Whilst werewolves have been the subjects of films at least as early as 1913’s The Werewolf, werewolf movies has always played second fiddle to vampire movies. Heck, maybe even third fiddle, with zombies probably having overtaken them. Werewolf films are therefore like the Dr. Pepper to Zombies’ Pepsi and Vampires’ Coke. The Rodney Dangerfield of monsters. And yet werewolves’ history, both in cinema and reality, is indelibly intertwined with other, more popular monsters. Historically, werewolves were even viewed as likely candidates for vampirism after death. And in films they have a long history of grudge matches with their undead enemies. In the past, it was usually Dracula himself vs. The Wolf Man in a series of B-movies. Now, vampires and werewolves are often depicted as members of different races of beings with ancient hatreds that play out less in the horror genre than the fantasy.
Why don’t werewolves get more love? Where did it all go wrong? Maybe it’s just because, for the most part, great werewolf films are few and far between — most of the early ones, which may be the genre’s Vampyr or Nosferatu, are lost. Maybe it’s because werewolf films are always introducing more and more mythology to the canon, shaping and shifting our perceptions of werewolves as cunning and secretive in the silent era, to rampaging maniacs in the ’40s, to Vampire hating proles in modern, dark fantasy. Beyond film, vampires have captured the black hearts of the dispossessed and pasty goth subculture in a way werewolves never have. I mean, Peter Murphy didn’t sing, “Lon Chaney Jr.‘s Dead.” I, for one, have always identified with werewolves more than any other monster. I’m not sure why, but I think there’s more to it than them being the underdogs… or wolves as it were. Plus, once (after going to bed in upstairs), I awoke in the early morning on the ground outdoors… unclothed… with bloody bits of skin under my nails and no memory of how I got there.
Roots of werewolf lore
Firstly, as with vampires, tales of shapeshifters exist in almost every culture, reflections of our earliest fears as a species. It doesn’t exactly take Dr. Freud or Tom Cruise to psychoanalyze the legend of the lycanthrope. Something about our dual natures/wild sides/repression and stuff. It is interesting to consider the subtext of werewolf legends and lore for a second. Little Red Riding Hood is obviously meant as a cautionary tale about whom to place one’s trust in and the deceptive possibilities of appearance. Many of the signs that someone may be a werewolf seem in that line.
How to avoid or recognize the werewolf
Firstly you have catchy, easily memorable nursery rhyme-style warnings:
“Even a man who is pure in heart/ And says his prayers by night/ May become a wolf when the wolf-bane blooms/ And the autumn moon is bright.” Then there’s the less well-known “Beware of windfallen apples and of men whose eyebrows meet.” And, spelling it out cleary:
Never stop upon your way.
Never trust a stranger-friend;
No one knows how it will end.
As you’re pretty, so be wise;
Wolves may lurk in every guise.
Handsome they may be, and kind,
Gay, or charming never mind!
Now, as then, ‘tis simple truth—
Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth!
In addition to being aware of people with unibrows, other signs of someone being a werewolf and to therefore proceed with caution around include pale skin, small ears, long ring fingers, bad vision, thirst, a swaying walk, strong B.O., tattoos and, of course, red hair. Sounds like pretty valid advice, if you think about it.
How to become a werewolf
If you ask most people how one becomes a werewolf, they’ll tell you that lycanthropy is transmitted through being bitten by a werewolf. In reality, the bite of a werewolf would just leave one with puncture wounds and bleeding. It would probably be followed by being chomped up and eaten. The legend of the bite tranmission method is another invention from 1941’s The Wolf Man.
Traditionally there were several ways of becoming a werewolf: In the voluntary camp, some were just born one. Like Blake wrote, “Some are born to sweet delight. Some are born to endless night.” Others were the victims of curses. Then you have the voluntary sort who became werewolves by conducting particular rituals. Some jumped over a tree, drew a circle, made some incantations, drank rain water out of a werewolf track, &c. Others used a magic garment (usually a belt or girdle made of wolf skin), and others by application of an magical lotion. Common ingredients included deadly nightshade, henbane, hemlock… all of which are toxic and potent enough to absorb through the skin to induce hallucinations.
