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Are Werewolves The New Zombies?

Well, I guess Twilight: New Moon was ahead of the curve in at least one regard. Perhaps horror tastes are cyclical, as it seems that werewolves have cycled back into public consciousness after a few hundred years. Disregarding the aforementioned sequel, we have the release of The Wolfman coming up next year. That the werewolf has been chosen to spearhead the planned relaunch of classic Universal horror properties is perhaps a large vote of confidence in the beasts, and perhaps a long overdue one. How come, for all the cheesy B-movies they’ve been featured in, werewolves have never pierced popular culture in the same way that vampires, zombies or even plain old ghosts have?

Benecio del Toro looks only slightly hairier than usual...

That’s in no way to deminish the cadre of cult werewolf movies. Lord knows I appreciate An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and even Teen-Wolf. Hell, apparently the Weinsteins appreciate An American Werewolf in London even more, since they are remaking it. And there was of course Wolf, which featured the great casting of Jack Nicholson as a werewolf and… well, little else of appeal. Still, it’s all relatively small fry.

Vampires are the stuff of prestige pieces like An Interview With A Vampire. Willem Dafoe got an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of a vampire in Shadow of the Vampire. You’d be lucky to see an Oscar-nominated werewolf. Even when it horribly misfires – as in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula – you’ll still get somebody arguing that’s it’s true art. On the other hand, most werewolf flicks are destined to be lowbrow disposable fare (take Dog Soldiers, for example). Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But – given that canines are supposed to be man’s best friend – doesn’t that seem more than a little shody?

It’s somewhat ironic that werewolves are probably more ‘classic’ a monster than vampires – at least in their current form. It’s true that the belief in vampires dates back centuries, but it is also accepted that Bram Stoker codified and defined the modern conception of the creatures just over a century ago in Dracula – arguably in much the same way as George Romero defined the modern zombie in Night of the Living Dead (despite its Carribean origins). Werewolves, on the other hand, have pretty much always been the same. The “transforming in a full moon” aspect of the legend dates at least back to Gervase of Tilbury around the 1200s and possibly to the Greeks earlier than that. The allergy to silver is relatively modern, only introduced in the 1800s. That still makes it seem significantly older than the lurching mindlessness of zombies in the age of consumers or the repressed vampires of the late Victorian period.

Perhaps that’s part of the reason why we aren’t so facinated by them. The notion of werewolves must seem old hat these days. Perhaps we figure there’s nothing new to explore in the concept – a fact that arguably makes them suitable to launch the new era of horror movie remakes.

Or perhaps they have – as with most other horror concepts – evolved. You could make the case – and Stephen King does in his excellent exploration of horror Danse Macabre – that The Curious Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is actually a werewolf story. It is, after all, the story of a man unlocking the beast within him with a physical change representing his own inner shift. You could also make the case that The Incredible Hulk is another articulation of the same core concept – an inner beast that acts as a primal force when unleashed.

And I thoughout Jack Nicholson was scary enough without fangs...

Perhaps if you view the werewolf as a concept – by boiling it down to its basic principles – it is present and far more common than you’d think. Just because the creature the person transforms into doesn’t necessarily have a snout doesn’t mean it isn’t an exploration of the same core archetype. Isn’t the werewolf, at it’s core, a warning against indulging our inner monster?

I think it’s certainly a legitimate way of looking at things. On the other hand, does that mean that the iconic imagery of a manbeast is itself outdated? It’s somewhat curious that the werewolf should find itself excluded in more recent cinematic history at the expense of zombies and vampires – both creatures which don’t require too many special effects to bring to life. You’d imagine that better make up and special effects would make it more likely we’d see a werewolf or two.

On the other hand, how many effects-driven horror films remain in our longterm memories? I can think of maybe The Thing. Cheaper special effects have typically just meant more forgettable movies – take for example the vampire-werewolf war in Underworld. Not that I’ve watched it or anything. Nope, forget you read that. Seriously though, maybe the special effects boom has made portraying werewolves on screen easier, but that probably only matters for studios making big effects-driven films. So stick a werewolf in Harry Potter or the new Twilight film or Van Helsing while you’re doing the dozens of other special effects.

I don’t know. Maybe the fact that the classic horror movie junkie in me is aching for a werewolf film excuses the fact that I am still getting excited about the twice-delayed version of The Wolfman. Or maybe the fact that Twilight: New Moon is teasing me with yet another watered-down version of a classic monster-movie creature is getting to me. I mean, when I discovered that vampires sparkle in the daylight (why does Twilight even pretend they’re vampires?), I had a whole shelf of vampire classics to turn to. Maybe this time next year I’ll have an iconic werewolf movie to clutch to my bossum while whispering ‘there’s no place like home’.

2 Responses

  1. I completely agree with you. There are too many watered down versions of monster movies out there now. Three years ago, my co-producer and I wanted to make a new Horror film, but felt everything was overdone. Zombies, Vampires, Found footage like Blair witch and Cloverfield ( the buzz at the time), seemed all done to death.

    We decided that Werewolves needed to make a come back. And we wrote a script with a great new twist, giving them the power to turn dead victims to there side, similar to the zombie victims in American Werewolf in London. I loved that film and wanted more. So we wrote my new film: Zombie Werewolves Attack!

    You can see the trailer, it’s finished now, soon to be on DVD. Alas, by the time we raised the money and spent a year editing, Hollywood had caught up to our, ahead of the curve style, and started spewing out Twilight induced watered down Werewolves. We hope real horror fans will love our film, made in a fun tongue in cheek B-Movie style that pokes fun at Zombie and Horror movies in general.

    You can see the trailer at : http://www.zombiewerewolvesattack.com



    • Cool – might be worth a look. Sounds like you’ve put quite a bit of work in – can’t imagine how difficult it is to actually make a movie, especially without the studio system.

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