Watching Like a Writer is a movie review series that looks at films from the perspective of a fiction writer, complete with one writing takeaway, and an exercise that will help better your fiction!
While werewolves are as widely known, beloved, and discussed in popular culture as vampires and zombies, there aren’t nearly as many successful films about the howling creature. Vampires have Dracula and Buffy, and zombies have the Night of the Living Dead series, but werewolves have little more than a Lon Chaney classic and an ’80s comedy horror masterpiece. And no, Jacob Black doesn’t count! Let’s take a look at the five best werewolf movies…
5. Silver Bullet (1985)
It’s not one of the better known Stephen King adaptations; this one might rank with the B-grade The Mangler and Graveyard Shift as movies people are aware of. One of his few adaptations that King wrote the screenplay for himself, this (unintentionally?) funny film, about a handicapped boy who assumes a mad killer on the loose isn’t a person at all but a werewolf, stars Gary Busey, Lost’s Terry O’Quinn, and a young Corey Haim.
4. The Howling (1981)
Director pals Joe Dante and John Landis, who would both team up to direct segments of the Twilight Zone movie, made werewolf movies around the same time, and Dante’s came first, this supremely entertaining film starring Dee Wallace. The movie, which inspired an endless series of direct-to-video sequels, and was written by accomplished writer/director John Sayles, has impressive scares, performances, and special effects make-up.
3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
This is one of those movies that come out of nowhere to scare the living bejeezus out of its viewers. Released straight-to-video in the US in 2001, this film has developed a cult following over the last decade. Shot on a tight budget, and featuring mostly unknown actors, this gothic rollercoaster ride that presents werewolf transformations as a metaphor for puberty starts slow and careens toward a bloody, shocking ending.
2. The Wolf Man (1941)
She-Wolf of London and Werewolf of London are two entertaining werewolf classics, but no older film comes close to the joys and timelessness of Universal Pictures’ The Wolf Man, starring the great Lon Chaney, Jr. When people think of werewolf movies, this is probably the one that most often comes to mind, as it’s one of the most famous and certainly the most iconic. It’s also a ton of fun.
1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
While it might be difficult to pick a favorite in other best-of movie lists, the top choice here is far and away the best werewolf movie out there. This is the one that gets everything right, with a near-perfect mix of comedy, horror, romance, and surprises. The acting is top-notch, the song choices are unique and memorable, and Rick Baker’s Oscar-winning make-up is a wonder to behold. This is a must-see horror gem.
Watching Like a Writer
John Landis’ fantastic An American Werewolf in London makes me think about how to blend comedy with horror in my fiction. My Grisly High trilogy, which I wrote in 2011 and 2012, blended moments of silliness and hilarity with moments of sheer terror, and I feel like I pulled off this difficult mix maybe fifty percent of the time. If horror fiction becomes too silly, it’s impossible to then later make that same story scary, and so there needs to be a delicate balance between comedy and terror in a work of horror fiction.
Think of your favorite horror novel or short story that had moments of comedy to help alleviate the tension. How was the comedy added effectively?