Friday, March 18, 2011

Tropes, Transformations and Terror: Where Will Red Riding Hood Fit In Werewolf Movie History?

 Crossposted on and photos provided by

With Red Riding Hood opening this past weekend, we decided to take a look back at previous werewolf movies in an effort to investigate how Hardwicke's take on the classic tale stacks up against other movies featuring the same monster and if it provides us with anything we haven't seen before. After a week straight of werewolf movie after werewolf movie, I can safely say that pulling one off is no easy feat. Luckily, most of the films I've checked out have been right on the money, but the ones that aren't ... oh boy, the ones that aren't. So which ones should you check out in order to be properly educated pre-Red Riding Hood, and which tropes does the new movie have in common with werewolf movies of yore? Read on to find out.

The Wolfman (1941)
The one that started it all. Sorry, Werewolf of London, made six years earlier and also worth seeing, but you aren't the film constantly referenced or remade. The sweet, harmless Larry Talbot comes home. Larry Talbot gets turned into a werewolf, which means some days of the month he is no longer sweet and harmless.
Protagonist as werewolf? Yes.
Transformation scene? Yup.
Cognizant as werewolf? No.
Type of werewolf: Mostly man, biped, makeup.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yes. The gypsies know all about them.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Yes. Everyone else thinks of "lyncanthropy" as a psychological disorder.
Sex scene? No, though there is a love story.
Scare level: Has its moments.
Worth seeing? Is that a real question? The Wolfman is the film most often referenced in the werewolf movies that followed and is considered the definitive film of its kind. Lon Chaney was one of a kind and you definitely feel for him and his plight.

She-Wolf Of London (1946)
When a young woman discovers mud on her shoes after a string of murders begin to take place in the local park, she becomes convinced that the legend of her family's curse is true, and she is a werewolf.
Protagonist as werewolf? Maybe.
Transformation scene? No.
Cognizant as werewolf? As she wakes up every morning not knowing what happened, I'll say no.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yes.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Yes, a "mad-woman."
Sex scene? No, though there is a love story or two.
Scare level: Mostly scary through tension and unease.
Worth seeing? Yes, especially for fans of Hitchcock or noir. This film is essentially noir, if werewolves were a real-life entity to be concerned about. I don't want to give too much away, but the film is extremely suspenseful and mostly a whodunit, filled with a good number of red herrings and misdirections. Plus it's only an hour long!

An American Werewolf in LondonAn American Werewolf in London (1981)
Two young American guys go to London. One, David, gets turned into a werewolf; the other gets killed. Werewolf cutie David falls in love with a hot nurse, but when he discovers what he has become, realizes he may not have a future with her. Or anyone. Or anything. 'Cause, you know, he's a werewolf.
Werewolf as protagonist? Yup.
Transformation scene? Two of them. And they're the best.
Cognizant as werewolf? Nope.
Type of werewolf:Giant, quadruped, mostly wolf, not cute, makeup/animatronics.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? So much so that David even references The Wolfman as how he knows what the pentagram symbol on the wall of the Slaughtered Lamb means.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Yes.
Sex scene? Yes.
Scare level: Not constant, but there when it matters.
Worth seeing? YESSSSS. This movie is gold. It's equal parts scary, funny, and sexy. Yup. Sexy. I love this movie. Rick Baker got an Oscar for the makeup, natch (in fact this movie is literally why there is an Oscar for makeup), and the first transformation scene is almost painful to watch in terms of accuracy. Or I mean, what I assume is accuracy. Plus it adds a sense of urgency and a real impetus as to why the werewolf can't simply be locked up when it's a full moon. There is a reason the werewolf must die, which I hadn't seen in a werewolf movie before. Oh, and the ending rules. Just see it.

More after the jump!

