Since ancient times, the fusion of man and wolf has been the stuff of legend and folklore (“wer” was the word for “man” in old English, with “man” being completely gender neutral). Virtually every culture across the globe has its own werewolf mythology, with this beastly shape-shifter being one of the oldest monsters to terrorize humans. Werewolf legends span so far back that their existence almost certainly predates recorded history. It’s a safe bet that werewolves have been freaking people out since our ancestors were huddled around puny campfires, in hopes of staving off the evil creatures that went bump in the night.
During the 20th century the werewolf mythos grew even larger thanks to the world of cinema. It’s true, werewolves have gotten the short end of the meatstick with regards to mainstream cultural acceptance (relative to other classical horror monsters like vampires or zombies), but there have still been many of great movies about humans shape-shifting into wolf-like creatures. And that’s the topic at hand today.
So while there aren’t a lot of good werewolf movies, the good ones are often great. The mixture of tones at the core of the werewolf myth often produces a movie that’s both scary and funny, set at the bizarro intersection between sanitized civilization and beast-within naturalist horror. So, without further ado, this is the 25 Greatest Werewolf Movies Of All Time…
25. Cursed (2005)
Director: Wes Craven
Stars: Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg, Joshua Jackson, Judy Greer
Cursed begins with a pair of women receiving a dire warning from a gypsy woman. Soon thereafter, brother and sister Jimmy and Ellie see one of the women killed by a wolf-like monster after they ram into her car. Both Jimmy and Ellie are bitten and/or scratched in the struggle, and gradually come to realize that they are “cursed” with the Mark of the Beast; that is, they are turning into werewolves. DUN-DUN-DUUUUN!
Upon its initial release, Cursed received extremely negative reviews from both critics and general audiences. It currently holds a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 94 reviews. However, with the passage of time, fans have begun to warm up to this movie. If you check out the IMDb message boards, for instance, you will witness everything from tepid defense to outright praise for the pic. Sure, Cursed is in no way perfect, but it is admittedly quite entertaining (there’s a werewolf dog and another one giving the finger!). And really, how can you not feel affectionate toward a movie that includes a line like, “I guess there’s no such thing as safe sex with a werewolf”?
24. Wolf Girl (2001)
Director: Thom Fitzgerald
Stars: Victoria Sanchez, Shelby Fenner, Shawn Ashmore, Tim Curry
Teenage girl Tara has a disease and hair growing all over her body and her face. She was born into a traveling Freak show circus and is the main attraction as Wolf Girl. Tara, often ridiculed by local teens, finds a friend in Ryan whose mother happens to work on an experimental depilatory treatment. Desperately longing to be normal, Tara starts to secretly inject herself with the drug, but unaware of the dangerous side effects – the animal within starts to reveal itself.
Ignore the B-movie cover art, ignore the cheesy tagline (“It will rip your heart out”), Wolf Girl (aka Blood Moon) is neither a horror film nor a skin flick, it is a really good drama about the pain of being different. It does carry a poetic oddness though, by playing with the line between perception and reality, and normality and freakishness. The result yields one of the smartest and most thought-provoking films of its kind.
23. Big Bad Wolf (2006)
Director: Lance W. Dreesen
Stars: Trevor Duke-Moretz, Kimberly J. Brown, Richard Tyson, Sarah Aldrich
Big Bad Wolf follows the adventures of Derek Crowley, a college student who has recently pledged himself to a fraternity. In order to get into the frat’s social standing, he agrees to let them spend a night camping at his stepfather’s secluded cabin out in the woods. Unfortunately, they just happen to arrive on the night when a werewolf is running loose! The werewolf kills all of Derek’s frat friends, but Derek himself is spared when his sometime-friend, sometime-girlfriend Samantha axes the wolf-man in the back. Later, when they arrive home, they conclude that Derek’s abusive stepfather is the werewolf, and they must do all they can to stop him.
