This article has been originally been published on another website on Halloween.
Werewolves belong to the core group of classic monsters, yet they are notoriously hard to tackle in movies. If you ask horror fans for the classics of the genre, usually the same five movies are quoted every time. Too many rotten apples, to use a vague Halloween-ish image, have spoiled the audience’s appetite for cinematic lycanthropy.
An American Werewolf in Paris and the countless Howling– sequels (Part 2 to “don’t even bother to google”) might be the most notable culprits for this state of affairs.
That’s why I decided to compile a list of less known werewolf movies, hoping to present some interesting alternatives to the well-worn classics. Not all of the choices are undiscovered masterpieces or even gems of the genre, but there is something interesting about each of them that makes them worth checking out.
Night Time (1998)
OT: Sieben Monde
written and directed by Peter Fratzscher
A little seen mystery horror thriller from Germany, Sieben Monde (literal translation: “Seven Moons”) tells the story of the meek translator Thomas (Jan Josef Liefers), who is developing heightened senses after he was attacked by a wolf-like creature in the countryside at night. With his newly won animalistic aura he can finally score with his long-time platonic friend Alexandra (Marie Bäumer), but soon people around him start to die in what seem to be gruesome animal attacks. Is Thomas really turning into a werewolf or are these the early symptoms of a psychosis? Does he have to sacrifice his own life in order to save his beloved Alexandra?
Genre movies outside the low budget- realm are a rarity in the German speaking area, for that alone Sieben Monde gets bonus points. More a clever riff on lycanthropy and fairy tale- tropes and less a gory werewolf-shocker, Night Time still knows to entertain the audience, due to its atmospheric setting in autumnal Germany, the quirky characters played by a very good cast and with its subtle, unobtrusive sense of irony, that works without constantly winking at the audience like other meta-horror flicks of that era. The OTT- twist of the end might divide the audience, I for one enjoyed it. And no one else than Christoph Waltz shines in a supporting role as a hilariously smug self-appointed “expert for the occult”!
Bad Moon (1996)
written (screenplay) and directed by Eric Red
Strange things start to happen when photo-journalist Ted (Michael Paré) shows up at the place of his sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) after years of globetrotting… Wait a minute, isn’t that the premise of at least 50% of all werewolf stories?
Here it comes with a twist though, as it’s not a human, but Janet’s German shepherd Thor (!) who is the first to notice that there might something foul about Ted and becomes the hero who saves the day in the end. This delightfully ridiculous premise, a very trashy werewolf costume and a rather brisk running time of roughly 80 minutes leave no room for being bored. It’s competently directed by Eric Red, writer of such classics as The Hitcher and Near Dark, who also penned the movie’s screenplay, which is based on a novel called “Thor” by Wayne Smith. Apart from the wacky dog angle -that dangerously veers into Beethoven– territory at times, an association that is reinforced by the casting of Dennis the Menace– actor Mason Gamble as Janet’s son- it’s an unusually straightforward, simplistic horror flick that has none of Red’s trademark high concept approach. B-movie veteran Paré is surprisingly convincing as a man who fights his dark impulses.
Death Moon (1978)
directed by Bruce Kessler
Robert Foxworth is a manager who spends his vacation on Hawaii, only to find out that due to the misdeeds of his ancestors, an ancient curse by a Voodoo clan will turn him into a werewolf every night, as soon as he sets foot on the island.
70s entertainment could be quite weird at times and even a mundane made-for-TV movie like Death Moon had some trippy qualities, which is signalled with the very first frame, showing Earth rising on the horizon of the moon. Nowadays, the combination of the typical claustrophobic 70s TV-movie look, including sudden zooms and overly dark night scenes, together with the eerie synth music and the shoddy werewolf costume that is still based on the outdated ape-y “Wolfman”-design, make for one surreal experience. It’s one of those movies that that give you that special “4.00 am feeling”, no matter at what daytime you watch them.
On top of that, it’s an interesting time capsule, a testament to the rise of the recreational industry during that decade and the USA’s ongoing fascination with Polynesian culture.
