Werewolves in Cinema

Two of the most iconic transformation sequences in cinema history feature the metamorphosis from man to werewolf; The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, both made in 1981. Both sequences demonstrate a mastery of creature effects, created using prosthetics and stop motion. I prefer these earlier cinema werewolf transformations than any modern CGI versions (such as Hemlock Grove, 2013) , not only because often the final outcome is far more monstrous in appearance, but there is something more tangible about these monsters that were actually there in the room, the actor’s performance, working with the complex prosthetics, much more believable. Many claim that special effects of movies from this time have dated badly, and while that is often the case with computer generated effects, these creature effects are still powerful. There is a rawness and brutality to them that has yet to be captured by CGI. Of the two 1981 transformations, I have to admit to preferring that of The Howling, although both are visually fantastic. Of the two, the former is just somewhat more visceral, with the bubbling of the skin suggesting some horrible chemical reaction going on beneath the skin.

The Company of Wolves (1984, dir. Neil Jordan), a film adaptation of short stories by Angela Carter, portrays not only werewolf tales and transformations, but also a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood. Once a rural French folktale known as The Story of Grandmother, this story was transformed by Charles Perrault (17th century) and the Brothers Grimm (early 19th century), who turned it into the popular version we know today, full of moral warnings against the gullibility of young women, easily led into sin.

“…Charles Perrault and the Grimm Brothers transformed an oral folk tale about the social initiation of a young woman into a narrative about rape in which the heroine is obliged to bear the responsibility for sexual violation.” (Zipes, Jack, A Second Gaze at Little Red Riding Hood’s Trials and Tribulations, p.78)

Little Red Riding Hood being gobbled up by the Big Bad Wolf, illustration by Daniel Egneus, 2011

Little Red Riding Hood being gobbled up by the Big Bad Wolf, illustration by Daniel Egneus, 2011

However, The Company of Wolves presents a very different Red Riding Hood in the form of Rosaleen who, although she agrees to the Huntsman’s race, when she discovers his true identity as a wolf, quickly defends herself, even attempting to attack him with a knife and gun. Contrary to the Perrault and Grimm versions, Rosaleen doesn’t need to be recused by a man, indeed, the typically heroic huntsman has become the wolf, showing that no man can be trusted in the deep dark woods. Although afraid, Rosaleen defies the Red Riding Hood tradition of naivety and of course, being gobbled up. Curious about the wolf man, she tries to understand his nature, not turning away even as he changes from man to beast in another great transformation sequence. She may give in to a kiss with the wolf, but quickly shoots him after her exclamation “Jesus, what big teeth you have!”. This Red Riding Hood proves herself as a young woman not to be trifled with, giving up her childhood innocence, not because of lust or foolishness, but so that she may become an independent young woman, fully capable of taking care of herself.


About startlediguana

Miscellaneous art history blog made for a module at uni. The likelihood of future posts is slim at best, like sliced cheese.
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One Response to Werewolves in Cinema

  1. I love these. Truly iconic scenes.

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