We spent a number of years wondering why werewolves were rarely spotted in film. The truth is, most probably can’t give you a fact-based answer. A lot of makeup work goes into these film, a lot physicality is required and a fairly hefty price tag must surely come affixed. But don’t those rules apply to just about every form of cinema in existence? Sure, we may not see explosions and gore from a lighthearted romantic comedy, but the performers in those films are typically well-paid, and some of the shooting locations must cost an arm and a leg.
So why have we ignored the terrifying werewolf? Especially when what we do get from these pictures is often quite bad ass?
That’s a mystery to perhaps one day be solved. Today is a day to praise these hairy monstrosities, because believe it or not, the last decade or so has produced enough lycanthropic tales to begin a true resurgence of the monster. The resurgence of the werewolf is upon us, and we’ve got proof to back that up.
In 2000, John Fawcett launched what proved to be an inspired little tale that would eventually become a strong trilogy. The GINGER SNAPS pics weren’t just modern kick-starters for the hairy monsters, the trilogy is an emotional mind-bender. Through three films it plays faithful to the endearing coming-of-age period that we all endure, but unlike “real life,” these films are drenched in bloody fur, outrageous hormonal attacks and deception between two of the closest individuals the screen has given us. How does a young woman learning to navigate her way through a school she despises also juggle a hideous transformation? A transformation that will leave entrails in its wake, for that matter.
All three of these films prove rewarding. The third serves as something of a prequel, and it could be argued that it is the least stimulating of the bunch, but if you make it a night and screen all three of these flicks consecutively, you won’t be disappointed for a moment. Until, that is, you look into the next evolutionary move of the lycanthrope.
That next werewolf landmark was delivered by the genius, Neil Marshall and his guerilla warfare turned man-eating monster movie. We open on a chaotic look at soldiers in trenches, desperately trying to avoid flying projectiles. But that aspect of the horror dwindles away until all we’re left with is a few soldiers trying desperately to avoid the jowls of towering werewolves. It’s always frenetic and often bone chilling – it’s DOG SOLDIERS, and it just so happens to be a must-see film that opened the door for more werewolf wars.
Speaking of werewolf wars, Len Wiseman, just a year distanced from the arrival of DOG SOLDIERS, gifted us an action-packed werewolf versus vampire tale, UNDERWORLD. While this one will no doubt apply to action fans first and foremost, there are some great and horrific moments in the first two features, while the werewolves take center stage in the third franchise film, RISE OF THE LYCANS. Be prepared for some awesome practical effects in the inaugural entry, and then a mean ass hybrid with wings in the follow-up. Despite all the insane characters and creatures that may lope across the screen, those beastly half-man/half-wolf creatures send shivers down the spine. It’s unfortunate that the fourth film featured fewer werewolves and a depressing overabundance of CGI, but maybe, just maybe UNDERWORLD: BLOOD WARS can get the franchise back on track.
WER followed the first four UNDERWORLD pics, and director William Brent Bell set out to gift us a monster of a different sort. Bell’s creation is one of the most creative werewolves we’ve seen, and it’s one of the stronger stories we’ve seen in a good long time. Forget the majority of clichés we associate with werewolf pics, they’re done away with here, so don’t walk into this viewing experience thinking you know the story before you see it. It’s a truly unique film, and to be entirely honest, I’m uncertain as to how it’s been available this long without amassing a major cult following.
Steering far clear of Bell’s deadly serious picture, Lowell Dean delivered a wonderfully humorous and often nasty little feature about an alcoholic man of the law, with a nasty temper. Couple that with a general disdain for all those around him, and you’ve got the making of a monster. And that monster does indeed come to life. As the title would indicate, our careless officer becomes a werewolf himself! You want to talk about an absolutely bonkers idea? Then you want to talk WOLFCOP. It’s a riot from beginning to end, and it not only favors us a strong finale, it also drops a handful of genre familiars in the mix. It all comes together to add an attractive charm that you’re going to find quite awesome (and be on the lookout, the sequel is on the way).
LATE PHASES was another pic released in 2014, a year that saw independent features chalked full of menacing bipedal freaks with a taste for blood slowly flooding the market. Where other films of this nature flopped with fans, LATE PHASES succeeds in a number of different ways. Dropping a blind war veteran in the lead protagonist role completely alters the dynamic of the pic, dumping the movie on its head. But it all worked out beautifully, despite the casual complaint of the unorthodox creature designs. But to be fair, I thought it brilliant to create both male and female werewolves. That’s something you don’t see every day, and all in all, this is a job damn well done, if you ask me.
Not here’s a surprise of epic portions, no? WOLVES is a somewhat safe, teeny-bopper flick with a really, really dark side. But WOLVES also gives us a genius nod to ‘80’s fare. The structure is there, the tropes abound, and of course one unfortunate kid is going to go head-to-head with the big bad werewolf of the region. I couldn’t help but love the sensation of being hurled back in time. The monster makeup is an awesome blend of contemporary and vintage, what we see of transformation scenes are also cool. It’s great seeing the unlikely little protagonist forced to tangle with a massive wrecking ball of a creature. Entertaining characters and memorable scenes help to anchor this slept on treat.
The newest feature working to reinvigorate some life into the genre (be ready, however, as ANOTHER WOLFCOP is on the way), Paul Hyett’s in-your-face and utterly extreme, HOWL is stunning. There’s next to no downtime in the flick, the tension launches into fever pitch, and the creatures just might be the most terrifying werewolves we’ve ever seen. The fact that Hyett decides to further fuck with our minds by sticking the entire battle into the cramped confines of a few train cars adds something horribly unsettling to the production. HOWL is a creepy flick that climbs into your psyche, and while the film has yet to catch on to a massive audience, I have no problems seeing this one recognized as a classic in the next 20 years.