Full Eclipse (1993)
directed by Anthony Hickox
There was a time when Mario Van Peebles was on the verge of becoming a big star, but it just should not be. On the other hand, he probably would not have elevated entertaining gems like this HBO-production with his presence, if he had entered the league of A- listers after his breakthrough with New Jack City.
Peebles plays super-cop Max who joins a mysterious police elite force after the suicide of his buddy. It’s the typical “law enforcers unite as secret vigilante group”-plot we know from so many movies, from Dirty Harry II to The Star Chamber, but this time- you guessed it, they are werewolves!
Another movie on this list that is pretty much a product of its time while also being ahead of it. Director Anthony Hickox (Hellraiser III) adopted the stylistics of the then flourishing “heroic bloodshed” subgenre of the Hong Kong cinema for the excellent action scenes of this movie years before Hollywood started exploiting it. Influences from the X-Men comics are also evident in the concept of the super-powered elite troop. Lead actor Van Peebles relies mainly on his charisma while his antagonist, 90s staple-baddie Bruce Payne is hamming it up with style. Patsy Kensit seems to be cast solely to serve as eye candy. All in all a very solid fun ride whose last scene teases a sequel which sadly never realized.
Crest of the Wolf aka Horror of the Wolf (1973)
OT: Ôkami no monshô
directed by Masashi Matsumoto
A true rarity worth seeking out, currently sadly only available as a VHS bootleg lacking subs. Crest of the Wolf is based on the Manga “Wolf Guy” (Urufu Gai) by Kazumasa Hirai and Hisashi Sakaguchi.
As soon as the mysterious exchange student Akira Inugami arrives at his new high school, he becomes the target of a ruthless gang that is controlling the school. Little do they know that he also happens to be the last descendant in a bloodline of a lycanthrope clan whose members had been hunted down by the humans over the centuries (which might be a socio-critical commentary on the status of the Ainu, the indigenous people of Japan). By using his wolf powers, Akira plans to stop the gang’s reign of terror.
It’s an archetypical (male) teenage self-empowerment fantasy – a plot pattern that became, in thousands of variations, a staple in both Western and Eastern pop culture, most notably manifested in superhero comics. This is no I was a Teenage Werewolf though, because I doubt that Michael Landon would have signed on to star in this melange of Clockwork Orange– inspired (sexual) violence, gore and nudity. There are all ingredients of the nihilist Japanese exploitation cinema of the 70s: Plenty of style but leaving you wondering if they really put thought into who their intended target audience should be- the goofy, almost cutesy werewolf mask alone does not make this sleazefest any more kid/teen-appropriate.
One of those odd flowers that grew out of the dark crevices of movie history, a byproduct of a wildly flourishing pop culture.
Wolfguy: Enraged Lycanthrope (1975)
OT: Urufu gai: Moero ôkami-otoko
directed by Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
…gotta love the English title.
A very loose, half-official sequel to Crest of the Wolf (see above). It explores the premise of what would happen if the hero Akira Inugami (*inu:dog, kami/gami:god) grew up to be a no-nonsense reporter, who is also solving crimes. And what if he was played by Sonny Chiba this time? Now I got your attention!
This time he is facing his worst enemies in the shape of a woman with psychic tiger powers and an organisation that tries to harvest his powers.
While the predecessor was a variation on the high school gang- exploitation movies of that era, the first half of the sequel perfectly fits into the wave of sleazy but stylish Japanese Yakuza flicks of the 70s, energetic and fast paced, with a seriously funky soundtrack. In the second half, things go even more crazy when the fantastical elements kick in. More emphasis was put on the back story of his origin, which leads, in best Japanese fashion, to an icky revelation.
One gripe I have with this movie is that the lycanthropy is, in contrast to Crest of the Wolf, just symbolical and expressed by the lead’s powers, there is no full-blown werewolf costume or makeup. Otherwise it’s a blast, if sadly also only available as a VHS-bootleg, but with subtitles at least.
What else is to learn from this movie? That Chiba would have made a great “Wolverine” during his heyday. Speaking of, plot-wise there are some baffling parallels to The Wolverine, which makes me wonder if this film was used as an inspiration for the superhero movie spin-off.
That’s all folks. How many one of those have you seen? Do you agree or disagree with my assessments? Are there any other noteworthy ones that should have been on the list?