Werewolves never seem to get the cinematic treatment they deserve, not in the way that vampires or zombies do at least. But they live in a larger sub-genre than they are given credit for. Stories about werewolves go back well before “Little Red Riding Hood.” Like werewolves themselves, films and stories about them can get stretched and transformed into something unrecognizable. In terms of tonality and spirit, Dr. Jekyll and Mister Hyde is technically a werewolf movie and by extension so is The Incredible Hulk. But for the purposes of this list, we won’t go that untraditional. The following selections represent pictures that feature wolves or some variation but break from the traditional conventions of werewolf films.
The Curse of the Werewolf
When Hammer Films started to resurrect the classic monsters after the Universal era, they had to make some drastic changes in order to separate their films from what had come before. None of these changes were more drastic than the werewolf story. The Wolf Man was completely owned by Universal, so this had to be a completely different film. This ultimately worked in the film’s favor and helped it to stand on its own. Curse of the Werewolf draws out the reveal of its monster until the very end of the film, which ultimately proves to be worth the wait. It’s in some ways more tragic than even The Wolf Man. This werewolf was born with the curse, which is something you don’t normally see in a werewolf movie but the concept adds a lot of dramatic weight. From the first scene, it sets up the fact that one day he is going to become an out of control monster and there is nothing he can do about it. When the werewolf action finally comes, it adds depth to the impressive carnage.
Wolfen is about as untraditional as a werewolf movie can get. These werewolves don’t even have a human form. There’s no shapeshifting, they’re just wolf-like psychic monsters with human intelligence. The movie, which is based on a novel by The Hunger author Whitley Strieber is structured like a detective story. One of the most imaginative things about Wolfen, which is an undervalued movie as it is, is that the werewolves do not become werewolves through a bite Instead, it’s hinted they become wolves through soul transference. But in the novel, it is suggested that these intelligent hybrid wolves are simply the next stage in evolution.
Teen Wolf is such a successful and popular movie that people don’t even consider what a non traditional werewolf movie it actually is. In fact, it barely ever comes up in conversation about lycanthrope features at all. That’s just a testament to how much it works —or possibly how much it shouldn’t. With the amount of work, effort and behind-the-scenes drama that goes into moviemaking it’s amazing to think that a fim like Teen Wolf even got green lit. Luckily, it did. Ever since, it has become the pinnacle of accessible werewolf movies. It’s got an audience that virtually no other lycanthrope movie has ever even come close to touching, spawning a sequel and a hugely successful TV series. You wouldn’t think a werewolf playing basketball was what the people wanted to see, but it clearly was.
The Company of Wolves
One of the oldest and most famous werewolf stories of all time is “Little Red Riding Hood.” The Company of Wolves is simply a dark take on the traditional Red Riding Hood story from director Neil Jordan, who went on to direct major hits like Interview With the Vampire and The Crying Game. This movie is a creepy, contemplative look at masculinity and the beast that lies beneath the skin of every man. It takes all the themes ever-present in the fairy tale and portrays them outwardly and graphically. For pointed effect, the werewolves literally burst forward from inside of the person, which makes for an inventive new method of transformation.
Maybe the most successful at breaking the traditions of werewolf movies, Ginger Snaps is a film about growing up and young women coming-of-age. It follows two sisters, Ginger and Bridgette, who are very different from the other girls in their class and are ostracized for it. They’re not interested in boys, they’re interested in death and decay and every morbid subject they can find. Both girls are in high school and have never gotten their period. After Ginger is bitten by a werewolf, that all begins to change. She becomes more sexualized, she gains new…er…appetites and grows hair in funny places. The metaphor is not subtle, but it does work. It actually works really well. Ginger Snaps is one of the most important horror movies of the last fifteen years and has already cemented its place as one of the all-time great werewolf films.