In the pantheon of monster movies, the big three are vampires, zombies, and werewolves. Today I’ll talk about the hairy ones, and hit the undead next time. There are a lot more to choose from on zombies and vampires on the shelves, primarily because it is a lot tougher to do decent special effects. Some hamburger and fake fangs, and you’ve got vamps or zombies. Werewolves take work.
Now, the original, The Wolf Man http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0034398/ isn’t on the list. Primarily because that was the beginning of the genre. Hell, the rules that define most of the others come from this movie. It is, no pun intended, the Big Dog. If you haven’t seen this movie, and you’re one of those folks who think, but it’s OLD, just trust me and watch it. Sure, it comes from the days before pretty colors, and directors that are MTV refugees, (Quick cut! Quick cut! Motion sickness! AAAHHH!) just trust me and check this out.
5. Big Bad Wolf http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0488962/ Squeaking into the top 5 is a relative new comer. I watched it recently, and loved it. It starts out with a setup that leads you to believe it is going to be another bunch of college-kids-trapped-in-a-cabin-with-a-monster-outside movie. But nope, then it turns into something else entirely.
The werewolf costume was borderline old school. Yes, he is even wearing pants! But despite the Guy In A Suit monster, this werewolf is extremely entertaining. Major bonus points because A. He talks, and B. He’s psychotic. He takes his werewolfing old school, like medieval witch burning old school, in that he doesn’t just turn into an animal that wants to eat you, he’s going to rape and pillage first, because he’s just plain bad.
The characters start out as stereotypical cut outs, and because of a couple of really good performances, turn into real people you can root for. It ends in a way that leaves it open for a sequel. So fingers crossed, we need more original stuff like this.
4. Ginger Snaps http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0210070/ Now this one isn’t fair, in that you can’t just watch one movie, but you have to watch all three to get the whole picture. Think of them as a werewolf/coming of age/chick flick. The appearance of actual monsters is kept to a minimum until the 3rd movie, which somehow takes the main characters from the first movies set in the present, and travels back in time to the 1800s, and then it is werewolf o’rama. No, it doesn’t make a lot of sense in that respect, but it is still awesome.
The acting is excellent. The characters are weird. And best of all, if you significant other says, “Oh no, not another stupid monster movie.” You can, while keeping a straight face, reply “No, this one is actually a drama about a young girl facing the struggles of growing up in Canada. Look, it has angst!”
3. American Werewolf in London http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082010/ Now a lot of monster movie fans probably have this as their number one, no real disagreement there. The only reason this doesn’t rank higher for me is because I find most of the movie kind of dull. Honestly, if you’ve got this on DVD, how many times have you gone back and watched the whole thing? No, you skip ahead to the single greatest transformation scene in the history of movies. That scene is movie gold. It is painful and visceral.
No wimpy CGI there. Just latex and suffering. This move set the gold standard for transformations, and nobody else has come close. Keep in mind that this is from 1981, and that makes it even more impressive. I was probably 10 years old when I first saw this, and I’ve been screwed up ever since.
2. The Howling http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0082533/ Also from 1981, this is the other great 80’s werewolf movie. Now I’m talking about the original, not the huge number of bad sequels, though honestly I have watched every single one of those, and they do have a few good points. (Come on, Marsupial werewolves, you know you want to watch #3).
But the original was something different. It starts off gritty and trashy, with serial killers in the red light district, and just goes on from there. If American Werewolf in London is the icon, this is its seedy cousin.
This movie also has the 2nd greatest non-CGI werewolf transformation ever. Man, 1981 was a great year, though I don’t really remember it, because I was only 6.
1. Dog Soldiers http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0280609/ Bring on the English for the win.
Dog Soldiers is the story of a group of British soldiers on a training exercise deep in a Scottish forest. In reality, they’re bait. An SAS group is trying to capture a werewolf. However there is actually a family of werewolves, and the SAS gets eaten instead. Then it just gets better from there.
It is non-stop carnage and chaos. And these aren’t the effeminate Hugh Grant English. These are the squaddies and soccer hooligans. The main character went on to play Lucius Vorenus in Rome, (which is probably one of the best TV shows ever made, I AM A SON OF HADES!). In most movies, people scream, and run, and get eaten. In Dog Soldiers, it is on like Donkey Kong. They may run, but it is while leap-frogging from cover to cover, laying down a constant stream of fire.
Even at the very end, they go hands on in one of the most entertaining action sequences I’ve ever seen in a monster movie, bar none. Everything is a weapon. If you don’t have a door, make your own, and when all else fails, punch them in the face.
The werewolves are some of my favorites. They’re tall, skinny, and creepy, and when you see one, there will usually be impossible amounts of blood and guts strewn around in a matter of seconds.
Honorable mention: For a well-rounded monster movie education, you also need to watch Silver Bullet (even though you know how most Stephen King movies turn out), Bad Moon (Lassie vs. the Werewolf!), and all of the Paul Naschy super-campy Spanish werewolf movies. I’m not usually a big fan of movies with actual budgets, but Underworld had some cool werewolves, and they’re probably the least offensive CGI werewolves I’ve seen.
Bad Werewolf movies: First and foremost, Wes Craven’s Cursed. For a year leading up to that movie, I was eagerly awaiting what was possibly going to be an actual big budget, really cool, werewolf movie. NAY! It wasn’t meant to be. Cursed sucked. I could make a joke about how the things that were cursed were the script, but that would be too easy. Twenty plus years after American Werewolf and advances in fx technology, an actual budget, and I’ve seen better transformation scenes in videogames.
Does it make you a bad person to actually root for all of the main characters in a movie to die, so that it could just end? He tried to make a hairier version of Scream, and it just failed miserably.
And this one is probably going to earn me some hate mail, but Company of Wolves sucks. Yes, I know it has a huge internet following, but why? It is this disjointed, pieced together, little stories, staring (I kid you not) Angela Lansbury, that is some sort of metaphor for adolescent sexuality. And I know you’ve never really thought of the lady from Murder She Wrote and sexuality in the same sentence before. That’s okay, you still probably shouldn’t.
Company of Wolves is painfully boring. The fans of this movie talk about how it is “like a dream come to life”. Yeah, that’s the feeling I get if I take too much Sudafed. I totally understand.