Werewolves in the Dark Ages
By the time werewolves started showing up in literature, the aspects of their existence began to codify, albeit not bearing much resemblence to werewolves today. In works like Bisclavret and Guillaume de Palerme they were depicted as benevolent victims of curses. In real life, in 1187, an Irish priest encountered a wolf in the woods of the emerald isle. The man was surprised when the wolf spoke and informed him that he and another had been cursed by one Nartalis to turn into wolves every seven years. When the wolf led the priest to a she wolf which moaned like a woman, the father administered communion to the canines and human forms promptly emerged from within the wolf skins.
The Werewolf Trials
Many people had no problem accepting that werewolves were real, but a bona fide werewolf panic swept across Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, with 30,000 men and boys accused of lycanthropy in France alone. Just as with the much more famous witch trials, many people (after torture) admitted to being werewolves and were killed. It’s kind of strange, but a lot of the accused seem to have frequently been societally marginalized figures such as beggars and the mentally challenged. The accusations against others appear possibly motivated by other factors. Either way, after torture, they pretty much all confessed, so that’s good enough for me. The werewolves below helped change the perception of werewolves as cunning or cursed and benevolent to stark raving mad homeless people.
In the 1502 trial of Pierre Buorgot, one of “the Werewolves of Poligny,” was a French peasant who claimed to have been given an ointment by Michel Verdun. Together, as werewolves, they ate a woman, a seven-year-old boy and a four-year-old boy. Verdun identified another accomplice, Philibert Montot.
The Werewolf of Pavia died when a group of men claimed to have cornered a werewolf whose fur grew inwards. The men cut off his arms for proof and the werewolf bled to death.
Gillas Garnier, “The Hermit of DÃ´le” (aka “The Hermit of St. Bonnot”) was arrested in 1573 after a reward was offered for a murdering werewolf. A group of peasants turned in Garnier, a hermit, whom they claimed had a face resembling a wolf they’d seen kill. Garnier confessed to eating four children, mostly between the ages of nine and twelve after learning how to become a werewolf whilst hunting one evening, when he encountered a figure in the woods. Strangely, his confession was full of contradictions and forgotten details. Nonetheless, he was found guilty and burned at the stake.
Jacques Rollet, “The Werewolf of Paris” was burned alive at Place de Greve in 1578 for being a werewolf.
Guyetta Bugnon, “The Werewolf of Val de Travers” confessed to eating two children at a Sabbat in 1580.
The Werewolf of Auvergne was caught in 1588. A hunter told a friend that he’d been attacked by a wolf and cut off its forepaw with his knife. Yet when he reached into his bag, he pulled out a woman’s hand with a ring that his friend recognized as being his wife’s. Consequently they confronted her, found her arm bleeding where her hand had been and turned her in, after which she was was burned at the stake.
One of the most famous werewolves was Peter Stumpp, “The Werewolf of Bedburg.” He was a wealthy German widower and farmer with a boy and a girl of 15. In 1589, he was supposedly cornered in wolf form by a posse of hunters and turned into a human before their eyes. After being stretched on the rack he admitted to practicing black magic since the age of 12. With a magic belt given to him by the Devil, he was able to change into a wolf. He claimed to have eaten 14 children and two pregnant women (including their fetuses). He also had sex with a succubus. One of the child victims was his own son. He was also accused of incest with his daughter and she too was executed. He was strapped to the wheel, had his skin pulled off with heated pincers, had his bones broken with an axe (lest he return as a vampire) and was beheaded. His head was put on a wheel with wolf pelts as a warning to other lycanthropes. His daughter and mistress were strangled and burned, along with Peter’s headless body, at the stake.
In 1598, Perrenette Gandillon, a feeble-minded peasant, appeared to have the same wound as a wolf that had killed a child. Her sister, Antoinette, her brother, Pierre, and his son, Georges were all captured. Antoinette confessed to being a witch and the rest admitted to being werewolves. They were all burned at the stake.
Jacques Rolet, “The Werewolf of Angers” aka “The Werewolf of Caude” was cornered in the woods after two wolves were found devouring 15 human bodies in 1598. They claimed to have found the beggar covered in blood and still gripping a piece of flesh. He claimed to have been given a salve from his parents and that he and his cousins Julien and Jean had killed numerous people. He was spared execution on account of his feeble mindedness.
MichÃ©e Bauloz, Jeanne de la Pierre and Suzanne Prevost, “The Werewolves of Vaud,” all admitted to eating a child in 1602 but claimed to not eat its right hand since God frowned on that sort of thing.
