Sunday, June 22, 2008

Hair Of The Dog: Werewolves In Cinema

Werewolves have long been a favorite of mine in films. I like the other traditional monsters like Frankenstein and Dracula just fine but for some reason they just don't evoke the same dread in me like werewolves do. There have been, over the decades, some truly marvelous movies featuring these hairy monsters, often referred to as "lycanthropes" or even "wolfmen". The earliest movie I can recall that gave the werewolf a good treatment is Werewolf Of London(1935), starring Henry Hull as the man who would be wolf. Of course in 1941 Universal released The Wolfman, starring Lon Chaney, Jr. as "Larry Talbot", a man who is burdened with lycanthropy. Two films also stand out for me in the 1950's: The Werewolf(1956), starring a then unknown actor named Steven Ritch, who portrays "Duncan Marsh", a man who, through the actions of two nefarious scientists, becomes a werewolf. This film flies under the radar a good bit but is very good, I think, ably directed by Fred Sears, set in the rugged up country of northern California, and with makeup effects that make the lycanthrope in this movie look quite scary and malevolent. Another solid entry in this genre is I Was A Teenage Werewolf(1957), in which a mercurial high school student, played by Michale Landon, and given to frequent violent outbursts, is treated by a doctor(played by Whit Bissell), whose hypnosis causes the lad to begin having some seriously bad hair days. Admittedly, the plot is preposterous(even by the standards of these films) but the makeup effects are good and the film itself is campy fun. Hammer Films also contributed to the genre with a gem called The Curse Of The Werewolf(1961), in which a Spanish nobleman(played by Oliver Reed) succumbs to the curse.
I haven't seen 1973's The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, starring Kerwin Matthews but I hope it gets released to Region 1 DVD in the not too distant future.
Two more "werewolf" films would be released, both in 1981, that would revive and re-energize this particular horror movie monster: The Howling and An American Werewolf In London, directed by Joe Dante and John Landis, respectively. Both feature outstanding makeup effects, some surprisingly effective black humor, and scary beasts. I don't care much for most of The Howling's sequels with one exception: Howling V: The Rebirth(1989), set inside a creepy Hungarian castle and without too many shots of the beast early in the film(which kills the suspense). The monster picks off the group lured to the castle one by one.
Bad Moon(1996) has garnered poor reviews. Michael Pare is a lycanthrope who, in this film, meets his match in his sister's large police dog named "Thor". Not, I think, one of the better entries in the genre.
Another favorite is Dog Soldiers(2002), in which British commandos square off against a pack of werewolves in and around an isolated woodland cottage. A nice mix of action, gun play and genuine scares.

A promo clip for the 1956 film The Werewolf:

The trailer for one of my favorite "werewolf" films, Dog Soldiers(2002):