The HowlingThe Howling (1981)
A news reporter is sent to a retreat in the woods called The Colony after being traumatized by a serial killer attack and some s*#t goes down. Haven't we learned by now to just never go into the woods unless you want to encounter werewolves?
Werewolf as protagonist? No. But. Well. See it.
Transformation scene? Oh yes. The most disturbing of the bunch.
Cognizant as werewolf? Yes, but because the werewolf takes over the human personality as well, unless you are strong enough to resist. Can transform at will.
Type of werewolf: Biped wolfmen, gross and scary. Makeup, stop-motion animation, puppetry.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? They do. The ones who figure it out spend time in an occult bookstore and watch 1941's The Wolfman.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? In a throwaway line on a background television, lycanthropy is described to outsiders as a "disease of the mind," just like in The Wolfman.
Sex scene: Boy is there.
Scare level: Very high.
Worth seeing? YES. The precursor to Dog Soldiers in terms of real horror through werewolves. Although it was made in the same year as An American Werewolf in London with initial creature effects by the same man (Rick Baker), both have important scenes having to do with pornography, and in both, dreams play a role, the two movies are incredibly different -- but both are equally fantastic. This film starts as more of a psychological thriller before fully delving into horror. The usual tropes are there -- quick healing, getting bit and surviving changes one into a werewolf, silver bullets are the only way to kill them -- but does not follow the full moon part of werewolf lore. What makes The Howling distinct is the way it deals with sexuality, with the nature of the beast. It sits much more in your psychosis as an audience member than other werewolf movies and is the most disturbing because of it. Though a couple years later, a very different genre of werewolf movie came along that dealt with similar, and somehow even creepier themes. Spoiler Alert: It's the next movie I'm going to talk about.

The Company of WolvesThe Company of Wolves (1984)
A young girl's dreams place her in the role of Red Riding Hood in a nightmarish retelling of the tale, mostly focused on subconscious fears and desires -- men as wolves, wolves as men, and what that means for little girls who stray off the path. Neil Jordan's (The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire) second feature film.
Werewolf as protagonist? No. But a The Howling kind of no.
Transformation scene? A couple, playing with the idea that the wolf is inside and the human must shed his skin for the wolf to appear. The first scene in which this idea comes to visual fruition is extremely, disturbingly creepy.
Cognizant as werewolf? It would appear so, with the wolf as a part of the being overall ("hairy on the inside").
Type of werewolf: Actual wolf wolves, although during the transformation, they are briefly skinless human-wolf skeleton hybrids of make-me-cry-ness.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yes, Rosaleen learns all about them from her grandmother. While others call them stories, grandmother calls them fact.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? When the wolf commits a crime, everyone knows it's a wolf. It isn't until Rosaleen's father kills one and sees its paw turn into a hand that the town knows the wolf is a werewolf.
Sex scene? No, but there is an inappropriate kiss.
Scare level? High, but more so in that under your skin I'm gonna be creeped out and bothered for days kind of way.
Worth seeing? Yes, especially if you're particularly into the gothic fairy tale side of werewolf stories. This one posits that the werewolf in the Red Riding Hood story has a sexual connection with the young girl, which adds a whole new level of upsetting to the story as we know it. It's very British, it's quite surreal, it's sexual, and it features a lot of heads getting batted off various bodies. Definitely a precursor to Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood, I'd be surprised if it wasn't listed as an influence in some way.

Ginger SnapsGinger Snaps (2000)
Best use of werewolfism as a metaphor for puberty ever. Two goth sisters have a pact to always stay together. But then one of them gets bitten by a werewolf the same night she gets her period. Chaos ensues. Really awesome Canadian chaos.
Werewolf as protagonist? Not exactly.
Transformation scene? Yes, although many subtle transformations take place in small bits throughout the course of the movie.
Cognizant as werewolf? Yes, but being infected influences the carrier's human behavior as well, so while the wolf is self-aware, it's self-aware as an evil being.
Type of werewolf: Semi-sexy human-wolf hybrid until the official change. Then a super ugly quadruped; makeup, animatronics.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yup.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Nope. The other trope. Large unidentified beast. Eats mostly dogs.
Sex scene: Yes.
Scare level: Not quite as high as some of the others, but it's there. Perhaps is more scary on an intimate level, witnessing something horrific come between sisters who were otherwise so close.
Worth seeing? Yes. This movie uses the werewolf thing as a metaphor for something very real, so at least I, as a former teenage girl, very much connected to it. It's actually very reminiscent of the recent Jennifer's Body, but with sisters instead of best friends and a werewolf infecting one instead of a demon. In fact, I'd have a hard time believing Diablo Cody wouldn't site Ginger Snaps as an influence or movie she loves. Ginger Snaps also changes a lot of the rules -- silver doesn't do anything, the beast doesn't turn back into a human once dead, the transformation occurs slowly over the course of a month, the lycanthropy acts as a virus that can be transmitted like an STD, through blood and sex, and most importantly, because it is a virus, there is a cure. This particular film has a lot in it that other forays into werewolf movies simply don't have, and for that reason alone it's worth checking out.