Jean Grenier of Aquitaire was a 14-year-old runaway who’d fled an abusive father. He came to the authorities claiming that another boy, Pierre La Tihaire, had introduced him to the Lord of the Forest, who taught him the ways of the werewolf. As one, he claimed to have eaten fifteen children before his capture in 1603. He was spared execution apparently because he was mentally retarded and therefore imprisoned instead.
Ann, the Werewolf of Meremoisa admitted to having practiced lycanthropy for four years. She claimed to have hidden her magic pelt under a stone. 20 others were rounded up with her.
Hans the Werewolf, an 18-year-old boy, was executed in Estonia (along with 55 others accused of sorcery). He claimed to have been given a magic wolfskin when he was 18 by a figure in black.
Claudia Gaillard, “The Werewolf of Burgundy,” was spied changing shape behind a bush. Even when tortured, she didn’t shed a tear… which was proof enough for the judge that she should be burned at the stake.
After a while, either all the werewolves were killed or went underground apparently and the werewolf panic pretty much ended by the early 1600s. In the 1800s, with the rise of Gothic literature, the werewolf returned, at least in print. But whereas Frankenstein and Dracula are frequent assigned reading in school, I’ve never heard of any Gothic werewolf literature on any high school curriculum. In Gothic literature, the werewolf reclaimed some of its pre-panic reputation as cunning and suave. The Wer-Wolf by Sutherland Menzies (1838), Captain Frederick Marryat‘s The Phantom Ship (1839), G. W. M. Reynolds‘s Wagner the Wehr-Wolf (1847), Alexandre Dumas‘s The Wolf-Leader (1857), Erckmann-Chatrian‘s Hugues-le-Loup (1869) and Clemence Houseman‘s The Were-wolf (1896) generally portrayed werewolves as seductive, destructive femme (or homme) fatales more concerned with destroying their lovers than eating babies.
Werewolves in Film
Werewolves make natural subjects for film, giving filmmakers a chance to show off some special effects impossible to create on the stage. For some reason, werewolf films seem to always feel the need to introduce new elements to werewolf mythology and today, many of our notions about werewolves come from cinema, not reality.
Werewolves in the Silent Era
In silent films, werewolves were presented in their traditional form, not as bipedal, hairy guys with vaguely wolfish features. In most claims about actual werewolves, they were said to be indistinguishable from real wolves except for sometimes having human hands, human eyes or no tails. The first film, The Werewolf, used a real wolf and was about a Navajo werewolf who killed white people. Unfortunately, several of these are lost. Wolfblood exists, but isn’t really about werewolves, just a guy that hallucinates after a blood transfusion. The film is mainly about rival loggers and a love triangle.
The Werewolf (1913) [lost]
The Wolf (1914)
The Wolfman (1915) [lost]
Le Loup-garou (1923)
The Wolfman (1924)
Wolfblood – A Tale of the Forest (1925)
Werewolves in the Golden Age
Thanks in part to Lon Chaney Jr, who reprised his role as the wolf-man in many increasingly silly sequels, the werewolf became mainly a feature of low budget monster grudge matches. During this period, several additions to werewolf lore appeared. The Werewolf of London was the first, with anthropomorphic man-wolves in addition to the idea that each one kills the thing he loves the most. The Wolf Man introduced the concept of silver being deadly to a werewolf. Before that, no mention of silver being deadly to werewolves is known, although the werewolf-like Beast of GÃ©vaudan was, in later fictionalized accounts, killed with silver bullets. It also introduced the idea that what werewolves do when in animal form, they forget after reverting to their human selves. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man established the notion that werewolves assume their form every full moon. In House of Frankenstein, silver bullets are first used to kill the Wolf Man. After the popularity of the Wolf Man, 20th Century Fox attempted their own werewolf film with The Undying Monster.
Werewolves in the 1930s
In the early days of talkies, werewolves were not common subjects of film. Whilst Frankenstein and Dracula did gang busters, the only American film of the era was the less-popular The Werewolf of London.
Le Loup Garou (1932)
The Werewolf of London (1935)
Werewolves in the 1940s
1941’s The Wolf Man is by far the biggest werewolf film. Although werewolves usually have a sexual motivation, the writers of the film made sure to include that the Wolf Man’s rampages were motivated by hunger. The titular Wolf Man was so popular that he quickly became the most famous werewolf in history.
