The initial concept behind this “Character Showdown” column was to pit different actors that have portrayed the same character against each other and really analyze what we, as fans, loved about each interpretation. And then vote on our personal favorite. But as the weeks have progressed since our launch, I like to mix things up.
At one point we looked at all the different people behind the Ghostface mask in the SCREAM series. Another week, we looked at Bruce Campbell’s various versions of Ash throughout the EVIL DEAD trilogy. And since earlier this week, I revisited both WOLFMAN movies for my Double Take column, I’ve had werewolf movies on the brain! Why not let our favorite cinematic wolfmen face off against each other then?
Since there’s a ton of werewolf movies out there, and I also didn’t want to limit this solely to the two Universal WOLF MAN movies, I’ve picked my 5 personal favorites. These are the ones that had the biggest impact on me as a monster lover growing up.
THE WOLF MAN (1941)
The original, of course, is Lawrence Talbot as portrayed by the great Lon Chaney Jr in the Universal’s 1941 THE WOLF MAN. What’s interesting is that what’s considered to be the definitive look for the Wolf Man was originally conceived by FX legend Jack Pierce as the design for Henry Hull in the 1935 movie WEREWOLF OF LONDON, but Hull refused to wear this make-up due to how uncomfortable it was. So Pierce ended up using the full Wolf Man make-up on Chaney and the rest as they say is history. He’s definitely considered the benchmark because of his instantaneously recognizable appearance. And while a werewolf can get away with looking really cool (and one of our selections will definitely fall mostly in that category), it’s really the man behind the beast that makes his alter ego all the more memorable. In this case, credit for that all goes to Chaney Jr for delivering such a sympathetic performance as the man behind the beast. When you say Wolf Man, or “werewolf,” you can’t help but immediately think of the original first.
THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
The 1961 Hammer interpretation of THE WOLF MAN was CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF starring Oliver Reed in what I personally consider such a bizarre entry in the werewolf canon. Reed plays Leon, a man born from a mute servant woman raped by a beggar who dies during his birth. He’s taken in by a wealthy adoptive father Don Alfredo Carido (Clifford Evans). But for Leon, his curse is genetic. As he enters his formative years as an adult, he begins having increasingly more violent urges. Eventually he cannot contain himself anymore and he transforms into a werewolf. While this movie tends to be a bit on the slow side, Reed’s performance is terrific (as always) and his Wolf Man is creepy, terrifying & unsettling!
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
In 1981, director John Landis completely reinvented the concept of the werewolf for his modern and self-referential version with his horror/comedy masterpiece AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. David Naughton is David Kessler and he gives the type of performance which immediately makes him likable. From the rapport he has with his best friend Jack (Griffin Dunn) through his mourning process when he loses him. He has an alley and love interest in Nurse Price (Jenny Agutter), the only benefit to come from his wolf attack. But when it comes to his lycanthropy, he finds it impossible to take the simple idea that he’s now a werewolf seriously, until his first major metamorphosis, which to this day is still the best cinematic werewolf transformation on film. (Thanks, Rick Baker!) Also, when he’s the wolf, he’s scary as hell! Part of limiting his screen time was in actuality the complex nature in selling a real life “hound of hell” on all fours. Meaning, technically they couldn’t show the entire werewolf. But that’s what adds to its effectiveness and terrifying appearance. Easily one of the scariest “wolf man” to ever grace the silver screen.
THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
We don’t know much about “desperate man” as he’s listed in the credits of 1987’s THE MONSTER SQUAD, but when Jon Gries rises from his morgue bag for the first time, he looks like a bad-ass! The actual werewolf design for Fred Dekker’s beloved cult classic is sculpted after Stan Winston himself, so it’s hard not to look at this Wolf Man’s face without thinking of the legendary FX artist. He mostly works as part of an ensemble of monsters for the movie, so we don’t get to know much about him or his backstory during the duration of the film. But it doesn’t matter, he’s such a cool looking Wolf Man that he’s absolutely a contender here!
THE WOLFMAN (2010)
Last but not least is Benicio Del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot and Wolfman from the 2010 Universal remake. Regardless of your feelings on the final product, the Wolfman himself is a marvel to look at. Once again, Rick Baker, take a bow. It looks enough like Jack Pierce’s original design, yet modernized. (Even though the movie take place at the end of the 1800’s as opposed to 1941 or even present time.) I rather like the elongated fingertips and the drastically bigger lower jaw with those protruding bottom fangs! He just looks cool! And while it’s hard to see Del Toro in that Wolfman face, it’s amazing how much (spoiler) Anthony Hopkins looks like his hairy and deadly counterpart. A great and worthy design.
So of those 5, which is your favorite Wolf Man?
Who’s Your Favorite Wolfman?