By TNHC's Editorial Director, Emily Malone.
Look, I get it. When you think of groundbreaking horror, you probably don't give much thought to man's worst friend. But allow me to be vulnerable with you for a minute.
I feel like Hollywood got lazy with werewolves. They often forget the original curse lore, opting to copy-and-paste the rules of two of the most popular horror icons of the time, instead.
And who could blame them? Vampires and zombies infecting innocents through biting was a tried-and-true formula that worked. What essentially became the non-sexy vampire/very punctual furry zombie couldn't really compete with the monsters already dominating the horrorsphere.
I could write for pages about the historical, cultural, and mythological beginnings of lycanthropy, but I'm here o talk about something far more shallow; about what I feel is the most interesting and unique aspect of these films - werewolf transformations. More specifically, practical effects.
Indulge me as I talk about some of my favourites.
The Howling (1981)
The bloodiest of them all, and my personal favourite transformation yet. Released in the same year as American Werewolf in London, Joe Dante's transformation scene depicts a serial killer/werewolf named Eddie Quist showing off his superpower to TV journalist, Karen White (lol, what a name).
Despite needing to willingly ignore a lot of the inconsistencies in the storyline leading up to this point, the makeup transformation effects are incredibly impressive.
What starts as Eddie digging a finger into his forehead t retrieve a bullet ends up as 3 generous and transfixing minutes of bones cracking and lengthening; flesh pulsing and tearing.
As his new form slowly breaks through in grizzly detail, his wild eyes fixate on Karen. The uniqueness of this transformation becomes even more apparent when his smile widens and stretches into a dripping, predatorial snarl.
He enjoys it.
American Werewolf in London (1981)
There's no denying the influence John Landis' iconic horror comedy had on practical effects in horror. It contains a transformation that won Rick Baker an Oscar for his innovative makeup effects. Without it, we wouldn't have countless 80s genre films and media, including Michael Jackson's Thriller, which had special effects and art direction by the very same team.
The film's plot follows two American tourists who are attacked by a werewolf in the countryside while backpacking to London. As his screams evolve into agonised howls in a fully-lit room, David Naughton's character undergoes the most visible, tortuous, and heart-stopping transformation I have ever seen.
What I particularly love about it is you can see a lot of David's humanity throughout the transformation; it's a perfect example of the combines effectiveness of purposeful practical effects and strong, emotive acting.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
" I get this ache... And I, I thought it was for sex, but it's to tear everything to fucking pieces."
This Canadian horror uses Lycanthropy as a metaphor for the blossoming sexuality of a couple of outcast sisters named Bidgette and Ginger. After Ginger is attacked by a werewolf on the night of her first period, her transformation builds over the course of the film.
Slow, subtle changes begin to occur throughout the film until finally, she undergoes a total body transformation while trapped in the back of a moving van. This gnarly transformation combines deliciously sticky prosthetics and bursts of passing streetlights as the director lets the scene unfold through shadowy glimpses of her writhing, contorting body.
The Wolf Man (1941)
Lon Chaney Jr. was actually the first to star as the titular Universal Monster, so had a huge influence on Hollywood's depictions of the werewolf. The story begins when Lon's character is bitten by a wolf on his family's ancestral estate. After a warning from his new beau about his impending transformation into half-man, half-wolf, the dread sets in.
Because of the limited practical effects available to horror directors at the time, instead of showing a full-body transformation, The Wolf Man focuses on just one body part. The result is a final transformation which leaves a lot to the audience's imagination. It's simple, of course. But ultimately very effective.
There's a reason there isn't a film here that was made after 2000. I don't think it's a coincidence that the werewolf films sank into the void as big budget CGI became the next new thing. I'm looking at you, Underworld.
Who knows, maybe we'll see more werewolf horror in the coming years. In fact, I did hear rumours of a Wolf Man remake starring Ryan Gosling at one point.
I just hope they stick some goddamn fur on him.