I love monster movies. I mean, we all do, right? But if I had to narrow it down to one particular monster? The werewolf.
I’ve always been a huge fan of werewolf horror, mainly the stories that tackle the duality between 2 personalities, constantly fighting for dominance and then losing all control and succumbing to their darkest desires at the next full moon. I grew up on a steady diet of decent werewolf movies and that awesome short-lived Fox TV series as well. (Anyone remember that?) There’s several pivotal factors that go into a great werewolf interpretation. Sure, the transformation sequence is usually at the top of the list and the first thing most people talk about when it comes to this particular sub-genre, but above all else, the werewolf has to look cool!
So, let’s not celebrate the best werewolf movies, or the best werewolf transformation, but instead, the 10 most bad-ass looking cinematic werewolves in horror. This is where looks do matter!
DOG SOLDIERS (2002)
In Neil Marshall’s directorial debut, a group of trained military are out on an exercise in the Scotland wilderness when they come upon the remains of another team literally torn to pieces. Just barely surviving an attack themselves, they seek refuge in a farm house not too far out of the woods. Surrounded, the threat eventually reveals itself to be a pack of werewolves and this is about to be the longest night in any of these soldiers lives! The werewolves themselves have the traditional beast like facial features, and yet stand 7 feet tall. The bodies on them are slender and more man-like than animal giving them a physically imposing appearance. They look big, they look scary, they look bad-ass. ‘Nuff said.
From the special FX artist on THE DESCENT comes Paul Hyett’s directorial debut on this freaky little werewolf movie titled HOWL. In it, a group of passengers on a train get stranded miles away from their final destination in a secluded part of the woods. When they opt to attempt to walk the rest of the way, it becomes very clear that there’s something in the woods hunting them. And it’s not just one something, but a pack of werewolves! This is one I just saw this past week, and I was genuinely creeped out by the creature design as it fell more on the human side than wolf, and there’s something disturbing about a very human looking beast with sharp fangs. Super cool and worth a look if you missed it!
THE HOWLING (1981)
As expected, Joe Dante’s THE HOWLING features one of the best on-screen werewolf transformations courtesy of the great Rob Bottin. But let’s give credit to the actual werewolf design itself, which unlike it’s rival counterpart of the time AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, features a two legged wolf man. While there are a couple of werewolves over the duration of the film, the most prominent one is played by Robert Picardo, who portrays crazed, presumed-dead stalker Eddie Quist.
THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961)
From the Hammer era, we’ve got to give it up for Oliver Reed as the wolfman in the infamous CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF. Reed’s character Leon is different from most other cinematic werewolves in that his affliction was a curse from birth and not the result of a wolf bite. It’s not until his early adult life that this side of him takes over and while his visage is very unique for this particular film, it closely resembles the traditional Wolfman design, if the Wolfman sported all white hair!
I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF (1957) / STEPHEN KING’S IT (1990)
This one terrified me before I had actually seen it! In the 1990 made-for-TV adaptation of Stephen King’s IT, Richie Tozier sees “it” in the form of Michael Landon’s I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF look. The high school jacket is in part an inspiration for the look that Michael Jackson would wear during the opening sequence of THRILLER, but eventually I went back and saw the film that inspired them all, I WAS A TEENAGE WEREWOLF. I think by putting this particular version of a monster in the cloths of a teenager, it forces us to relate and maybe see a bit of ourselves in the beast, hence making it scary. Really, just a cool design!
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
Of all the movies listed here, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON takes the cake in terms of best on-screen man-to-werewolf transformation. I mean, you’re not topping Rick Baker’s work. But what’s interesting is that the final appearance of his beast is not exactly what the famed FX artist had in mind. He really wanted to do a tradition two legged monster, but director John Landis insisted on “a hound from hell, on all fours.” And so we get the most feral, and animal-like versions of the wolf. Paired up with the abruptly edited gore sequences, not only does David look cool, but he’s one of the scariest of the bunch.
THE MONSTER SQUAD (1987)
Fred Dekker’s love letter to the Universal Monster movies must’ve been a dream project for an FX artist such as Stan Winston who ended up working on the feature. But as this wasn’t a Universal produced picture, the actual appearance of each of the monsters had to be tweaked to be it’s own thing, and hence therein lies the challenge. Winston and company absolutely stepped up and gave us cool looking new interpretations of each one of the monsters, but my favorite is his take on the Wolf Man, which apparently he sculpted based on his own facial features. (An actor had not yet been cast when they started their work.) Definitely in line with the traditional Wolf Man design, I can’t help but smile and see a little bit of Stan Winston’s face in his werewolf creation for Dekker’s monster mash.
MICHAEL JACKSON’S THRILLER (1983)
Like a lot of people my age, my first introduction into a lot of hardcore horror came from the John Landis helmed music video for Michael Jackson’s THRILLER. You had zombies rising from the dead and dancing! Ghouls around every corner! And for the opening few minutes, a movie within the movie where Jackson himself stars as a high schooler that transforms into a mysterious cat-like werewolf. Look – when Michael first looked up with the yellow contact lenses, it scared the absolute shit out of me. But then I was riveted by the actual transformation process and studied it on the regularly repeated “Making Of Michael Jackson’s THRILLER” special that would air constantly on MTV. Once again, let’s give a round of applause for Mister Rick Baker please.
THE WOLF MAN (2010)
Love it or hate it, there’s a lot that can be said about Universal’s 2010 attempted remake of THE WOLF MAN. But we can all agree that Rick Baker yet again killed it (pun intended) with this updated design, right? Being based on one of my favorite of the original Universal Monster Movies, I just wanted a gothic horror movie where the Wolfman was terrifying and ferocious, and this movie delivers that in spades. I saw it theatrically twice. And I’ve watched the director’s cut, and while it’s a travesty that the studio didn’t let Rick Baker do a practical werewolf transformation, when Benicio Del Toro is full-on Wolf Man, tearing people limb from limb, literally; it’s goddamned awesome. Look at that pic above. If that came charging at you at full speed, you’d crap your pants. Admit it!
THE WOLF MAN (1941)
Last but certainly not least, you can’t beat the original, so why even try? What FX legend Jack Pierce was able to create on actor Lon Chaney Jr is truly one of those rare inexplicable things referred to as pure movie magic. The Wolf Man design is one of the most iconic and instantly recognizable, even if you’ve never seen the film! When it comes to cool looking werewolves, they will all always be held up and compared to the one and only original Wolf Man!