There’s no denying that the werewolf has been one of the defining creatures of the horror genre. Although the release of Werewolf of London in 1935 is widely credited as being the first movie to feature the lycanthrope legend, a short silent film called The Werewolf was actually produced in 1913. However, all prints were lost in a fire at Universal Studios in 1924. Like all horror premises, the popularity (and quality) of werewolf movies has seen its fair share of highs and lows since they first appeared more than a century ago. However, when the mythology is in the right hands, the werewolf can be one of the scariest and most terrifying creatures on the silver screen.
10. Silver Bullet (1985)
Stephen King loves to unleash unimaginable horrors on small American towns, so it makes sense that the writer would turn to the werewolf legend at least once during his long and illustrious career. Silver Bullet is one of King’s earliest film adaptations (he wrote the screenplay too) and also one of his most divisive. The plot centres on the small town of Tarker’s Mills as its inhabitants are plagued by savage, murderous attacks every full moon. Make no mistake, Silver Bullet is a very broad 80s horror movie in every cheesy sense imaginable and the final confrontation with the wolf is as about anticlimactic as you can get. However, the early buildup is commendable as the werewolf attacks its first victims in their homes like a stalking slasher and there’s also a surprisingly good transformation scene as an entire church congregation turn into werewolves during a trippy dream sequence.
9. Wolfen (1981)
Those looking for a very different take on the werewolf legend need look no further than Wolfen. The crime horror follows an NYPD detective played by Albert Finney as he investigates the brutal murder of a politician, his wife and bodyguard in Battery Park. Although the movie never quite manages to top its stylish, Jaws-like opening which cuts back and forth between the wolf’s POV as it stalks its victims (the director uses a thermographic filter throughout the movie to show the Wolf’s perspective), Wolfen is a broody and surprisingly serious detective movie which offers up a supernatural twist.
8. Werewolf of London (1935)
Werewolf of London is definitive watching for anyone who wants to brush up on their werewolf cinematic history, although the movie does have its rough patches. The first ‘proper’ feature-length cinematic outing for the creature, the plot concerns a botanist who is attacked in Tibet and returns to London with the werewolf curse. The result is more Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde than werewolf horror and the movie suffers from an undeniably plodding pace and some jarring comic relief. Nevertheless, when the Werewolf of London is not being held up for comparison against the far superior The Wolf Man it’s much easier to appreciate it as one of the more entertaining early horror movies from the 30s.
7. The Howling (1981)
The Howling offers a good riff on the werewolf mystery formula. When a television journalist suffers from a violent attack, her psychiatrist recommends that she recuperates on a secluded retreat called “The Colony”. She soon discovers that its strange occupants are not who they seem and the Colony is in fact overrun with werewolves. Some may find it hard to get on board with the movie’s goofy tone which careens between horror and humour, but that’s really all part of director Joe Dante’s charm. Although its release was overshadowed by the release of An American Werewolf in London a few months later, the Howling is something of an underrated gem and offers up some pretty groundbreaking special effects (the transformation scene where bad guy Eddie shapeshifts into a werewolf is genuinely unsettling) as well as a suspenseful first half and an action-packed finale.
6. Company of Wolves (1984)
The Company of Wolves offers up a much more magical and fantastical European look at the folklore behind werewolf stories. Dark forests, sweeping mists, untold dangers and a brooding atmosphere all feature prominently in this interesting examination of the werewolf legend as presented through a series of different fairy tale inspired stories. Company of Wolves is a stylish, gothic take on the mythology which has plenty to offer horror fans (the flesh ripping transformation scene is a particular highlight) as well as those who want a little more creative bite from their werewolf movies.
5. Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)
As the title suggests, Abbott And Costello Meet Frankenstein isn’t a werewolf-centric movie. Nevertheless, it’s hard for any genre fan to not get excited about this Universal Monsters team up which featured the last appearances of the Wolf-Man, Frankenstein’s Monster and Dracula before they were retired by the studio. It became one of the comedy duos most popular titles, even though they were apparently reluctant to star in it, and their wild humour was the perfect foil to bring out the sillier aspects of the horror icons who for the most part are playing it completely straight. Although horror fans are divided over the ‘canonical’ status of the movie, the comedy caper is an entertaining and affectionate send-off for the Universal Monsters.
4. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Dog Soldiers is an action siege movie given a horror twist. When a group of squaddies are attacked by an unknown predator in the Scottish Highlands, they hole up in a secluded house. However, it’s not long before they are set on by a pack of werewolves and they must make a desperate last stand to hold them off. Dog Soldiers treats the material with the right amount of humour and horror and the huge, looming bipedal creatures make for a truly unsettling sight. It also features a surprisingly well shot and visceral hand-to-hand fight between a soldier and one of the werewolves, which is not something you’ll see in any other movie.
3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Mood swings, hair in unexpected places, a lustful appetite for new tastes – lycanthropy and puberty share a fair few telltale signs. The werewolf legend has been used several times as a metaphor for male adolescence with the likes of I Was A Teenage Werewolf, Teen Wolf and Skinwalkers, but none of them are anywhere near as effective as the menstruation-themed Ginger Snaps. Teenage siblings Ginger and Brigitte Fitzgerald are more than happy being the morose, goth outsiders in high school but their inseparable relationship becomes strained when Ginger is bitten by a strange creature one night and starts acting very strangely. Ginger Snaps’ sharp script isn’t afraid to spill some blood and guts (as well as some heavy period flow) while also affectionately embracing and changing the werewolf mythology so that Ginger can gradually transform throughout the movie. The movie benefits greatly from the chemistry between Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle and the sequel, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, is also worth checking out. However, most fans agree that the prequel is best worth avoiding.
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
Forget about the disappointing, messy big budget remake; the original Wolf Man is still one of the most iconic horror movies ever made. Lon Chaney Jr stars as Larry Talbot, an American man who is attacked by a werewolf while visiting his homeland in Wales and struggles to cope with the feral curse. After he has been bitten, the Wolf Man wastes no time in quickly bringing the audience up to speed with mythology while also introducing some elements to the cinematic legend of the creature – including the silver bullet myth – which are still associated with it to this day. The misty set pieces and horrifying werewolf makeup help create a thoroughly creepy atmosphere which just pours out of the screen, and the transformation scenes – using lap-dissolve shots to gradually apply the makeup to Chaney so that he transforms into his hairy alter ego before the audience’s very eyes – were groundbreaking at the time and are still hugely effective to this day.
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Few horror movies, werewolf or otherwise, are as perfect as An American Werewolf in London. David and Jack are American tourists who suffer a vicious attack from a wolf creature on the Yorkshire Moors. Jack dies from the mauling but David survives and falls for the pretty young nurse who is looking after him as he recuperates. However, David soon begins to see the ghost of his dead friend who warns him that he will turn into a werewolf on the next full moon. Director John Landis puts his own spin on the werewolf mythology and manages to deftly balance comedy with horror. Filled with so many great, iconic cinema moments – the subway chase, David’s surreal dreams and gory visions, the action-packed frenzy in Piccadilly Circus – and featuring werewolf effects and a transformation that have never been bettered in the years since, An American London is the definitive werewolf movie.