Halloween Horror Primers: The Werewolves Attack

Sean Smithson, Contributor
Probably my favorite of all "classic creatures" is the werewolf. Notoriously difficult to pull off FX-wise is surely part of the reason the Lycanthrope isn't as proliferate in the horror genre as it's cousins the vampire and the zombie. Cursed by the moon to regress to animal form, and feed on human flesh, many times loved ones, while in a lunar rage...well that's just total kick-ass when it comes to monster movies. So at that, here are ten hairy-scary suggestions for Halloween. And remember folks, just click on the titles to be taken to the terrifying trailers!


THE HOWLING -
I first saw this Joe Dante directed classic back in my Jr. High days after getting out of class. It was a bleak and grey Bay Area afternoon in Oakland, and I had saved my lunch money secretly for two days to catch this at the Parkway Theaters, back before it was 21 and over, and when kids like me could count on being admitted to rated R films by the ambivalent old women who worked the ticket booth. Based on the Gary Brandner novel of the same name, The Howling is about a big city newswoman, Karen, making a name for herself as a real journalist by investigating a mysterious serial killer named Eddie Quist. When Eddie agrees to meet her in a peep show booth, she takes the opportunity, and even with police close by, she is nearly killed. With amnesia kicking in she can't remember what she saw in that booth, but it was indeed horrible. Cut to Karen and her husband taking an extended vacation to a retreat in the woods where a new age-y psychiatrist is doing psychotherapy which involves character regression. Before you can saw "Little Red Riding Hood" Karen finds herself enmeshed in a colony of werewolves, all tied to the killer Quist, and losing her husband to the more, shall we say, feral side of his nature. Some of the best werewolf design and fx ever courtesy of an incredibly young Rob Bottin, and tight direction by Dante makes this one of my all-time favorite horror films. Ever.
*Recommended for 13 and up

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON -
Another classic here folks, and one we've most likely all seen...but just in case you haven't, AWIL is to many the greatest single werewolf film of all time. Two young Americans are hiking their way across not-so-jolly-old England, ending up almost getting their asses kicked at a village pub, before taking back to the road. Problem is, it's dark out, and the fog on the moors hides something snarling and sinister. Soon, one of them is mauled to death, and the other bitten and winds up in the hospital. Soon the dead friends specter is visiting during off hours, trying to convince his infected buddy to off himself before the next full moon. One of the best examples of horror with humor, the comedic aspects are contained within the films characterizations, rather than played as straight laughs. Holy shit, this movie kicks ass.
*Recommended for 13 and up 

CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF -
One of the most underrated films in the classic Hammer canon, this one stars a young Oliver Reed as a man who carries the Mark of the Beast since birth, having been born of a servant girl cast into a castle dungeon, by a horny and scorned old Baron, and a forgotten, haggard, and crazed prisoner, who is just as horny. A little romp in the filthy hay later, and viola! One tormented soul is conceived to stalk the night of full moon! The boy ends up raised by a kindly land owner who tries to help him contain the curse, to no avail. When manhood comes, so does trouble. All velvet jackets and billowing white shirts with a sparse yet incredibly effective make-up design, Curse Of The Werewolf plays as much as a fable as it does Gothic horror.
*Recommended for 12 and up

THE WEREWOLF VS. VAMPIRE-WOMAN -
Paul Naschy never got the recognition in the USA among horror fans he rightly deserved. Proliferate as Hell, his Waldemar Daninsky werewolf cycle is damned near the James Bond series of Lycanthrope flicks. Spain's answer to Christopher Lee, this addition to the franchise, The Werewolf Vs. Vampire Woman aka La Noche de Walpurgis finds the tomb of a Bathory-like heiress disturbed by a blundering blond, and before you can say "monster mash" we have Naschy in his hairy guise going head to head with the resurrected and fanged Countess Wandessa. Insanely entertaining, with raspberry jelly blood and four color lighting, this one is scary yet loads of fun.
*Recommended for 13 and up

BAD MOON -
Going right for the throat, Bad Moon opens up with a vicious attack on a photo-journalist couple in the jungles of South America. The woman is ripped to shreds, the boyfriend bitten, and the attacking beast shot by one of the party.

Cut to: Back home, a single mother and her son take in her distraught brother after his, you guessed it, return from South America where his fiance' was killed. There are also a rash of local killings, and the family dog for some straaaaange reason keeps growling at the male sibling. Simple and sweet, Bad Moon is bad ass!
*Recommended for 13 and up

THE WOLFMAN -
"Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright."

A failed prodigal son returns home to reassess his life. A young woman is torn (har har) between her finace' and this new suitor. The nomadic gypsies camped out in the area are weary and warning of something horrible to come. Clue: If you get bitten by something in the fog shrouded woods and get a strange mark on your palm? You might want to stay out of the moonlight. Juuuust sayin'. This Universal Films is a mega-classic and a must for every horror lovin' kid out there. A perfect introduction to werewolves for kids. Of course we are talking about the original Lon Chaney Jr. version in glorious black and white, not the semi-failure of a remake
*Recommended for 10 and up

ROMASANTA: THE WEREWOLF HUNT -
This mostly-ignored film comes to us courtesy or [REC] co-mastermind, Paco Plaza, and really deserves a second look. Manuel Blanco Romasanta was a real life wagon-vendor in 1852, and this film is loosely based on the killings he confessed to when he was tried for the crimes in Allariz. Romasanta takes things one step further and indeed, instead of a psychotic soap maker who uses his victims' body fat to make cleanser, the film depicts the handsome killer as a true Lycanthrope. A period piece steeped in atmosphere and scenery, this is good old fashioned fun with a heavy slant on the drama rather than the gore.
*Recommended for 13 and up

