Top 5 Werewolf Movies for Howl-o-ween
2. Wolf (1994)
Some may not even be aware of what this film is. It wasn’t a huge hit but it’s always been a favorite of mine. In the 90’s Columbia Pictures started remaking all of the famous universal monster movies with “Bram Stoker’s Dracula,” “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein,” and “Wolf” which would be their take on “The Wolf Man. But the funny thing is that this is not a remake of “The Wolf Man.” This had actually been in production hell for about 12 years before. But after finally getting a real remake of “The Wolf Man,” I think it’d be better for all to just pretend that this is the true remake. The story is about Will Randall (played by Jack Nicholson), an editor of a major publishing house. While driving down a snowy road he accidentally hits a wolf. Unfortunately for him he decides to get out a investigate which causes him to be bitten by the still living wolf. On top of all of that his company is in the process of a hostile takeover by a millionaire who wants to downsize him. Will begins to show signs of turning into a werewolf which gives him new energy and drive to advance his career. He meets a beautiful woman played by Michelle Pfeiffer who’s the daughter of the millionaire and the two begin a relationship but turning into a wolf begins to take its toll.
So this is a werewolf film that never once utters the word, werewolf. It is trying to be a fairly realistic take on the werewolf story, and it actually works here. It seems to know what the right line is for seeming like it takes place in the real world but never letting that get in the way of all the werewolf stuff. Even though technically it’s a horror film, I always thought of it more as a love story. Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer not only have great chemistry but all the actors turn in really great performances. This also contains to me what is one of the most romantic lines in cinema history, “I’ve never loved anybody this way. Never looked at a woman and thought, if civilization fails, if the world ends, I’ll still understand what God meant.” I think that’s why it didn’t do so well originally. People were expecting to see Nicholson rip other people’s throats out with his teeth but then what they got was a love story.
My only complaint about the film is the make-up (again done by the master Rick Baker). It’s just a little too subtle for my taste. I get what they were going for and some of it may have to do with some “we’re not going to spend all that money hiring Jack Nicholson and then hide his face under make-up” way of thinking. Other than that, EVERYTHING about the movie works for me. It has some great dialog all throughout (ex. “The worm has turned and it is now packing an uzi”), wonderful performances from an amazing cast including Christopher Plummer, James Spader, Richard Jenkins, and even David Hyde Pierce in a small role. There is also a great atmosphere all throughout and a magnificent score by Ennio Morricone. It was directed with class and well-done restraint by Mike Nichols. I can’t recommend the movie enough. It used to come on TV all the time but the DVD is very easy to find. Check it out.
1. The Wolf Man (1941)
How could I pick anything else? Even though the myth of the werewolf obviously existed long before this film, it really is 1941’s “The Wolf Man” that we have to thank for what our modern image of a werewolf is. The story is about Larry Talbot (played by Lon Chaney Jr) returning to his estranged father’s home after years of being away. While working through their relationship he also meets a charming woman Gwen, who he pursues, not letting little things like having a boyfriend get in his way. While attending a circus of gypsies, one of them (played by the great Bela Lugosi) transforms into a wolf and attacks a woman. Larry goes to recuse her, succeeding in beating the wolf to death with a silver tipped cane but during the struggle gets bitten himself. He begins transforming at night as the fear and suspicion of the town begins to weigh on him.
Here’s what I love about the film, the emotional connection. You are just so with Larry Talbot all the way through and you so want the poor guy to be happy. He’s done nothing to deserve this curse. If it hadn’t happened he probably would had been a perfectly happy person. That’s what the great horror films do, you cut out the werewolf scenes and you’d still have a pretty functional drama. I remember I first saw this in middle school. I was working my way through the classic 1931’s film versions of “Dracula” and “Frankenstein” and they being old films were tough to get through. The connection wasn’t there but then when I got to “The Wolf Man” that’s where it all clicked and despite it being a film from 1941, it felt so much more sophisticated than the others which were still evolving and finding their place. It’s a classic for all of the right reasons.
That’s what blew my mind about how awful the remake “The Wolfman” was. The original “Wolf Man” is not a perfect film. It, like a lot of old horror films, has a lot of lapses of logic (ex. Why does a werewolf change his clothes after transforming or why does Bela Lugosi turn into a wolf but Lon Chaney turn into a Wolf-man). Now the original film gets around things like that by telling its story so well and allowing the tragedy to be as dark as it needs to be. So really all a remake needed to do was fix some of those issues but maintain the core emotional arc of the story and it fumbled it so hard. In case you couldn’t tell I did not like that remake. So far no werewolf film has matched the simple yet true effectiveness of the original. Let’s hope filmmakers keep trying and maybe we could get some more great werewolf films, because we could sure use them.