Simply put, Big Bad Wolf is cheesy rubbish… but it’s really enjoyable cheesy rubbish. It entertains and urges you to keep watching; credit has to go to the cast for holding our interest so well, and also to that vintage 1980’s feel, which many have tried to emulate and failed. It’s got a wicked sense of humor, and even though it’s not got an original bone in its hairy body you’ll laugh so much you’ll forgive it without hesitation. Don’t expect to be scared or particularly grossed out (unless you have an exceptionally weak stomach) but do expect to be delighted.
22. Bad Moon (1996)
Director: Eric Red
Stars: Michael Paré, Mariel Hemingway, Mason Gamble, Ken Pogue
A werewolf story from the point of view of the family dog. Yeah, it sounds pretty stupid. But it just goes to show you should never judge a book by its cover (or a movie by its IMDb synopsis). It’s a difficult thing to sell, which is why most outlines of this movie tend to sound pretty ridiculous. But in the context of the movie it actually makes a lot of sense. It’s easy to associate dogs with pure motives, which in movies tends to make them effective protagonists. Really, what can be more sympathetic than a dog trying to protect its family from danger?
The story opens as a camp in an atmospheric Amazon rainforest is attacked by a werewolf, which promptly gets its head blown off. The mixture of gratuitous nudity and random violence lands us firmly in well-marked horror movie territory. From here we travel back to the US and are introduced to a normal suburban family; a powerful lawyer-mom, her young son and their faithful German shepherd, Thor. They head up to a mountainous lake area to visit their favorite uncle, and no sooner is the mother commenting on how “safe” and “peaceful” this place is than people start being gruesomely murdered in animal-like attacks. Uncle Ted is invited back to stay with his family, but seems to bring this string of brutal murders along with him. And for some reason Thor seems a bit uneasy around the new arrival to the house…
21. When Animals Dream (2014)
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Stars: Sonia Suhl, Lars Mikkelsen, Sonja Richter, Jakob Oftebro
In American popular culture, lycanthropy has typically been a guy thing. For the hapless Eisenhower-era protagonist of I Was A Teenage Werewolf and for the studly Jacob Black in the Twilight movies, sprouting fur, fangs and claws was a metaphor for uncontrollable adolescent male rage. But girls are angry, too, and the teenage werewolf in When Animals Dream, a spare and smart Danish thriller, comes of age in particularly infuriating circumstances.
We meet Marie, a small-town girl who lives with her sick mother and caretaker father. As she starts to embark more on her own, accepting a job at the town’s local fishery, Marie experiences strange bodily symptoms that lead to some doubt about her mother’s condition. After snooping around, it’s discovered that her mother is actually being sedated, and that her bloodline has a dark, vicious secret. But Marie doesn’t want to be drugged, and refuses treatment that her father insists upon. Marie embraces the changes that are happening to her body, and goes about her life like any other girl – until her aggression can’t be contained. Everyone wants to see the young girl locked up, but Marie isn’t going down without a fight. A bloody, brutal fight.
20. Wer (2013)
Director: William Brent Bell
Stars: A.J. Cook, Sebastian Roché, Vik Sahay, Stephanie Lemelin
Wer follows Katherine Moore, a criminal defense attorney and Human Rights advocate. Katherine is requested to defend Talan Gwenyk, the man arrested for the gruesome murders of the Porter family. Police and news reporters first believe the attacks to be from an animal, but they soon find evidence to support their arrest of Talan, a man who is unusually large, hairy, and unsociable. You can probably see where this is going.
Inexplicably shot in a found footage style even though it’s not found footage, this slick, fast-paced tale does a wonderful job of reinventing the werewolf mythos by presenting a “realistic” werewolf condition – i.e., no elaborate transformations, and it’s debatable for much of the movie whether or not the antagonist is even a werewolf. However, when it’s all said and done, it manages to be one of the most crafty, havoc-wreaking werewolves in cinematic history, laying waste to heavily armed police, outrunning cars and leaping with superhero ability.
