Craig J. Clark — Jul. 1st 2015
In recent years, there seems to have been an uptick in films that feature werewolves, but don’t have them front and center. A recent example is Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s What We Do in the Shadows, in which its central group of vampires has multiple run-ins with a pack of werewolves whose alpha has his work cut out for him keeping them in line. (Needless to say, I found their scenes to be the highlight of the film and hope Clement and Waititi follow through with the werewolf spin-off they’ve talked about.) This is a proud tradition that goes back almost to the dawn of cinema, though.
Take F.W. Murnau’s 1922 silent classic Nosferatu, the first (unofficial) adaptation of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which includes a cutaway to a howling werewolf in the Carpathians. (Okay, so maybe it’s a hyena. Beggars can’t be choosers.) There’s also talk of Bela Lugosi’s Count turning into a wolf in Tod Browning’s Dracula from 1931, but that’s all it is: talk. Thankfully, by the time Francis Ford Coppola tackled his version in 1992, makeup effects had progressed to the point where Gary Oldman’s Count was able to physically appear as a seductive wolf man. (Pity it’s just for the one scene, but what a scene.) And speaking of vampires that have the ability to take the form of wolves, who can forget Evil Ed’s “Howl Mary” pass at living up to his nickname at the end of 1984’s Fright Night? The way he’s dispatched so soon after being seduced by the dark side, though, it almost makes you feel sorry for the guy.
On the other paw, anyone tuning in to Rowan & Martin’s 1969 werewolf-themed comedy The Maltese Bippy hoping for a lot of hair-raising action will only end up feeling sorry for themselves since its werewolfery is confined to a single dream sequence where Dick Martin becomes a wolf man and is chased by an angry mob. That’s about as satisfying as Jesús Franco’s 1972 film Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein, in which a shaggy-looking wolf man appears out of nowhere to do battle with the monster and then is never seen or heard from again.
Much better is 1988’s Waxwork, in which one of the dopey teens who gets lured into David Warner’s macabre wax museum is thrust into a scenario where a werewolf (played by John Rhys-Davies in human form) puts the bite on him. Even if the wolf’s screen time is limited, it’s all quality time since director Anthony Hickox didn’t skimp on the effects budget. And our hairy pal is also part of the monster free-for-all at the film’s climax, with blood and gore aplenty and tongue planted firmly in cheek.
In the past decade, werewolves have popped up in supporting roles in everything from the Harry Potter series to Terry Gilliam’s not-altogether-successful The Brothers Grimm, and from the animated comedy Hotel Transylvania (and its forthcoming sequel) to the YA adaptation The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones (in which they’re even name-checked in the trailer, although that wasn’t enough to get me to see the damned thing). And since 2012’s Dark Shadows was based on a ’70s soap that featured a recurring werewolf character, it’s only natural that Tim Burton (who had previously squeezed a lycanthrope into 2003’s Big Fish) would include one in his film, although the out-of-nowhere revelation that Barnabas isn’t the only monster in the Collins family does come off as rather perfunctory. (“I’m a werewolf, okay?” they say. “Let’s not make a big deal out of it,” and the film proceeds not to.)
Of course, as far as films of recent vintage are concerned, the gold standard for werewolf cameos remains 2012’s The Cabin in the Woods. Enough said.