As the werewolf makes a comeback in 'The Wolfman,' we sink our teeth into some of this classic monster's best movies
By Don Kaye
The legend of the werewolf, or the lycanthrope, has its origins deep in history, with stories dating back to ancient Rome of human beings shape-shifting into carnivorous four-legged beasts. Yet for some reason the werewolf has always played second fiddle to its kissing cousin, the vampire. Both have a lot in common: They are open to a rich, wide and varied range of interpretation, with the werewolf often used to symbolize the repressed animal urges of man, whether they be for power, sex or freedom. While early werewolf movies were relatively serious explorations of the motif, later films such as "The Howling" and "Wolf" mined the mythology for satirical purposes, poking fun respectively at the "me" culture of the '70s and the predatory world of business.
In fact, the werewolf has found itself in any number of offbeat locations, including high school ("I Was a Teenage Werewolf," "Teen Wolf"), motorcycle gangs ("Werewolves on Wheels") and even the government ("The Werewolf of Washington"). The beast has also done battle with colleagues like Frankenstein's monster ("Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man"), Dracula ("House of Dracula") and even a whole race of vampires (the "Underworld" series). And while lycanthropy has been explored as a metaphor for adolescent sexual awakening ("Ginger Snaps," "Blood and Chocolate"), it has yet to become a full-blown teen phenomenon the way vampires have been cannibalized and romanticized by the "Twilight" juggernaut.
In the meantime, "The Wolfman" (out Feb. 12) offers a return to the Gothic sensibility and atmosphere of the 1941 Universal Pictures original. A period piece set in the late 18th century, "The Wolfman" features a sterling cast (Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt) and the trailers have the right look. But a change in directors right before filming started, a special effects overhaul (jettisoning practical makeup for CG), reports of reshoots and a delayed release date have cast a pall over this big-budget reboot. Nevertheless, we'd love to see a big, old-fashioned classic horror monster make a successful comeback on the big screen, and to get in the mood we've revisited a few of our favorite werewolf flicks. So sit back, check these out and, as the doomed title character of "An American Werewolf in London" is warned, "Beware the moon."