Ben Templesmith is right. Werewolves are lame.
Of all the classic monsters, none get such shabby treatment as the werewolf. A large part of the problem is inherent in werewolf makeup and effects. Even the most cutting edge CGI can’t transform a 180 pound biped into a four-legged critter with half the body mass. It’s just not going to look right. (Rick Baker came closest, without the aid of computers, in American Werewolf in London, but his wolf was huge.) Most movies and TV shows opt for some version of the hairy-guy-with-a-dog-head werewolf. The results are, usually, less than overwhelming.
Another problem is plot. The typical formula, as laid down in Universal’s Wolfman, is a romantic tragedy. Nice guy saves girl from bloodthirsty monster, getting bitten in the process. Nice guy falls in love with girl, but turns into bloodthirsty monster. Girl kills bloodthirsty monster, which then transforms into the corpse of nice guy. Curtain. Everybody whip out your handkerchiefs. Werewolf stories that avoid this formula often devolve into mindless chase-and-chew slashers or juvenile fantasies of revenge and sexual conquest. This is just as true for books as it is for movies. Thomas Tessier’s The Nightwalker is a notable example of the werewolf as libertine.
Unlike the other big monsters, werewolves lack a familiar literary history. Most everyone knows that our modern vampire is derived from Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Some horror readers are even aware that mummy stories also arrived during the Victorian period, spurred by the archeological discoveries of Howard Carter and others. In fact, when Richard Marsh’s tale of Egyptological terror The Beetle debuted alongside Dracula in 1897, it outsold Stoker’s work by a considerable margin. Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Ring of Thoth” bears a strong resemblance to Universal’s The Mummy and its many sequels. (“Lot No. 249” is another excellent mummy story by Doyle.) While werewolf stories go back just as far, classics like Frederick Marryat’s “The While Wolf of the Hartz Mountains” and Clemence Houseman’s “The Were-Wolf” are all but forgotten by contemporary horror junkies. For the werewolf, there simply is no broad cultural template, no ready archetype for Hollywood to borrow.
So, when Ben Templesmith made the title comment, he was right. Werewolves are lame. They have been hobbled by bad special effects and a lack of literary role models. Ironically, Templesmith makes this comment in the introduction to his latest graphic novel, Welcome to Hoxford, the tale of deeply psychotic convict transferred to a prison full of werewolves. (It’s been
done before. See the opening chapters of Nancy A. Collins’ Wild Blood.) How is Hoxford? Templesmith’s werewolves look awesome. His pen and ink critters remind me of hairy mantids crossed with Giger aliens. No guy-with-a-dog-head here. The plot? Let’s just say that the best scene in the book, one which plays on whole rodent/inmate relationship from King’s Green Mile, has no werewolves in it.
Regardless, Hollywood has already been bitten. Expect the Hoxford movie to hit theaters in a year or two. Universal’s Wolfman reboot will arrive first, however. Be sure to bring your hankie.