Dog SoldiersDog Soldiers (2002)
Soldiers head to the woods for an overnight training session. Things go awry. Very awry.
Werewolf as protagonist? Certainly not.
Transformation scene? Maaaybe.
Cognizant as werewolf? Possibly a tiny bit.
Type of werewolf: Giant wolfy bipeds. Makeup, animatronic, digital.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yup. Special Ops is hunting them and everyone else has heard legend and lore.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Yes.
Sex scene? No.
Scare level: Mind boggling.
Worth seeing?: ABSOEFFINGLUTELY. If you want to experience being legitimately terrified by werewolves, see this movie. Neil Marshall's debut film, released in 2001, it's bloody and filled with tension, putting an emphasis on getting teared limb from limb, not only what it looks like, but what it feels like to witness. The premise is creepy, the acting is stellar, the writing is badass (there's one monologue in particular that I'd be dying to see a kid bring into an acting class, just to see what happens), oh -- and it's Britishy British-town. In true werewolf movie fashion, the nonbelievers suspect the culprit is a "lunatic," but other than that, it falls much more into horror movie tropes than werewolf movie ones. It truly puts werewolves in a horror setting, and even though there is plenty of humor, the horror is very, very real. And you know what's kind of fun? Borrowing from Predator (or Wolfen), there are plenty of werewolf POV shots, and like in last year's Call of Duty Black Ops Zombie multiplayer, the characters repeatedly rebuild barriers after the enemies break them when they are holed up. Turn off the lights, turn up the volume, and watch this movie ASAP.

CursedCursed (2005)
Two siblings (Christina Ricci, Jesse Eisenberg) are bitten by a werewolf and have to figure out who gave them the curse and how to end it. From Scream masterminds Kevin Williamson and Wes Craven.
Werewolf as protagonist? Yes. And antagonist.
Transformation scene? Yes, CGI transformation.
Cognizant as werewolf? Definitely. Affects human behavior as well, but similarly to The Howling, it can be controlled, the cursed don't *have* to give in to their budding evil side, though they definitely get sexier, more powerful, more confident, and often slightly bitchier in human form, as was also a plot point in Ginger Snaps.
Type of werewolf: Super wolfy bipeds. Makeup, animatronic, digital.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yes, and Jesse Eisenberg's geeky character, whose hair goes from curly to straight after he becomes "cursed," discovered a lot more info through his comic books and Internet research. There is also a gypsy who recognizes the "mark of the beast," aka, you guessed it, a pentagram, which appears on the hand of a werewolf while in human form.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Nope. Wild animal.
Sex scene? No, but there is some zero-chemistry kissing: Christina Ricci and Joshua Jackson.
Scare level: Ehhhh. There may be some scares here or there, but I would call the movie fun over scary. I mean, at one point almost everyone in the film is a werewolf. It's pretty silly.
Worth seeing? Depends. In 2005? No. In 2011? Maybe. Mostly because Jesse Eisenberg plays a geeky werewolf and Milo Ventimiglia plays a jock who picks on him, then tries to make out with him. Yes, you read that correctly. Plus we get a bizarre turn from Portia de Rossi, Joshua Jackson being hot, and Judy Greer having a lot of fun chewing the scenery. Cursed changes some of the rules, which is always interesting to see but sadly, ultimately the movie is just not very good. It follows the structure of a slasher movie and almost every twist is foreseeable from a mile away. But once again, werewolf expert Rick Baker was in charge of the creature before reportedly storming off the set, makeup work later taken over by Greg Nicotero, and the creature does actually look pretty cool. I don't know about scary. But definitely cool. Oh, and the werewolf gives someone the middle finger at some point. So you know, if you are trying to watch a bunch of werewolf movies or see every movie Jesse Eisenberg has ever been in, then you'll have a good time. Otherwise, I'm sure you have better things to watch.

Blood and ChocolateBlood and Chocolate (2007)
Girl in a werewolf pack falls for a human boy, which complicates the whole she's-supposed-to-mate-with-the-werewolf-leader thing. Werewolf pack no like this.
Werewolf as protagonist? Yes and was one from the start. Antagonists are also werewolves.
Transformation scene? Many transformations, but they aren't the to-do we're used to. The human gets all glowy and light, which obscures some form-shifting, then bam! Human is a wolf.
Cognizant as werewolf? Yes. More like shapeshifters, can change at will, is a part of their entire being/ancestry.
Type of werewolf: Actual wolves. Especially cute ones too.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Yes, the love interest is researching a graphic novel about werewolves and learns about the worshipped tribe living in Romania.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? Nope. They generally only kill when the entire pack meets up in the woods -- they set loose a human that has done wrong and hunt him together, so the town doesn't really spend time discussing them.
Sex scene? No, but definitely kissing.
Scare level: None. I liked some of the action though!
Worth seeing? Ask Rotten Tomatoes. In short, no, unless you are following up your A History Of Jesse Eisenberg with A History Of Hugh Dancy. It was pretty bland and kind of boring, though plus sides include beautiful visuals (mostly due to where it was shot), real wolves (which were pretty cute), and Hugh Dancy (who was even cuter). It does play with some conventions, with the werewolf pack being revered, not hated, the "curse" actually seen as a blessing. If only the love story were actually interesting instead of consisting of nothing more than a meet cute, a chase scene, and a montage featuring the two leads playing in a fountain as all the evidence supporting them falling in love. Sigh. Not all werewolf movies are created equal.