THE BEAST MUST DIE -
Based on James Blish's short story There Shall Be No Darkness, Shepperton Studios turned this into a Peter Cushing/semi-blaxploitation vehicle, mashing up the Agatha Christie-like tone of Blish's original tale, and imbuing it with William Castle/AIP Films like tonality. Only in the early 70's could a glorious mess like this happen. Think The Most Dangerous Game meets The Wolfman, with some almost James Bond-like undertones and you're in the ballpark. A group of wealthy individuals are invited to a mansion for the weekend. One of them is a werewolf, and the benefactor of that weekends retreat, an expert hunter who has exhausted all exotic prey and needs a greater challenge, is going to find out who, with the help of high tech gadgetry.
*Recommended for 12 and up

MOON OF THE WOLF -
There's a werewolf loose in ole' Louisianan, and small town sheriff Aaron Whitaker is gonna' bring him down. Gloriously cheesy TV fare from 1972, with an admittedly goofy yet unintentionally scary beast, this is another exercise in early 70's tone, where schlock and scares aren't exclusive of one another. Another good introduction for younger kids into the snarling sub-genre. Moon Of The Wolf will scare the kids, but the inherent sexual nature of the legend doesn't permeate as strongly here as in some of the other titles.
*Recommended for ages 10 and up

DOG SOLDIERS -
Neil Marshall burst onto the scene with his pre-The Descent werewolf flick that plays like Night Of The Living Lycanthropes meets Southern Comfort. A group of military personnel on weekend maneuvers end up trapped in a house by a gang of very angry wolfmen. Incredibly creative for it's limited budget, steeped in tension and gore, with the best looking cheapie monsters I think I've ever seen as far as cinematic man-beasts go, and you have a full on winner. Using the trope of opening the movie with an attack, it spins off into horror-action territory, keeps the viewer (and characters) on their toes, and doesn't overstay it's welcome. Dog Soldiers is pure adrenaline, total lunacy, 100% neat-o!
*Recommended for ages 13 and up

There are still so many, like Silver Bullet, Ginger Snaps, and others. What are your recommendations for hairy scary Halloween werewolf movies?
 

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  • TSD

    I am 32 a funny thing I remember when I was a teenager renting one of the howling films, I read the synopsis on the back, and it said "If you see one werewolf movie this year....". I thought to myself, WTF are you talking about, how many werewolf movies come out every year?!

  • Gary

    None of these movies can compare to the righteous team spirit of van riding with Stiles and slam dunking basketballs in Teen Wolf.

  • ResurrectRider

    I loved Dog Soldiers. I saw it on the Sci-Fi channel randomly, about 10 years ago. Sean Pertwee and Kevin McKidd are awesome in that movie. And, for th budget afforded them, the werewolves looked great.

  • Darrell LaRiviere

    A favorite of mine that kind of slipped by most people was Brotherhood of the Wolf. It is a well done foreign film with the beautiful Monica Bellucci starring. It is easy to get past the fact that you have to read subtitles, because the movie is quite entertaining.

  • Howling and American Werewolf are extremely vivid childhood memories from the old drive-in days. Dog Soldiers is a blast. Romasanta is definitely the under-seen rough gem. Angsty or not I'd have to add Ginger Snaps. Wolfen would be on my list simply for the NYC I miss.

  • mightyjoeyoung

    "What are your recommendations for hairy scary Halloween werewolf movies?"

    I dunno...I think you covered most of the entertaining films, some I haven´t seen yet, in the genre.

    Glad to see Romasanta (2004) on it....but the age recommendation....I would never stop any teenage boy from seeing Elsa Pataky with Julian Sands in the bathtub....but it might turn them into masturbating nerve wrecks....hahahha....I know would.

    I would include Le poil de la bête (2010), french canadian, werewolf flick, hardly groundbreaking but fun.

    And I shouldn´t mention Never Cry Werewolf (2008) but I do it anyway....Nina Dobrev is cute.
    Nice list, thanks Mr Smithson.

  • NAKATTACK

    For some reason GINGER SNAPS is always ommitted from every werewolf movie list I've seen. Great flick.

  • Sean Smithson

    It's a little angsty for me but absolutely deserves it's place in the pantheon, hence the honorable mention. Silver Bullet deserves to be on the list too, but I bumped it down to give Romasanta some deserved love which is mention even less than Ginger Snaps.

  • dustinchang

    A Compnay of wolves and Wolfen would be my choices.

  • Sean Smithson

    Wonderful choices!

  • Ard Vijn

    My recommendation would be "Lobos de Arga" aka. "Attack of the Werewolves", out now on BluRay in the UK.

  • Sean Smithson

    I've not seen that!

  • Ard Vijn

    Try to. Seriously! It's a Spanish comedic take on the subject but the horror part is treated with respect, same as in An American Werewolf In London.

  • Kurt

    SOOOO DARN GOOD. Just caught this one the big screen, and Man, It kicked all sorts of ass.

  • Another great list Sean. I gotta check out ROMASANTA asap. Glad you included BAD MOON, which in no way has any right to work as well as it does. My favorite character is the dog! Not a "werewolf" movie per say, but NIGHTBREED plays with the same story elements (get bit, turn into beast, etc) to gloriously insane effect. But I'd say the only one you're missing from my favorites is probably Neil Jordan's A COMPANY OF WOLVES.

  • Nice selection, Sean! Thanks for the age ratings, I'm always looking for gateway horror for my son. Need to see Bad Moon!

  • Sean Smithson

    Hey my pleasure Steve. The age ratings are only a guideline of course. I saw some VERY inappropriate films for my age as a kid, but I tried to be pragmatic. We're both parents and understand that all kids are different, but yeah, active participation in these viewings is encouraged if kids are involved.
    Happy Halloween buddy!

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