It’s been a long time coming, but we’re back with another entry in our iconic monsters series. This time, we’re looking at the greatest werewolf movies ever made. Quit serenading the moon, and let’s get down to business!
Neil Marshall’s gritty, action-packed thriller works primarily because it looks and feels like an old-school, low-budget feature replete with dark lighting, rapid editing that works hard to hide the furry baddies, and a fast pace that slingshots viewers through a gauntlet of incredibly violent set pieces.
Here’s the gist: a group of soldiers on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands find themselves under siege by a pack of bloodthirsty werewolves. Yeah, that’s about it. And yet, you’d be surprised by how far directors Rob Green and Neil Marshall stretch the thin premise and minuscule budget. The characters are great, the action ferocious, and the practical effects mostly effective. Add in a touch of dark humor, a solid cast — including Kevin McKidd before he sold his soul for a never-ending stint on TV’s Grey’s Anatomy — and a few surprising twists, and you have yourself a wild ride worth checking out during the Halloween season.
Here’s another creature feature that terrified me during my initial late-night TV viewing. My 10-year-old self wasn’t fully prepared for the shock and awe of Daniel Attias’ flick about a small town terrorized by a werewolf. It certainly doesn’t help that the main protagonist is young, precocious, pint-sized Corey Haim, forced to slaw the mighty beast with a magnum during the terrifying conclusion. I love the 80s.
The transformation effects are fantastic, the gore repulsive — and yes, that final jump scare damn near made me piss my pants. There’s a lot to admire here, even if the pic, based on Stephen King’s novella Cycle of the Werewolf, doesn’t exactly traverse new ground and occasionally nose-dives into hokey melodrama. It’s also more spooky than scary but still wholly watchable and very entertaining.
I’m not gonna lie: The Howling freaked me out when I saw it as a kid. Those weird, over-the-top transformations (courtesy of special effects legend Rob Bottin) struck a nerve that I never fully recovered from — and I watched this on TBS!
Admittedly, some of the effects haven’t aged well, but director Joe Dante’s knack for intercutting ferocious tension with splashes of dark humor carries the film to its tragic conclusion. Plus, there’s some fun social commentary about the evil media that feels more relevant than ever!
Dee Wallace is terrific in the lead role as a news anchor embroiled in a werewolf mystery surrounding a community of folks known as The Colony. She believably reacts to the absurdity around her, even if you have to look hard not to see Elliot’s mom.
Still, you’re here for the thrills. In that regard, The Howling delivers and stands as one of the most influential monster pictures ever produced. Shivers.
No, this classic horror feature doesn’t pack the same punch as the other flicks on this list, but you have to tip your hat to the one that started it all. Everything from the clever transformations to the fog-drenched sets and creepy atmosphere were novel in the early 40s. The Wolf Man introduced a classic and enduring monster design that has become the archetype for werewolves in subsequent films and popular culture.
Moreover, Lon Chaney’s performance as Larry Talbot, the tormented man who becomes the Wolf Man, is fun to watch. At the same time, the psychological exploration of humanity’s primal instincts is relatively transcendent by the day’s standards. I don’t return to this one often, preferring Frankenstein and Dracula to this shaggy dog, but I respect the creativity that went into crafting this enduring classic.
Nothing beats John Landis’ 1981 thriller that deftly blends dark humor with harrowing drama and some truly remarkable special effects. The initial transformation sequence is stomach-churning. Poor David Kessler (David Naughton), the titular American Werewolf in London, screams in pain as his body mutates, stretches, and breaks apart to accommodate the lycanthrope, his anguish set to the tune of Bobby Vinton’s Blue Moon.
Even more shocking are the gore effects, notably those applied to David’s deceased pal Jack (Griffin Dunne). American Werewolf is as revolting as it is shocking, and then it cuts to David running nude through a zoo, begging kids for their balloons. He’s a unique character, not exactly a coward, but unwilling to do what is necessary to save others from his violent attacks. The final showdown in London is remarkable.
I remember trying to watch this as a kid. It freaked me out so much that I turned it off and only returned years later when I could stomach the buckets of blood and terrifying atmosphere. Not for the faint of heart, but it’s an absolute classic nonetheless.