Recently, Universal Studios announced another Wolfman remake starring Ryan Gosling. After the failures of the last remake and The Mummy, however, Universal’s announcement wouldn’t normally inspire excitement. Then along came the recent The Invisible Man remake and suddenly a remake of The Wolf Man has potential. Either way, now feels like as good a time as any to list some of the best werewolf movies currently available. Despite recent periods of mainstream success for vampires and zombies, the werewolf hasn’t enjoyed the same resurgence. Maybe Ryan Gosling’s star power can push the legendary horror villain back into the limelight … or moonlight. If you’re look for a primer on werewolves, below is a list of the five best werewolf movies of all time.
5 – Dog Soldiers (2002)
British director Neil Marshall’s The Descent is one of the best horror movies made this century. Too bad his Hellboy reboot bombed – it’s not great, but certainly had some inspired moments. And Doomsday was at least half of a great homage to post-apocalyptic thrillers. For his directorial debut, Marshall gave us British soldiers battling werewolves in the Scottish highlands. Yes, it’s as awesome as it sounds. With a fantastic cast of British character actors and impressive werewolf effects, Dog Soldiers feels like a spiritual descendant of Aliens. There’s an apt balance of action, horror, and humour across the movie’s trim runtime along with a few decent surprises. Trust me, the cover art for some of the DVD and Blu-ray releases don’t do Dog Soldiers justice. Marshall’s executions far removes his movie from any expected B-movie cheesiness.
4 – Ginger Snaps (2000)
This Canadian horror export completely subverted werewolf tropes. What director John Fawcett gave us was an atmospheric, quirky, feminist horror movie. That it, Ginger Snaps spins the werewolf mythology as a story of sexual awakening for its awkward outcast title character, Ginger. Given its lower budget, Fawcett wisely elects to keep his werewolf in the shadows. However, there’s no shortage of werewolf blood and guts for horror fans. Yet it’s the relationship between sisters Ginger and Emily – played by Katharine Isabelle (The Order, American Mary) and Emily Perkins, respectively – that makes this one stand out. Everything about the movie is enveloped in an affecting sadness. By the conclusion, you’ve invested in the sisters’ relationship and struggle. A very good sequel followed Ginger Snaps.
3 – The Wolf Man (1941)
Yes, I recognize I may catch flak for putting The Wolf Man at only Number 3 on this list. It wasn’t the first werewolf movie, but Universal’s 1941 classic put the werewolf on the map. For approximately four decades, Jack Pierce’s make-up effects lingered in public consciousness as the image of the werewolf. To date, horror icon Lon Chaney Jr remains the performer most strongly associated with the role. And The Wolf Man’s gorgeous black and white cinematography and Gothic imagery still makes for required Halloween viewing. Nonetheless, nearly 80 years after its release, some elements of the movie feel dated. Though it’s still an atmospheric viewing experience, it’s likely not a chilling movie for contemporary audiences. It’s legacy is secured, but it’s not the best werewolf today.
2 – The Howling (1981)
If the turn of this century saw zombies and vampires spark renewed public interest, the early 1980’s was werewolf crazy. Even Michael J Fox got in on the act in Teen Wolf – which isn’t on this list. Sitting at Number 2, Joe Dante’s The Howling was a perfect homage to cinematic werewolf lore. Yet in spite of its fun references to classic werewolf movies, The Howling carved out its own identity. Screenwriters John Sayles (Piranha) and Terence H Winkless’ story of a traumatized news anchor seeking treatment at the remote ‘New Age’ “Colony” packs in a lot of subtle, dark humour. But don’t worry, Dante weaves this dark humour with genuine werewolf horror. As for the werewolf effects, Rob Bottin’s (Humanoids from the Deep, The Thing) work here has only one equal.
1 – An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Nearly 40 years after its release, An American Werewolf in London is still the definitive werewolf movie. Like The Howling, An American Werewolf in London is both funny and genuinely scary. Some of the humour is a little less subtle. But that’s not a bad thing. And the nightmare scenes pack some of the best jump scares you’ll find in a horror movie. Some of what Landis gets into these scenes is wonderfully eccentric. Regardless of all the advances in CGI technology, Rick Baker’s werewolf transformation effects here are still the benchmark. Nothing else, aside from The Howling, comes close. The werewolf transformation is an absolute spectacle. Besides its fantastic direction and effect, An American Werewolf in London also comes with a groovy retro soundtrack.