Thursday, October 22, 2009

Drinkin' a Pina Colada at Trader Vic's

"Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night/Becomes a wolf when the Wolf's-bane blooms and the moon is full and bright."

Nearly as iconic as the vampire, the werewolf legend is part of most cultures. A cursed human (usually because of the bite of another cursed human), becomes a bloodthirsty beast by the light of the full moon, transforming into a hairy monster intent on murdering everyone with whom it comes into contact.

One of the earliest film incarnations of this classic monster is the 1935 Werewolf of London, starring Henry Hull as a doctor who can only be cured of lycanthropy with the help of a rare Tibetan flower:

Six years later, Universal Studios would produce their own werewolf movie, The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, the son of a wealthy Englishman (Claude Rains) who returns home for his brother's funeral, only to be attacked by a gypsy (Bela Lugosi) in wolf's clothing. Character actress Maria Ouspenskaya is the old gypsy who first spouts that little bit of doggerel at the top of this post. Chaney went on to make a career out of playing The Wolf Man in dozens of sequels, spin-offs and rip-offs, including Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. But it's this film that most folks remember him for:

Using "Replacement Photography" effects to show Talbot's transformation, Universal's makeup artist Jack Pierce set the standard for many years to come.

There were plenty of cheesy werewolf movies in the 50's and 60's, including Michael Landon's infamous debut in I Was a Teenage Werewolf in which a young teen was hypnotized by a mad scientist into becoming a wolf at the sound of bell (calling Dr. Pavlov). 50's homo-eroticism at its best:

It wasn't until 1981 that Director Joe Dante (Gremlins) upped the ante on werewolf movies with The Howling, in which he and makeup FX wizards Rick Baker and Rob Bottin used modern physical makeup effects to depict a painful lycanthropic transformation on screen, that werewolf movies got interesting (and scary) again:

Later that same year, director John Landis would make the definitive 80's werewolf movie, An American Werewolf in London. Former Dr. Pepper spokesman David Naughten stars as David Kessler, an American student backpacking across Great Britain with his best friend (Griffin Dunne) who is attacked on the moors by a monster. Despite the ministrations of a cute British nurse (Logan's Run star Jenny Agutter), David soon finds himself killing random folks by the light of the full moon, transforming painfully in one of cinema's most memorable werewolf transformation scenes:

Sadly, the "official" 1997 sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris uses a bad script and lame CGI for its werewolves:

Even the presence of the beautiful Julie Delpy couldn't save that mess.

There were several terrible werewolf movies since, including the godawful Werewolf Vs. Vampire piece of crap Underworld and it's two (so far) sequels:

And I can barely bring myself to mention the atrocious werewolf comedy starring Michael J. Fox, Teen Wolf:

In 2000, Canadian director John Fawcett gave us the hilarious and chilling adolescent werewolf flick, Ginger Snaps:

Then, in 2002, director Neil Marshall gave us Dog Soldiers, about a group of British soldiers on a training mission who find themselves in the midst of a werewolf family conflict:

Finally, it seems we have come full circle as Universal resurrects yet another of its classic films in the remake of The Wolfman, starring Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt and Geraldine Chaplin in the role made famous by Maria Ouspenskaya, Maleva:

The much-delayed Joe Johnston (Jurassic Park 3) directed film may finally mark the return of the serious werewolf movie, though it remains to be seen how well Johnston does. It certainly can't be any worse than Stephen Sommmers' 2004 crapfest, Van Helsing:

And don't even get me started on the Twilight sequel New Moon:

So, what is your favorite werewolf movie? You know I love it when you comment.

More terrors, anon.


Stephen said...

...his hair was perfect.

I like IN THE COMPANY OF WOLVES by Neil Jordon

Prospero said...

I forgot all about that movie - I think it may well get its own post. Thank you, sir!

Anonymous said...

Those Lon Chaney Jr. movies really stand the test of time. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein is scary and funny and An American Werewolf in London is scary, great story, great special effects and great ass. I saw that just to see David who is still a fine looking man. There are my two favorites with The Haunting a distant third.

While not movie, I think BBC America's Being Human does an excellent job of continuing the Werewolf mythology. Buffy the VS had cute as can be OZ but it was a minor part of his story line and didn't fully explore the whole wolf thing.