While zombies, vampires and witches are getting all the attention these days when it comes to the classic horror icons, we can’t forget the importance of werewolves to the horror genre either. Hollywood has given us some memorable werewolf transformations… and some not so memorable ones too. Here are five of the very best… and worst.
5. Oz on Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Let’s face it, while we all loved (and still love) Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer for its brilliant writing and cast, we didn’t really love it for its effects or makeup. Those were both a little on the cheap side. When it came to creature makeup, maybe the biggest ball was dropped on Seth Green’s werewolf character Oz. When he was originally introduced, his wolf look wasn’t too bad, although the wolf head was pretty static and looked a lot like it was just an expensive mask (again, no budget, I get it.) It looked kind of inspired by the look of the werewolves in The Howling. But in later seasons, he inexplicably changed his wolf look into what looked less like a wolf and more like an angry version of Chaka from Land of the Lost. And the transformations were always just cheap looking morph effects. Buffy did a lot of things right… but werewolf transformations? Not really one of them.
4. Alcide on True Blood
Ask any True Blood fan what is the worst part of the series, besides the endless “who gets to fuck Sookie?” story lines, and they’ll almost all tell you the same thing: the werewolves. No matter how hard they’ve tried, Alan Ball and the makers of the show have failed to get the audience to connect or care about any of those white-trash biker werewolves that fill up way too much screen time on the show, aside from main good-guy wolf Alcide Herveuex, and that’s just because he’s so damn hot and usually naked. Aside from being boring characters, the werewolves have the cheapest transformations into wolves, as all they do is do a quick morph/dissolve thingy. C’mon, HBO, I know you can afford more money in the budget than that for effects. Then again, if it means more screen time for the werewolves… maybe it’s better that we don’t get it.
After the extremely successful Scream trilogy that brought so much good fortune to both director Wes Craven and writer Kevin Williamson, the duo decided to team up once more for a werewolf-themed movie. The end result was aptly titled Cursed. The movie had script problems from the get-go, which delayed shooting for months upon months, and many cast members left before being replaced. The studio wanted something more funny than scary, and what we ended up with was one of the worst werewolf movies ever made. Especially awful is the transformation scene; the CGI looks early ’90s levels of awful, even though this was made in 2005, well past the point of any major motion picture CGI having to looking as bad as it does here. It almost looks like a werewolf from a Shrek movie.
2. Van Helsing
Van Helsing was Universal Picture’s most recent attempt to cash in on its treasure trove of monster icons,= by combining Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolf Man all into one movie, fighting the titular monster hunter, now a bad-ass Hugh Jackman. (This was all done better and for less money when it was called The Monster Squad.) Stephen Sommers had earlier success with The Mummy remake, but whatever goodwill he won with that movie was lost by the time Van Helsing came out in 2004. An orgy of bad CGI effects, perhaps the worst was the werewolf character, who looked straight out of a video game from 1998. Sommers somehow avoided going to director jail after this movie came out, but instead kept getting big budget movie gigs like G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. Go figure.
1. An American Werewolf in Paris
The truly terrible follow up to John Landis’ classic film, An American Werewolf in Paris has an early example of a CGI werewolf transformation. This is a textbook example of why, in almost every case, a practical effects transformation is almost always preferred to a computer generated one, especially back in 1997, when CGI was still in its infancy. Big budget movies from Spielberg could pull off realistic CGI at this point, but low budget horror like this just looked fake as hell. It also didn’t help that the movie pretty much sucked, period.
5. The Company of Wolves
An independent British film from 1984, there’s a good chance you’ve never heard of or seen this one. Directed by Interview with the Vampire‘s Neil Jordan, this was a weird little flick, to be sure. The Company of Wolves was the precursor to all these adult re-inventions of fairy tales you see today, this one of course being Little Red Riding Hood. What is terrifying and memorable about this particular transformation is the way a full wolf’s head seems to jump out fully formed out of a man’s mouth, shedding his human form as if it were a snake shedding its skin. It’s creepy and very effective, and also something that was likely done on a budget, and done well, no easy task.
4. Fright Night
Ok, technically Fright Night is a vampire movie, but the vamps in Fright Night have the ability to turn into wolves as well (the producers didn’t pull this out of their ass either; the vamps in the original version of Bram Stoker’s Dracula could do the same trick.) While the transformation into a wolf by the movie’s vampiric minion character Evil Ed was only seen off screen, his transformation back into a human was seen, a great blend of prosthetic make-ups and old school camera tricks.
3. The Howling
The other great werewolf movie of 1981 (see our #1 entry for what the first one is) had a pretty terrifying transformation all of its own. The wolves in this flick’s transformation scenes were created by effects artist Rob Bottin (The Thing, Total Recall), who came into the production after original artist Rick Baker left for another movie (again, see our #1 entry to see what that movie is.) This movie is also notable for its werewolf transformation scene between a male and female wolf in the middle of having sex. Try and top that, MTV’s Teen Wolf.
No really, please try and top it, and maybe then I’ll watch Teen Wolf.
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
Although not the original cinematic werewolf (that would be 1935’s Werewolf of London), it was Lon Chaney’s Wolf-Man make-up from the 1941 film, done by Universal’s legendary make-up artist Jack Pierce, who also designed the looks of Frankenstein and the other Universal monsters, that set the standard for what we all still think of as a typical werewolf to this day. Jack Pierce had designed the same werewolf make-up for the lead actor in Werewolf of London, but he refused to wear the heavy prosthetics and instead looked less like a wolf and more like another version of Mr. Hyde. That movie bombed, but when Universal decided to try again with the werewolf concept, this time they were able to convince their lead actor to wear the original make-up, and the rest is history.
1. An American Werewolf in London
Over thirty years since this movie’s release, John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London is still the reigning champ of werewolf transformations in cinema. A fairly straightforward story — two American tourists get attacked by a werewolf, one gets killed, the other transformed — but it is the award winning transformation effects by Rick Baker that really make this film a true classic. Baker’s use of both prosthetics and robotics made the entire transformation seem as horrifyingly painful as it would be if one’s body was contorting into another form. Not to be outdone by anyone but himself, Baker and Landis re-teamed to do a werewolf transformation for Michael Jackson for his now-legendary Thriller video. But even that doesn’t outdo their original effort in An American Werewolf in London, still the standard by which all others are compared.