The WolfmanThe Wolfman (2010)
In a remake of the 1941 classic, Lawrence Talbot, a beloved actor in this version, comes back to his hometown upon the death of his brother. He becomes a werewolf and chaos ensues.
Werewolf as protagonist? Yes. Also as antagonist. There's some twisty stuff, I guess.
Transformation scene? Yes. It's pretty cool, but not as gritty and uncomfortable as some of the others, mostly due to the digital effects.
Cognizant as werewolf? Ultimately -- not enough.
Type of werewolf: True to its title, a biped wolf-man, just like in the original. Pretty solid hybrid. Hella makeup. Oscar-winning hella makeup.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? Oh yeah. Legend, lore, everyone is educated.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? And think Talbot *is* a lunatic who thinks he is a werewolf. Classic mistake, old timey folk.
Sex scene? No. I think there is a kiss though.
Scare level: From time to time.
Worth seeing? Probably not. Yes, it's cool to see a take on the original Wolfman makeup, updated for the 21st century, plus the gothic feel to the film is right on, but Benicio Del Toro is SO woefully miscast, he just about ruined everything that could be good about it. He's actually awful. Just straight up, everything he did was painful to watch and I wanted him to leave the screen.

Red Riding HoodRed Riding Hood (2011)
A take on the well-known story that plays more like a young adult mystery than anything else. The sister of Valerie, the proper name of our Red Riding Hood, is killed, so an expert in the form of Gary Oldman comes to town to help defeat the monster that murdered her. But who is the monster?! OMG! Valerie is also betrothed to one guy, while in love with another, for reasons I don't quite understand because Max Irons > Shiloh Fernandez.
Werewolf as protagonist? No. Werewolf as "antagonist." It has a connection to our protagonist that prevents it from being an all-out villain.
Transformation scene? No, but someone's eyes do get werewolfy when we discover who the werewolf is -- clearly the person is *about* to turn, but we don't get to see it through.
Cognizant as werewolves? Very. They even talk. Sort of.
Type of werewolf: Megagiant wolf, kinda cute, as opposed to frightening. Digital.
Do the characters know what werewolves are? I don't believe they do until Oldman comes to town.
Do people say the murders are being committed by a lunatic? They think it's a standard wolf until Gary Oldman tells them otherwise.
Sex scene? Almost? A bunch of kissing.
Scare level: Um. None. Although the first scene where the werewolf kills a bunch of townpeople was a pretty solid action scene. There was death!
Worth seeing? I meeeannn. If you're a Twilight-loving tween, sure. It definitely has its moments and *does* actually play with werewolf lore a bit, if that's something you're into. I definitely think The Company Of Wolves provides the most direct influence, as they both stem from "Little Red Riding Hood" and deal specifically with the relationship between girl and wolf, though it has a little bit in common with a few other movies on this list as well, from the glossy romance of Blood and Chocolate to the mystery of She-wolf in London, to a retooling of the rules a la Ginger Snaps. I mindlessly enjoyed it, but as far as werewolf movies go, I'd rank it barely above the completely forgettable Blood and Chocolate and Max Irons/Michael Hogan-less Wolfman remake and leagues below anything else.


Unknown said...

I think Wolf (1994--Jack Nicholson) is also a really interesting one. Mostly because it fits more within the self-reflective big-business-cautionary tale genre and also has a slightly different feel to the sexuality from other films on this list (mostly because Jack Nicholson was getting up there in age). It's like what The Vampire's Kiss is to Vampire movies with a lower threshold for camp and more modern gothic.

And I completely agree on your thoughts on Red Riding Hood (and Max Irons vs. Shiloh Fernandez). Totally skippable. No tension beyond them constantly telling the audience that they should be thinking about who the wolf is. WHO IS HE? *big blue suspicious eyes!* Not much of a mystery. Who is a talented actor in this movie who is barely getting any good lines? Yep. That's the werewolf. Duh.

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