Special Features

                                                     By Laura Schultz

Our fascination with werewolves in fables, novels and films taps into some of the
most frightening and untamable portions of the human psyche. It seems almost
magically embedded in the fabric of our inner fantasy life that somehow we would
feel more powerful, if only we could unleash the beast within…. allowing our wild
and lustful nature to run free.

In the modern media a werewolf is portrayed as a regular man who is cursed with
some evil desire (or a bewitching ‘bad boy”) who is transformed into a ferocious
wolf. The dramatic shift in form, coupled with horrifying growls and an
unquenchable desire for flesh has mesmerized audiences for generations.  This
hideous creature was painstakingly created for the silver screen from vast layers
of make-up and awe inspiring special effects. Hollywood brilliantly captured the
concept of the beast within us that is capable of unbridled passion, lust and
mayhem. And ever since that time, actors and studio executives have been
“howling all the way to the bank”.

Many people believe that the mythology surrounding werewolves is a modern
phenomenon. However, nothing could be further from the truth. The folklore about
werewolves and actual accounts of people changing into wolves or other animals
(known as “shapeshifting”) was documented as early as the 2nd century in
Europe. Historically, impulses that were associated with untamable desires such
as lust were viewed as negative or evil. These desires were referred to what was
known as “the internalized beast”.  But as legendary accounts of actual
werewolves spread throughout Europe the fear of becoming “one of them” also
spread far and wide.  And a massive panic ensued. During the witch hunts of the
15 century, suspected werewolves (who were viewed as demonic) were put to

The medical field developed a diagnosis for a syndrome called “Lycanthropy”
(meaning “werewolfism”) that was considered to be a form of insanity.  In this so-
called “mental illness”, the patient believed that he/she had the capability of
transforming into a werewolf.  It was Sigmund Freud’s study of his most famous
patient referred to in his notes as the “Case of the Wolfman” (who had a
childhood fear of wolves) that formed the basis of his popular theory of the
unconscious. He was convinced that the unconscious was the center of our
primitive, instinctual desires, i.e “the wild beast within”. This belief led him to the
idea that masculinity involved an inner struggle between man and beast.  

We first witnessed this inner struggle in the film “Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde” (1931) as
the mild-mannered Dr. Jekyl became a hard drinking, woman chasing hairy beast
with canine teeth as Mr. Hyde. This groundbreaking movie garnered its star
Frederick March, an Academy Award for Best Actor. A few years later, “The
Werewolf of London” (1935) added shadows and fog along with grizzly murders to
the plot that formed a new visual of a werewolf who developed pointed ears and
wolf-like claws.

As the werewolf magic began to unfold, the aged old belief that lycanthropy could
be transmitted from werewolf to an innocent person through a bite became classic
in “The Wolf Man” (1941, starring Lon Chaney, Jr.). This movie depicted
lycanthropy or “werewolfism” as a tragic curse inflicted on a decent man as he lost
his battle with the werewolf within him. The audience felt great sympathy for this
man who was transformed by the light of the moon and whose only escape was
the painful death that could only be inflicted by a silver bullet.   

As our societal beliefs evolved regarding masculinity and femininity and we
allowed more open discussions about sexuality, our movies evolved as well. In
films such as “I Was a Teenage Werewolf” (1957), “Teen Wolf” (1985) and the
sequel “Teen Wolf Too” (1987) themes of the adolescent struggle with budding
sexuality were addressed. Young teenage boys grew hair on their chests and their
voices deepened. Both “The Howling” (1980) and “Wolfen” (1981, starring Albert
Finney) reflected the newly evolving masculine identity mixed with adult themes of
sexuality. In “Wolfen” one of the most profound lines was “You can’t tame what’s
meant to be wild”. These films were also great triumphs of the new age of special
effects technology that focused on flexing body muscles and skin shedding with
equally scary, gigantic wolves. Audiences flocked to these movies and “Wolfen”
became more popular than ‘Frankenstein” or “Dracula”.

Around the same time, feminist writers emerged with their own ideas about
werewolves. According to Barbara Creed in the book “The Curse of the Werewolf:
Fantasy, Horror and the Beast Within” (by Chantal Coudray), “the idea that
werewolves made their transition during the full moon was a symbolic reference to
the menstrual cycle”. She further suggested that werewolves who were depicted
as males in film represented the repressed feminine energy within a masculine
body. There were very few if any female werewolves in films at that time but as we
will soon see, that all changed as well.

In the 1984 film “The Company of Wolves” (starring Angela Landsbury) a new
twist was woven from the classic “Little Red Riding Hood”. In this haunting dark
mystery of a young girl’s journey into adulthood her grandmother tells her “A wolf
may be much more than he seems and once the bloom is gone, the real beast
comes out. But, if there’s a beast in men, he finds his match in women”. In the
magical forest dwelled giant phallic-shaped mushrooms as we hear the poem

“As be pretty, must be wise,
Wolves may lurk in every guise
As was then, still now is truth
The sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth”

Though this movie finally addressed a woman’s power, many more have emerged
that actually depict impressive female werewolves.  In “Wolf” (starring Jack
Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer) a mild mannered rather asexual magazine editor
is bitten by a wolf and in the aftermath exacts his revenge on the man who betrays
him (played by James Spader) as well as his adulterous wife. Suddenly every
attractive woman hovers around him but it is Michelle Pfeiffer who proves to be the
ultimate match as his female counterpart and ultimate wolf-mate.  

“Ginger Snaps” (2002) portrays two teenage sisters who have immersed
themselves in the Gothic lifestyle and while experiencing her first period on the
night of a full moon, Ginger is savagely attacked by a werewolf. Shortly thereafter,
tufts of hair appear on her chest, neighbor dogs bark when near her and she
becomes unusually sexually aggressive with classmates. In the film “Dog Soldiers”
(2002) a young girl who is supposedly protecting soldiers becomes a werewolf
herself and wreaks havoc among them.

In recent blockbusters such as “Underworld: Evolution” (2006) and “Underworld:
Rise of the Lycans”(2009) sexuality is much more overt than in older films.
Starring a very sensuous Rhona Mitra as Sonia, (daughter of the greatest of
vampires) falls in love with the equally as powerful werewolf Lucien. Kate
Beckinsale as the character Selene is equally compelling. In this modern day
Romeo and Juliet story, audiences were “wowed” by the awesome special effects
in gruesome but lustful battle scenes. While erotically dressed vampire women
observe, Sonia tells her suitor, “Don’t be Afraid of me.  I don’t bite…….much.”

It seems that moviemakers have finally caught up with our beliefs about equality of
the sexes and if my prediction is correct, we will continue to witness a new wave of
expressions of our evolving sexual identities disguised as both werewolves and
vampires. “The Twilight Saga: New Moon (2009) marked a rebirth of both
vampires and werewolves as sex symbols. Already slated for next year is a
remake of the 1941 classic “The Wolf Man” starring Benicio Del Toro in an erotic
version of the original.  

As the popularity of the mixture of horror and erotica rises, Hollywood will
undoubtedly find creative ways that captivate our thirst to uncover the mystery of
“the beast within”.
For article Love at First
Bite: Vampires and
click here

For article Dancing
with Werewolves: The
erotic Beast Within,
click here

For Werewolves on TV,
click here

For Kids: Review of TV
show The Troop,