Forget about vampires. A raft of new werewolf films looks set for a comeback and it’s time to stock up on the silver bullets, reckons Stephen Applebaum
IS THE VAMPIRE’S reign as creature of the night coming to an end?
For some time, bloodsuckers have been hogging the moonlight in everything from the chaste Twilight to the kinky True Blood (starts Tuesday on M-Net ), while still to come is Park Chan-wook’s sanguinary love story Thirst, and Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant (opens March 19).
But could the release earlier this year of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans, the return to cinemas of John Landis’s comedy-horror An American Werewolf in London, and the delayed arrival next February of the remake of George Waggner’s seminal The Wolfman, starring Benicio del Toro as the titular lycanthrope, be a sign that the scales are tipping in favour of another mythical creature?
As will be evident when The Twilight Saga: New Moon (opens November 7) is released, werewolves are on their way back – and they’re coming in force. It had to happen.
“If vampires are popular, it follows that werewolves must soon arrive,” says Brad Steiger, author of The Werewolf Book. “In cinema, the two are paired like horse and carriage.”
Chris Weitz, the director of New Moon, concurs, “I suppose they’re the two most relatable human monsters we can think of. They nicely encapsulate restraint and passion. Vampires are coldblooded, literally, and werewolves are hot-blooded.”
Whether we’ll go as loopy over lycanthropes as we have vampires remains to be seen. But like them or loathe them, they will be hard to avoid. Indeed, New Moon offers a (six) pack of buff Native American werewolves.
The writer and director Alan Ball has promised they’ll soon be padding around True Blood’s Bon Temps.
Jack and Diane, a notorious lesbian werewolf movie, looks likely to finally appear in 2011, while MTV is developing a pilot for a series based on the 1985 Michael J Fox movie, Teen Wolf.
Leonardo DiCaprio’s production company, Appian Way, is putting together a “Gothic reimagining” of Little Red Riding Hood, with Twilight director Catherine Hardwicke at the helm. Some early oral versions involve a werewolf rather than a wolf; after all, the girl’s fate at the end of the first published version, by Charles Perrault, was more grim than Grimm.
Add to this list a proposed remake of An American Werewolf in London and the news that the film rights to Maggie Stiefvater’s bestselling teen novel Shiver, about a girl and her wolfy teenage boyfriend, have been snapped up by the producers of Lord of the Rings. Seems fur is really going to fly now.
Why now? According to Steiger, the werewolf might just be the perfect creature for today.
“What could give one more of a sense of power in these troubled times,” he muses, “than being able to shapeshift into a wolf and run off into the night, howling at the moon, and being able to demolish one’s enemies and anxieties?”
He has a point. Who doesn’t feel like going wild these days?
Werewolves in various forms have stalked the imagination for millennia, the reasons for their existence changing over the centuries. In some legends, people become werewolves by choice, says Steiger; they “seek the power of transmutation through incantations, potions or spells, glorying in their strength and ability to strike fear in the hearts of all who hear their howling during full moon. They also become great warriors in the legends of the Norse and other countries.”
After the church condemned them as Satanic in the Middle Ages, however, a lycanthrope was one of the last things anyone wanted to identify with. Take the case of Peter Stubbe, in 1589, for instance. He was accused of a series of wolf attacks near Cologne – the wolf itself having vanished – and confessed under torture to making a pact with the Devil, whom he claimed gave him a belt that transformed him into a wolf. He said he had killed and eaten children, including his son, and committed incest. Stubbe was eventually beheaded.
Today our concept of the werewolf comes mainly courtesy of Hollywood. Though there had been earlier werewolf films, notably Universal Studios’ Werewolf of London in 1935, it was the same studio’s The Wolf Man, starring Lon Chaney Jr, six years later, that would fix the creature in popular culture, and for a long time serve as the blueprint, effectively, for future werewolf movies.
Intelligently scripted by Curt Siodmak, the film “rewrote centuries of werewolf lore and legend”, says Steiger.
Even the film’s famous poem – Even the man who is pure at heart/ And says his prayers at night/ May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms/ And the moon is clear and bright. – was written by Siodmak.
“ The Wolf Man created a number of faux werewolf traditions that became cinematic werewolf dogma in many horror films to follow,” notes Steiger.
These included the transmission of lycanthropy via a bite or scratch, the first full moon following an attack as the trigger for the victim’s initial transformation into a werewolf, the look of the creature, the “clouding of human compassion by bloodlust”, and the lethal effect of silver. A silver bullet in the heart, he points out, was not added until Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man in 1943.
If werewolves have anything to be thankful for, it is surely that, unlike vampires, at least they aren’t undead. The sun’s rays are harmless to them, they can see their reflection in mirrors, and crucifixes pose no danger.
On the other hand, pentagrams must be avoided.
The years since The Wolf Man have seen the creature’s popularity wax and wane, as actors, including Michael Landon ( I Was a Teenage Werewolf), Oliver Reed ( The Curse of the Werewolf) and Jack Nicholson ( Wolf), have followed in Chaney Jr’s paw prints. IN 1981 THE SUB-GENRE gained a new lease of life with the release of An American Werewolf in London. The film was a perfect mix of comedy, horror and satire and featured ground-breaking, Oscar-winning special effects by Rick Baker, which seamlessly transformed David Naughton’s hapless backpacker into a ravenous wolf before our eyes.
The momentum was maintained by two other films released the same year: Joe Dante’s The Howling and the more serious-minded Wolfen.
While the rest of the ’80s produced further memorable outings for werewolves, such as A Company of Wolves and Teen Wolf, the ’90s proved disappointing, offering the likes of the dire An American Werewolf in Paris.
The Canadian cult favourite Ginger Snaps gave the werewolf a much-needed boost at the beginning of the noughties and the creature has since barely been away, reappearing in Dog Soldiers, The Underworld , Harry Potter films and Van Helsing, among others.
Next year The Wolfman will take us back to the creature’s cinematic roots. It is a risky business remaking a classic and time will tell whether it works like moonlight on the werewolf subgenre or a silver bullet.
“I am not a fan of remakes, but I do have great hopes for the film,” says Steiger. With any luck, it will be – ahem – a howling success. – The Independent