Friday, October 02, 2009

WEREWOLVES AND HAIRY BACKS






Even a man who is young at heart,
And says his prayers by night,
May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms....
And the autumn moon is bright.


---Universal Pictures' "The Wolfman"

There is something seductive about power, and the werewolf, the ultimate representation of savagry, is one of literature's most primitive displays of animal rage and power in its darkest aspect. This ancient horror, recounted by the likes of Herodotus, Virgil, Ovid, and Pliny the Elder, has probably been part of our lore long before there was written history. The terror generated by the beast taps into the same unease we feel when we consider the likes of Charles Manson or Jeffrey Dalmer... we are unable to fathom that sort of savagery and we know that without warning we can change from observer to prey. Of course, some would argue that the werewolf acts with the pure motives of an animal, exhilirated by the hunt. I'd argue that the werewolf as it's been depicted isn't a pure animal but a manifestation of our darkest natures, hunting not for food but for the thrill of inciting terror and for the pleasure of the kill.

From a literary standpoint, there are few stories or novels where the werewolf has managed to shine. You won't find a werewolf equivalent to Dracula, for instance. Larry Talbot, (the character portrayed by Lon Chaney Jr. in Universal's "The Wolfman"), is hardly a memorable figure, there are few who would be able to remember his name. Even Stephen King's werewolf novel is hardly considered a horror classic.

The werewolf has fared better in film. Jon Landis has given us a black comedy that brilliant delivers a chill or two--"An American Werewolf In London" is brilliant. If you haven't seen it, you would do yourself a favor putting it on your list for Halloween dvds. A more recent entry into the lycanthrope's lair is the independent horror film "Dog Soldiers". The tag line for this 2002 film says it all: "Six Soldiers. Full moon. No Chance." It's a suspenseful entry that builds to a nail-biting crescendo. Again, perfect for Halloween.

What about the current trend of vampire/werewolf films you ask? What about "Rise of the Lycans". It's good fantasy---mindless adventure with great special effects. What about the sequel to Twilight that's due out? Again, fantasy, urban fantasy, paranormal romance---but not horror. Perhaps the werewolf is becoming as defanged as the vampire has been by contemporary authors and film-makers, but there's still hope. Early next year, director Joe Johnson will helm a re-telling of "The Wolfman", starring Benicio Del Toro as Lawrence Talbot and Anthony Hopkins as his father. And from the trailer, it looks like brutality of the beast is still simmering, ready to explode.


And for those of you who like your lycanthropy from a Judaic perspective----here's Werewolf Bar-Mitzvah......

Stay tuned for the next post: THE PSYCHOLOGY OF HALLOWEEN

8 comments:

SQT said...

Stephen King has a werewolf novel?

You are so right that the werewolf myth doesn't have a story that has really solidified the story like "Dracula." Werewolves are part of the paranormal rage right now, but like everything else, they've been turned into an angsty character in a romance novel. Silly.

Have you been working on something with werewolves or zombies? I could see you bringing back the horror.

willow said...

Wow, your blog gives me the willies. Great stuff. Are you scary year round or just for Halloween?

Thanks for stopping by and for the kind words.

Barbara Martin said...

Somebody ought to make werewolves the nasty fearsome creatures they are.

Charles Gramlich said...

Makes me want to write the "Great Werewolf Novel'

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT
A film starring Gary Busey and I think Corey Haim was based on the King novel and it wasn't half bad. As for me? I'm wrapping up a zombie novel, which if it goes well will be the first of a possible trilogy. My goal in the writing has been to focus on the human element and to try and keep it as fresh as possible.
WILLOW
I'm scary all year round. My wife assures me of this.
BARBARA
I agree...werewolves deserve better than to be reduced a manifestation of teen angst.
CHARLES
Someone has to do it.

SQT said...

Stu-- I'm reading a book right now that has a steampunk/zombie combo. Sounds strange but so far it's really good. It's called "Boneshaker" by Cherie Priest. I'll put a review up when I'm done. I keep thinking it would be something you would like.

Jon said...

Vampires are so evil because they are so attractive. We invite them in. They are portrayed as handsome, clever, even classy.

Werewolves are evil because they are human-like but unattractive...but somehow less horrible for it. We somehow rather expect the gross and the ugly to be dangerous and so we avoid it.

And with Charles Manson and the like, our werewolves have become familiar.

Stewart Sternberg said...

SQT--I'll check it out. THanks.
JON--I think you raise a valid point, and I think your comment about werewolves is certainly part of the puzzle.