a sense of gravitas and pompous self importance. Just as pathetic was 1988’s Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, a direct to rental disaster directed by John Hough which was a long way from the quality he had exhibited in Twins of Evil (1972) and The Legend of Hell House (1973). In 1989 Howling V: The Rebirth saw the light of day and was a significant improvement on the previous two films mentioned here. It is still pretty awful, but the whodunnit narrative strategy and isolated gothic setting makes it a mildly interesting distraction. The fourth and final UK produced film in the Howling series was 1995’s Howling VII: New Moon Rising. This direct to rental monstrosity represented the absolute nadir of a franchise that writer Gary Brandner had absolutely flogged to death by this point. It is little surprise that with the rash of diminishing returns the Werewolf has struggled to get a foothold in British horror history. On average though, every ten to fifteen years an important contribution is made, so around 2015 we may yet hear the Werewolf howl again from British shores.
JOHNNY THUNDERS MIDNITE SPOOK FROLIC’S 5 UNIVERSAL STUDIOS WEREWOLF FILMS:
THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935)
Universal’s first foray into lycanthropy, The Werewolf of London is a solid and underrated thriller of a horror film. Don’t look for the wolfs bane, silver bullets, old gypsy curses or legends in this one, boils and ghouls - that will have to wait for another 6 years. This spooky flick revolves around Dr. Wilfrid Glendon (Henry Hull), a botanist who treks to Tibet in a quest for a rare specimen of local flora. While on his travels, Glendon is violently attacked by local fauna of the werewolf variety. Upon his return to London, Glendon is approached by a mysterious stranger named Dr. Yogami (Warner Oland). Turns out Yogami is the werewolf who bit Glendon in the wilds of Tibet. Not believing the creepy warning that he will also transform, Glendon later realizes his folly when he turns into a creepy wolf-like man! Featuring a strong performance by Hull, an interesting scaled-back Jack Peirce makeup job, and a very well done transformation scene, The Werewolf of London is well worth a viewing this Halloween season.
THE WOLFMAN (1941)
Say it with me, all you cool ghouls:
Even a man who is pure in heart,
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolf bane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.
I knew you could do it! Still the Granddaddy of all werewolf flicks that introduced all the now-classic trappings of the lore, Universal’s The Wolf Man remains a classic in the genre. When Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr. in his most memorable and beloved role) returns to his home in England after the death of his brother, he reunites with his estranged father (the wonderful Claude Rains a/k/a The Invisible Man). He later becomes mixed up with a band of gypsies, and is bitten by one who is in werewolf form (Bela Lugosi in a nice little cameo). Talbot survives, but now carries the curse of the full moon himself! Look for very compelling performances from Chaney, Rains and Maria Ouspenskaya as the gypsy woman Maleva, as well as another classic Jack Pierce makeup look that will forever remain in our collective unconscious as the Wolf Man.
FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1943)
Picking up where The Wolf Man left off, this film is for all intents and ghoulish purposes The Wolf Man 2. Revived by the light of a full moon when grave robbers disturb his tomb, Larry Talbot (Chaney) sets out on a mission to find the means to end his curse once and for all - even if it means destroying himself in the process! Joined by his gypsy sidekick and de facto mother Maleva, they set out to find Castle Frankenstein and the good (mad?) doctor’s secrets to life. Along the way, Talbot stumbles upon a now-blind Monster (Bela Lugosi finally portraying Frankenstein’s creation) and of course hijinx ensues. Culminating in an all-too-brief climactic showdown between the monsters as the castle crumbles and floods, this is the strongest of the Universal efforts that teams their classic monsters. A good solid monster kid flick!
THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE (1944)
While not a werewolf film per se, this unofficial sequel to Dracula (1931) from Columbia Pictures (Yes, Universal's lawyers were watching......) does feature a rather memorable lycanthrope henchman named Andreas who serves Bela Lugosi’s vampire Armand Tesla. Perhaps the most notable aspect of this Golden Age wolf man (Matt Willis) is the fact that he retains his human intelligence and - zoinks! - his ability to speak. When a Nazi air raid bombs a cemetery, the long-thought dead vampire Tesla is revived and returns to seek revenge on the family who destroyed him years ago. Very solid, well produced chiller that finds Lugosi in fine form as the undead vampire. Many fans and critics have dismissed this wolf man as silly or confusing, but there is an endearing oddness to Andreas. This B picture has great atmosphere, solid performances and is interesting for being set firmly during World War II.
ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN (1948)
Dracula! The Frankenstein Monster! The Wolf Man! Bud and Lou! This monster and funny man mash-up film still sets the benchmark for horror comedy over half a century after it first spooked its way into the theater. Dracula (the second and last time Lugosi would play the Count) schemes with an evil doctor who has studied Dr. Frankenstein’s work to revive the Monster (Glenn Strange). Along the way, the ever-haunted Larry Talbot (Chaney) learns of Dracula’s devious plans and is determined to stop him. This flick has it all - A & C’s trademark comedy, revolving doors, castles, monsters, mad scientists, laboratories and even a last-minute cameo by The Invisible Man (voiced by the one and only Vincent Price)! This all-star monsterpalooza laughfest proved to be Universal's farewell to their classic roster of boogie men, but also was the first of many in which the comedians would meet other monsters.
THE FILM CONNOISSEUR’S 5 AMERICAN WEREWOLF FILMS:
SILVER BULLET (1985)
Silver Bullet is a film about disabled kid named Marty (Corey Haim) who suddenly realizes that somebody in his town is a werewolf. The kid actually encounters the grizzly beast at one point, but manages to escape with his life. Nobody will believe his story, so he decides to stop the werewolf on his own. It’s kind of like the same premise from Fright Night (curiously enough released on the same year as this) but with werewolves instead of vampires. It is based on a story by Stephen King, and it has all the staples you might expect from a story by Stephen King: a small town, a community filled with many characters all dealing with the same situation together, the story centers around 12 year olds and so forth. The whole thing feels like one huge crossover between the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, but with werewolves. The make up effects aren’t amazing, which comes as a surprise because by then The Howling and An America Werewolf in London had already been made years before. But they aren’t terrible either, well, if you don’t mind werewolves with heads the size of t.v. sets that is. It was amusing to see Gary Busey trying to play a nice guy and Corey Haim still showing that childlike innocence he had to him before drugs destroyed his life.
BLOOD AND CHOCOLATE (2007)
The filmmakers behind Blood and Chocolate where about a year ahead of the whole Twilight ‘phenomenon’ as some like to call it, and they made this movie which could certainly be called the werewolves answer to Twilight. Or the ‘Twilight-ification’ of the werewolf movie. This means that the film is based on a novel aimed at young females, that the lead role in the film is a female and that the film will have romance involved. It also means that the director, in this case Ktja Von Garnier is a woman. But calling this Twilight: The Werewolf version would be unjust because I actually enjoyed this film as opposed to Twilight, which I loathed. It does have some similarities with Twilight though: it glamorizes being a werewolf in the same way that Twilight glamorizes being a vampire. But to Blood and Chocolate’s benefit I will say that it still retains something of an edge, however mild it is. The werewolves retain their feral, rabid nature. When they transform, they turn into wolves. They jump up in the air, and distill a glow, by the time they fall back on the ground, they are wolves! At least visually speaking, it offers something not seen on any other werewolf movie. This one has more of a romantic element to it, so expect a storyline along the lines of Romeo and Juliet, but within the werewolf context.
Wolfen is an interesting film because it cannot be categorized as a straight forward werewolf movie, but it does deal with similar themes and situations as a werewolf movie. It has the structure of a werewolf movie, and it talks about werewolves, but it isn’t a werewolf film in the strictest sense of the word. This was obviously a film that came about the time when werewolf movies were hotter than Georgia asphalt. It was released in the year that An American Werewolf and The Howling were released in, so you could say that it was certainly aiming to benefit from the sudden interests in werewolves that was sweeping the nation at the time. It’s a solid film, with solid performances and direction. I certainly enjoyed seeing mature actors like Albert Finney in a starring role. This is something that was not uncommon back in the 70’s and early eighties where we could see actors like say George C. Scott in a horror film like The Changeling (1980). Wolfen reminded me of a time when horror movies were still aimed at adults. This is something very uncommon today, where most horror films are made for teenagers. Finney’s performance is so strong; it adds validity to his character. An interesting thing about Wolfen is that its a movie is filled with many actors that are well known today like: Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines and Tom Noonan. This is a movie that plays with your expectations of it.