October is defined in Webster’s Dictionary as “31 days of horror.” Don’t bother looking it up; it’s true. Most people take that to mean highlighting one horror movie a day, but here at FSR, we’ve taken that up a spooky notch or nine by celebrating each day with a top ten list. This article about the best, toothiest, and hairiest werewolf movies is part of our ongoing series 31 Days of Horror Lists.
Looking back over the previous three years of this annual October adventure, it’s crazy to discover that we never covered werewolves before. So let’s rectify that glaring omission now with a look at the ten best the subgenre has to offer. The process sees the team nominate titles, catch up on films we’ve missed, and then vote, and the results can sometimes be surprising.
Point in fact? Neither The Beast Must Die nor Dog Soldiers made the cut. The latter film’s absence probably upsets you, but if you’re asking “what’s The Beast Must Die?” I must insist you immediately seek out that Agatha Christie-inspired tale of lycanthropy. The ten films that did survive, though, are all genre gems exploring the different ways in which the werewolf mythology can be used to explore humanity… while also letting the beasts eat.
Now curl up with whichever of your pets is the hairiest, and settle in for the 10 best werewolf movies as chosen by Chris Coffel, Brad Gullickson, Mary Beth McAndrews, Meg Shields, Anna Swanson, Jacob Trussell, and myself.
10. Bad Moon (1996)
When it comes to separating art from artist, one talent who’s not typically mentioned in the discussion is Eric Red. Depending on where you draw the line — his involvement in a suspicious crash that left two people dead, his signing on to make a film with The Daily Wire, his bashing of Mariel Hemingway on this film’s commentary — he might just be a persona non grata for you. For those of us who can separate, though, he’s also the guy behind at least three of our favorite genre films. He wrote The Hitcher (1986), a film that remains a masterpiece of road-trippin’ terror, he wrote a modern-day classic of a vampire western with Near Dark (1987), and he also gave us a little werewolf tale called Bad Moon.
An adaptation of Wayne Smith‘s novel Thor, Bad Moon follows a man’s transformation into a vicious werewolf and his efforts to reverse the curse. He makes the mistake of moving back near his sister, her son, and their dog, Thor. It’s a mistake because the dog ain’t having his shit, and Thor makes it clear from the very beginning that Uncle Ted (Michael Paré) is up to no good. It’s a bloody good time complete with a cool-looking werewolf, and it builds to some violent face-offs between canines. Red both writes and directs this time around, and while the former is his bigger strength the end result here is a fun, carnage-filled good time for werewolf fans. (Rob Hunter)
9. Wolf Guy (1975)
The first of two far lesser-known films to make this list, Wolf Guy is one of the stranger werewolf movies you’ll ever see. And it is glorious. Sonny Chiba stars in the title role, so you already know it’s going to be awesome. He plays the last survivor of a clan of werewolves (awesome!) who uses his werewolf superpowers to solve crimes (awesome!), but his latest case involving an invisible tiger (awesome!) might just be the death of him.
The werewolf is the hero! As creative a genre mashup as you’re likely to see, the film is part Kolchak, part werewolf, part gangster, part rape/revenge, part mad scientist, and all awesome. It’s bloody as hell, posits Chiba as a Bond-like hit with the ladies, and features martial arts shenanigans too. The actual werewolf transformation is limited to a unibrow, moonlight-enhanced powers, and the terminology, but it’s not fully titled Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope for nothing. Seek this one out, friends, and bask in its weirdly entertaining glory. (Rob Hunter)
8. The Company of Wolves (1984)
Neil Jordan blends fantasy and horror to offer a fresh glimpse at the werewolf mythos a few short years after An American Werewolf in London brought the titular creature to the forefront of early 80s pop culture. The Company of Wolves spins multiple fairy tale setups together into a quasi-omnibus film about a young woman, spirited away to a fantasy world, who is told allegorical stories about the evils of men with unibrows. The lineage of the different conceits Jordan leverages can be traced back through an endless stream of art, literature, and film; but mainly it borrows liberally from Little Red Riding Hood. Really, what other fairy tale lends itself so well to a case of lycanthropy?
The film may be a little soft around the edges for the average horror fan, but even the most hardened gorehounds will feel an exciting jolt at the myriad of ways people transform into wolves in this film. Stephen Rea literally tears his flesh off to reveal the muscle system of a wolf before his snout pops out of his face with a snarling roar. Later, the snooty socialites of a posh party are cursed by a witch to turn into wolves as they chow down on a buffet, their expensive shoes ripping at the seams as clawed toes come peeking out. But it’s the final transformation, strikingly illustrated on the film’s poster, that makes Company of Wolves iconic. Rick Baker’s effects on An American Werewolf are naturally the be-all-end-all, but watching the snout of a wolf slowly push through a man’s mouth before his skin falls to his padded feet is as fucking metal as werewolf transformations come. That it happens in a movie you could conceivably watch with your grandmother (it has Angela Lansbury after all!) makes Jordan’s film a must-see for any werewolf junkie. (Jacob Trussell)
7. The Wolf Man (1941)
There may be better werewolves and worse werewolves than Larry Talbot, but he’s the icon, and the culture of werewolves extends from him, and he demands your respect. The scruffy little puppy dog who walks like a man originated in Universal Pictures’ Werewolf of London, released six years previously. Makeup technician Jack Pierce designed this beastie to elicit fright, but that film’s director Henry Hull demanded less monster and more man.
When Pierce came back for The Wolf Man, he resurrected his old design and slapped it on Lon Chaney Jr. The rest, as they say, is history. After years of rewatches, the fright has mostly left Chaney’s Wolf Man, but the sorrow beneath the scruffy exterior remains. He’s a cursed creature, damned by chance, not karma. When the dog gets put down, you dare not cheer. The Wolf Man is a film that leaves you aching, and that emotional agony is as much of Chaney and Pierce’s legacy as the claws and tufts of fur, and that’s why no matter how many decades pass it will always belong on a list of the best werewolf movies. (Brad Gullickson)
6. Late Phases (2014)
You can tell a lot about a werewolf movie by the protagonist(s) who are put up against the beast, and this underseen gem earns points right off the bat by making our “hero” something of an asshole. Ambrose (Nick Damici) is a blind war vet who dislikes and distrusts pretty much everyone but his dog and his son. He’s not making any new friends in his retirement community either, and when neighbors start finding themselves under attack by a hairy beast no one believes his suggestion that it’s a werewolf.
Fools. Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano delivers a rip-roaring good time here as the beast tears his way through aging flesh before targeting Ambrose. The monster makes some new friends along the way, people he’s transformed into werewolves, and they all descend on the vet’s home unprepared for the ass-whooping he has in store. Solid gore, solid (albeit pretty unorthodox) werewolf effects, and a solid ending make for an unexpectedly good time. (Rob Hunter)
Related Topics: 31 Days of Horror Lists