The Wolf Man (1941), followed by Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
The Mad Monster (1942)
Terror House (1942)
The Undying Monster (1942)
Le Loup des Malveneur (1943)
Cry of the Werewolf (1944)
The Return of the Vampire (1944)
She-Wolf of London (1946)
Werewolves in the 1950s
To me, the werewolf seems like he reached the height of popularity during this period, with Eddie Munster symbolizing a whole generation of boys who grew up on werewolves. In this supposedly square, repressed age, the wolfman was wild and uncontainable, like some crazy, hairy greaser. The 1950s were where the Teenage Werewolf appears, drawing obvious parallels between lycanthropy and puberty and sexual awakening.
The Werewolf (1956)
El Castillo de los Monstruos (1957)
I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
La Momia Azteca (1957)
The Daughter of Dr. Jeckyll (1957)
How to Make a Monster (1958)
La Casa del Terror (1959)
The Teenage Werewolf (1959)
The Teenage Frankenstein Meets the Teenage Werewolf (1959)
Werewolves in the 1960s
In the 1960s, werewolf movies pretty much dried up in the US, instead being kept alive in Europe — especially Spain, where, beginning with La Marca del Hombre Lobo, Paul Naschy (as Count Waldemar Daninsky) overtook Lon Chaney Jr. as the actor to most often play werewolves.
The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Lycanthropus aka Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (1962)
Face of the Screaming Werewolf (1964)
La Loba (1964)
Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors (1965)
Dr. Terror’s Gallery of Horrors (1967)
Mad Monster Party (1967)
La Marca del Hombre Lobo (1967) [followed by sequels (Las Noches del Hombre Lobo (1968), Los Monstruos del Terror (1970), La Noche de Walpurgis (1971), La Furia del Hombre Lobo (1972), Dr. Jekyll y el Hombre Lobo (1972), El Retorno de Walpurgis (1973), La Maldicion de la bestia (1975), El Retorno del Hombre Lobo (1980), La Bestia y la Espada Magica (1983), LicÃ¡ntropo (1996) and Tomb of the Werewolf (2003)]
Return from the Past (1967)
Assignment Terror (1969)
Night of the Werewolf (1969)
The Incredible Werewolf Murders (1969)
El Bosque del Lobo (1969)
Blood of Dracula’s Castle (1969)
Werewolves in the 1970s
With the relaxation of what you could show in films, werewolf films in the 1970s often played up the sexual subtext and shapeshifting. Although Werewolf in a Girl’s Dormitory (from 1962) sounds titillating, it wasn’t until the 1970s that you get the blatant sexuality of Nympho Werewolf and the werewolf-like monster porn, La B?te.
Nympho Werewolf (1970)
Fury of the Werewolf (1970)
Werewolves on Wheels (1971)
O Homem Lobo (1971)
Moon of the Wolf (1972)
The Vampires are Coming! The Werewolves are Here!
The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973)
The Beast Must Die (1974)
Legend of the Werewolf (1974)
Scream of the Wolf (1974)
La B?te (1975)
Legend of the Werewolf (1975)
The Werewolf of Woodstock (1975)
La Lupa Mannara (1976)
O Coronel e o Lobisomem (1979)
Werewolves in the 1980s
By the ’80s, some werewolf films (such as The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Teen Wolf and Wolfen) began looking backward to older werewolf films for inspiration or even to medieval folklore in the case of Company of Wolves and Ladyhawke. It was a revisionist period for werewolves.
Mom, the Wolfman and Me (1980)
Full Moon High (1981)
The Howling (1981) [followed by Howling II: Stirba – Werewolf Bitch (1985) Howling III: The Marsupials (1987), Howling IV: The Original Nightmare (1988) Howling V: The Rebirth (1989) Howling VI: The Freaks (1991) Howling: New Moon Rising (1995)]
An American Werewolf in London (1981) [followed by An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)]
Monster Dog (1984)
The Company of Wolves (1984)
Silver Bullet (1985)
Teen Wolf (1985) Teen Wolf Too (1987)
Transylvania 6-5000 (1985)
The Monster Squad (1987)
Cellar Dweller (1988)
Curse of the Queerwolf (1988)
Fright Night II (1988)
My Mom’s A Werewolf (1989)
Werewolves in the 1990s
The ’90s weren’t especially interesting, although Wolf, whilst not terribly good, is enjoyably campy and probably the first Yuppie werewolf movie.
