Ben Templesmith is right. Werewolves are lame.

American Werewolf in London

American Werewolf in London

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.

The Wolfman as a romantic tragedy

The Wolfman as a romantic tragedy

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

Welcome to Hoxwood

Welcome to Hoxford

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.

Dave Hurwitz

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5 Responses to “Ben Templesmith is right. Werewolves are lame.”

  1. Dave, you’re certainly right about the lame plots. The only one that I find bearable is Underworld, and that’s not a werewolf movie per se. I do think there are some excellent werewolf transformations out there. Check this site out: http://monkeyskull.com/the-8-best-werewolf-transformations.

  2. Underworld, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, is really Romeo & Juliet. For the Capulets and the Montegues substitute werewolves and vampires. So, in a sense, Underworld IS a romantic tragedy. It just has a lot more shooting and snarling than the original. Even so, I think Shakespeare would have approved.

  3. Actually, you’re neglecting a pair of truly excellent lycanthropy-as-female-puberty flicks from Canada: Ginger Snaps, and Ginger Snaps: Unleashed. The sequel is surprisingly good, and the pair are truly excellent for going against the grain of 90s/00s “teen” horror (cf. Scream) by being utterly non-ironic and story/character-driven…and not the typical werewolf story, either. The wolf effects aren’t the best, but neither are they the worst, also emphasizing “practical” FX over CGI.

    They don’t get nearly the play they should for American horror fans. Blows utter shite like Underworld out of the water in every conceivable way except for lacking Kate Beckinsdale in PVC, but I have Google Images if I need to see that.

    Avoid the execrable 19th Century ancestral “prequel,” Ginger Snaps Back, though. Different writing team, and it shows.

  4. Feh, the obviousness of it being Romeo & Juliet w/ vampires as Capulets and werewolves (oh, how I loathe the neologism, “lycan”) as Montigues was a huge part of why I thought the first one was pabulum and all sequels utterly unworthy of my precious time.

  5. Hmm… I watched Ginger Snaps three or four years ago on DVD. I remember being annoyed by it, though I no longer remember why. Perhaps I’ll give it another viewing or try out the sequel. Actually, I neglected to mention one of my favorite werewolf films, Christophe Gans’ Le Pacte des Loups, aka Brotherhood of the Wolf, a surreal mix of action and horror supposedly based on actual historic events.
    Tim has written about the progress of movie vampires from menace through erotic metaphor and on into sympathetic characters. The werewolf seems to be working backward, beginning sympathetically, moving through eroticism and winding up as just a big hairy cannon fodder. I’m curious to see how closely Universal sticks to their original.

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