19. Late Phases (2014)
Director: Adrián García Bogliano
Stars: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Erin Cummings
Late Phases introduces a few new wrinkles – literally – into a fairly standard werewolf thriller, and in this hairy old genre, anything new is always a cause for celebration. Directed by Adrián García Bogliano, this is more a methodically-paced drama about a man confronting certain death than it is a rousing supernatural thrill-ride, but that aspect separates it from the pack (if you’ll pardon the pun) and imbues it with its own personality.
That personality is a stubborn, bitter one, and it comes from the film’s protagonist Ambrose McKinley, a blind veteran, recently a widower, and currently a resident at an old folks community thanks to a dumping-off by his workaholic son. Ambrose has plenty of chips on his shoulder, but doesn’t seek anyone’s comfort or pity, just peace and quiet… and perhaps a noble death. He doesn’t know if he’ll receive any of the three based on his first night at the community: a werewolf attack results in the death of his neighbor and his seeing-eye dog. Rattled but determined, Ambrose is immediately certain of the nature of the beast, and becomes intent on figuring out who the creature is in human form and preparing for the next full moon.
18. I Was A Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Director: Gene Fowler Jr.
Stars: Michael Landon, Yvonne Lime, Whit Bissell, Charles Willcox
Hot-headed Tony Rivers, a misunderstood juvenile delinquent, volunteers for a course of hypno-therapy conducted by mad scientist Dr Brandon, and periodically transforms into a monster who terrorizes the high school.
Quite apart from its modest but genuine virtues as an exploitation picture, this flick boasts one of the greatest titles in all of cinema – a tabloid confessional exclamation which has been endlessly imitated, parodied and referenced down through the decades. And besides the title, Teenage Werewolf has gone down in pop culture history because it’s a clever little film, rising above the limitations of its intermittently ridiculous script thanks to effective direction from Gene Fowler Jr (who also made the sound-alike I Married A Monster From Outer Space) and unusually committed performances. Yes, this movie is corny (a werewolf walking around in a high-school jacket!), and the, err, science proposed to us is dubious at best (man has descended from werewolves?!), but this film paved the way for all the other corny, teenage-exploitation monster movies that followed: Films that have given “bad movie” lovers so much joy over the years.
17. Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
Director: Roy William Neill
Stars: Lon Chaney, Jr., Bela Lugosi, Ilona Massey, Patric Knowles
With the recent success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe imitators have been coming out of the woodwork. One of the most “really?” of all of the recent MCU impressionists that have risen up in recent years is Universal’s attempt to create a massive shared universe for their classic monsters; 2014’s insipid Dracula Untold had last minute changes made that placed the revisionist Vlad origin within a world full of bigger prophecies and convoluted mumbo jumbo intended to springboard the so-called “Dark Universe” (as it would come to be known). After the film flopped, Universal quietly repositioned 2017’s The Mummy as the franchise’s jump-off point.
The thing is, it’s not exactly fair to say that Universal is simply stealing Marvel’s idea. After all, it was these monsters who were the original big shared universe. You see, back in the thirties and forties, Universal produced a crapload of classic horror films – Dracula, Frankenstein, The Wolf Man, The Invisible Man, The Mummy – and eventually had them cross over in several movies (of mixed quality) that mostly skirted on their then-novel gimmick. With that, yes, you should pay some respect. Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man was the first great team-up monster movie, setting a precedent for everything from King Kong vs. Godzilla to Freddy vs. Jason. Silly but enormous fun, complete with gypsy musical numbers and an insane battle royal finish as the monsters rip each other apart.
16. The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman (1971)
Director: León Klimovsky
Stars: Paul Naschy, Gaby Fuchs, Barbara Capell, Andrés Resino
The fourth outing of iconic lycanthrope Waldemar Daninsky, The Werewolf Versus The Vampire Woman is definitely one of the clear-cut highlights of the extensive series. This time, the cursed Daninsky lives with his sister Elizabeth in a remote rented country house. The siblings having escaped their previous home when Daninsky was shot with silver bullets and killed, when in wolf form, by angry locals. But a doctor, in an attempt to quell superstitious beliefs and prove the dead stay dead, removes the bullets from the corpse, resurrecting the wolf and ensuring that the curse will continue.