Mad at the Moon (1992)
Full Eclipse (1993)
Project: Metalbeast (1995)
Shriek of the Lycanthrope (1995)
Bad Moon (1996)
The Werewolf Reborn! (1998)
The Wolves of Kromer (1998)
Werewolves in the 2000s
Werewolf films in the oughts introduced a few new twists, with gay subtexts appearing in the Ginger Snaps series and the infamous Dave DeCoteau‘s Wolves of Wall Street and others moving away from horror genre into dark fantasy, following a trend begun earlier in werewolf fiction.
Alvin and the Chipmunks Meet the Wolfman (2000)
Ginger Snaps (2000) Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed (2004) Ginger Snaps Back (2005)
Le Pacte des loups (2001)
Dog Soldiers (2002) Dog Soldiers: Fresh Meat (2007)
Wolves of Wall Street (2002)
Underworld (2003) [followed by Underworld: Evolution (2006) and Underworld 3 (2008)]
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004)
Van Helsing (2004)
The Beast of Bray Road (2005)
Wild Country (2005)
The Feeding (2006)
Bloodz vs Wolvez (2006)
Blood and Chocolate (2007)
An Erotic Werewolf in London (2007)
The Lycanthrope (2007)
In the Blood (2008)
Never Cry Werewolf (2008)
In Video Games
Although we don’t traditionally think of video games as introducing a lot to a genre, the metal blades of werewolves in Killer Instinct and Werewolf: the Last Warrior or the massively-muscled, supersized variety as seen in Rampage are, as far as I know, derived from games.
Games with werewolves include Rampage, Altered Beast, Ninja Gaiden 2, Operation Darkness, Werewolf: The Last Warrior, Castlevania: Legacy of Darkness (and Portrait of Ruin), Killer Instinct, Darkstalkers, The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, Discworld Noir, The Legend of Zelda: Twighlight Princess, Tales of the Tempest, Golden Sun: The Lost Age, Bloody Roar, Oger Battle: March of the Black Queen, Seiken Densetsu 3, Fable, Suikoden II and Diablo II: Lord of Destruction.
Werewolves in song
Whereas lots of bands spend their entire existences pretending to be vampires, lycanthropic tunes are pretty much limited to one-offs. And whilst vampire music all pretty much falls within the Goth genre, songs about werewolves have a variety of sounds — although most are (perhaps appropriately) metal. If ever there was one performer closely associated with werewolves, it’s the mutton-chopped Glen Danzig, who possesses several books about werewolves and has written songs about werewolves with each of his bands.
Werewolf songs include The Cramps‘ “I Was a Teenage Werewolf,” The Misfits‘ “Wolf’s Blood,” E Nomine‘s “Wolfen,” Samhain‘s “Halloween II,” Danzig‘s “Killer Wolf,” Warren Zevon‘s “Werewolf of London,” Tad‘s “Lycanthrope,” Ozzy Osbourne‘s “Bark at the Moon,” Megadeth‘s “She-Wolf,” Genesis‘s “White Mountain,” Metallica‘s “Of Wolf and Man,” Jefferson Airplane‘s “When I Was a Boy I Watched the Wolves,” Half Japanese‘s “Werewolf,” Bad Company‘s “Run with the Pack,” Cat Power‘s “Werewolf,” Type O Negative‘s “Wolf Moon,” King Diamond‘s “House of God,” Cradle of Filth‘s “Amor e Morte,” Five Man Elecrtical Band‘s “Werewolf,” Will DeVille‘s “Loup Garou Bal Goula,” Sonata Arctica‘s “Fullmoon,” Moonspell‘s “Wolfshade,” Stone Sour‘s “Monolith,” Six Feet Under‘s “Lycanthropy,” Tanglefoot‘s “Loup Garou,” Cynthia McQuillin‘s “Lycanthropy,” Ray Obiedo‘s “Werewolf,” Iced Earth‘s “Wolf” and Macabre‘s “The Werewolf of Bedburg,” Dark Moor‘s “The Bane of Daninsky, The Werewolf,” Timeless Miracle‘s Curse of the Werewolf.” There are, in fact, hundreds…
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
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