must be plenty darn difficult to create a credible werewolf
movie. Though he is without doubt one of film and folklore's
truly fascinating creations, we're hard pressed to cite
more than a few really fine werewolf movies. Here are
ten shaggy sagas that nevertheless make the cut:
Honorable mention: An American Werewolf
in London (1981)
Makeup ace Rick Baker won an Academy Award for the startling
special effects featured in this film. Like Joe Dante, director
John Landis' film also serves as a partial tribute to past
horror films. Though it contains several markedly frightening
moments, Landis' sardonic approach is none too subtle and
the movie's comedic elements may leave purists cold.
10. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
An interesting counterpart to the thoroughly American
"Hollywood" Werewolf, this Technicolor Hammer
horror-fest features brooding Oliver Reed as the stricken
lad who fears the full moon. Opulent sets, creepy makeup
and bosomy women, Hammer trademarks all, don't save the
film from being overtly morbid and rather dull.
9. Return of the Vampire (1943)
This wartime oddity from Columbia features Lugosi in
full Dracula regalia as Armand Tesla, a vampire revived
during the London blitz when Nazi bombs disturb his tomb.
His hairy henchman is a werewolf played with extra pathos
by Matt Willis. The actor seems determined to milk lycanthropy
for even more sympathy than Lon Chaney was able to evince
as Larry Talbot. Sadly, he's betrayed by makeup that comes
off a tad comedic.
8. The Howling (1981)
Joe Dante's breakthrough thriller functions as both
good scary fun and as a tribute to the films Dante himself
grew up on. Packed with a gaggle of cameos by B film notables
(Ken Tobey, Forry Ackerman, Dick Miller, Roger Corman),
even the characters are named for figures from horror film
history. The transformation scenes are among the most convincing
ever shot, and most of the shock scenes are vividly effective.
7. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein
Terrific cornball fun. This queer blend of horror and
flat-out burlesque works in spite of itself. The monsters,
particularly The Wolf Man, are ridiculed relentlessly without
diluting their scariness. The effects vary from marginal
to weak, but heck, it's Abbott and Costello.
6. Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman (1943)
The first film in Universal's venerable series to earnestly
exploit the werewolf's bipolar predicament for sympathy.
In subsequent films (House of Frankenstein,
House of Dracula), it is Lawrence Talbot's desperate
search for a cure that initiates the action. As directed
by Roy William Neill, Lugosi is rather distracting as the
monster, and Chaney's misery is strained but passable.
5. Werewolf of London (1935)
For years, this film was overshadowed by Universal's
other, more full-blooded thrillers but it undoubtedly holds
its fair share of chills. Henry Hull as the tormented werewolf
is a leading man not to everyone's taste, but his hairy
metamorphosis is handled cleverly and maybe a little too
subtly for contemporary audiences.
4. The Undying Monster (1942)
Director John Brahm (The Lodger,
Hangover Square) demonstrates his undeniable
flair for the fantastic with this, arguably his best film.
Misty shots of a loping man-wolf and the shrouded confines
of a family crypt are standout sequences. Inspector James
Ellison seeks to determine whether Fox matinee player John
Howard has fallen heir to his family's lycanthropic curse.
Underrated and well worth seeking out.
3. The Werewolf (1956)
Few remember this threadbare film, but many of those
who caught it at an impressionable age have never forgotten
it. An uneasy mix of 50s sci fi and traditional horror elements,
this dubious gem packs one or two scenes of genuine fright
into its abbreviated running time.
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney Jr. came into his own as the hulking, haunted
heir to Talbot Castle. Nibbled by gypsy werewolf Bela Lugosi,
he's also heir to the horrific curse of the lycanthrope.
This remains one of the more influential films of Universal's
horror heyday. Chaney, who later played Dracula, The Mummy
and Frankenstein's monster, made this role, originally intended
for Karloff, unmistakably his own.
1. I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Undoubtedly the best-remembered film of Herman Cohen's
prodigious output (Teenage Frankenstein,
Horrors of the Black Museum, Blood of Dracula, Trog),
it also qualifies as one of the most-parodied of all film
titles. Scenery-munching Michael Landon is remarkably effective
as the snaggle-toothed teen, hypnotized into his hirsute
state by malevolent doctor Whit Bissell, who is terrific
as usual. Dig the hopelessly out-of-sync song warbled by
Kenny Miller at the local kid's Halloween soiree.
And the worst werewolf films?
Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory (1961)
A truncated version of this oddball Euro-fright flick
was once a late-night TV staple. A muddled Italian-Austrian
co-production, it details the sobering story of a girl's
school headmaster who is, in reality, the slobbering werewolf
of the film's title. Of special note is the swingin' teen
theme "Ghoul in School."
Any of those broadly acted, terminally mordant Spanish
horror productions starring Euro-schlock star Paul Naschy.
Possessing all the atmosphere of a boardwalk spook house,
the dubbed, echo-laden audio of these films -- like incompetent
rockabilly recordings -- renders them nearly indecipherable.
They nevertheless maintain a devoted following.