Daninsky’s new family home is not without its own problems — having once housed the infamous vampire witch Wandesa Dárvula de Nadasdy (a nod to the legendary Countess Báthory). When two young ladies — Elvira and Genevieve — arrive looking for Nadasdy’s tomb, Daninsky offers to help, giving the two women a place to stay and assisting them in opening the grave of the abominable vamp to see if they can find her remains. Naturally, this results in devastation for all involved, as if the fact that Daninsky turns into a murderous beast on each full moon wasn’t devastating enough.
15. Night Of The Werewolf (1981)
Director: Paul Naschy
Stars: Paul Naschy, Julia Saly, Silvia Aguilar, Azucena Hernández
In 16th Century Hungary, the notorious Countess Elizabeth Báthory is sentenced to death, along with her followers including her enslaved werewolf minion Waldemar Daninsky. Waldemar, glad to be finally free of Báthory’s control, seems almost happy to be put into the “mask of shame” and staked through the heart with a silver crucifix. In contemporary Rome, Báthory is brought back to life by an evil witch. Meanwhile, grave robbers unearth Waldemar’s exquisitely preserved corpse under the night of the full moon, and accidentally revive the wolf by pulling the silver cross from his chest. From there, we end up with a series of strange, Gothic romance style misadventures that lead to a showdown between vampiric Báthory and lycanthropic Waldemar.
Night Of The Werewolf (aka The Craving) is an unbelievable mishmash of folklore, black magic and melodrama. But that’s the beauty of these movies. Not only is belief suspended, but all forms of natural and unnatural law as well. Very much a throwback to ’60s Gothic Euro and Hammer horrors, The Night Of The Werewolf might still delight the more modern fan with its pounds of flesh tearing, buckets of bloodletting, and its sexy vixen vampires.
14. Werewolf Of London (1935)
Director: Stuart Walker
Stars: Henry Hull, Warner Oland, Valerie Hobson, Lester Matthews
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to 1931’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Werewolf Of London is the tale of a hardworking, introverted scientist meddling with things he really shouldn’t and subsequently being transformed into an inhuman savage stalking the night for victims.
Six years before The Wolf Man, Universal took their first stab at a werewolf picture, though it didn’t quite hit its mark. And while there are significant differences between the two, this earlier effort lays down some of the major rules for cinematic lycanthropes. Cats and dogs fear him, his transformations are triggered by the cycle of the moon and he’s a tragic figure, killing because of an uncontrollable compulsion. Still, Werewolf Of London is an intermittently captivating snapshot of the road not taken towards a more scientific and urbane werewolf genre than the one we ultimately got.
13. The Curse Of The Werewolf (1961)
Director: Terence Fisher
Stars: Clifford Evans, Oliver Reed, Yvonne Romain, Catherine Feller
A beggar visits the cruel and pretentious Marques Siniestro, and is imprisoned in the dungeon. Ultimately, that man ends up raping a beautiful, mute girl. She kills the wicked Marques and escapes, and is found by the kind Don Alfredo Corledo, who along with his wife cares for her. They soon discover her to be pregnant, and she gives birth to a boy, Leon, but dies in labor. As a child, they soon learn that Leon is a werewolf. But, their love ultimately leads to the monster inside staying at bay. Leon grows up to be a healthy, strong, and seemingly normal man. He ends up falling for young Cristina, the pretty daughter of the man he works for. But, a full moon night of drinking and loose women let the beast inside free and the killing begins.
After having successfully started their own Dracula, Frankenstein, and Mummy franchises, Hammer Film Productions were ready to tackle the subject of Werewolves. Producer Tony Hinds, writing under the pseudonym, John Elder, decided to adapt Guy Endore’s 1933 novel, The Werewolf Of Paris, but because Hammer had elaborate period Spanish sets left over from an aborted project, their Werewolf film ended up being set in 18th century Spain. Long story long, Hammer’s Curse Of The Werewolf went on to become one of the company’s all time classics.
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