6 Trailers Designed To Bring Out The Beast In Your

St. Larry, patron of werewolves

For today’s special Devil’s Night edition of Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse Trailers, we pay tribute to the werewolves!

Sadly, werewolves have been kind of overshadowed lately.  Everyone loves the zombies.  Everyone loves the vampires.  Everyone loves the weird little creatures that secretly control the Dark Web.  But, werewolves — those brave lycanthropes — have not been getting the respect that they deserve.

So, to correct that, here are 6 trailers for the wolves!

  1. The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)

Oliver Reed as a werewolf?  Hey, it makes sense.  This classic Hammer film brought new fame to the werewolves of London.

2. The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

The movie has its issues but that is a great title!

3. Werewolf Woman (1976)

This is an Italian film, starring Annik Borel as a woman who thinks that she’s a werewolf.  And, depending on which version of this film that you see, she might be right.

4. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Meanwhile, back in London, a young American backpacker discovers why American tourists are not universally beloved in Europe.  They have a bad habit of wandering out to the moors on nights when there is a full moon.  This classic film features perhaps the best scene to ever take place in a sleazy porno theater.

5. The Howling (1981)

1981 was a good year for werewolf films.

6. An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)

It’s not a very good film but …. hey!  Look!  Paris!

Have a howlingly good Halloween, everyone!

Horror Scenes I Love: The Howling

TheHowlingI always thought that Joe Dante’s 1981 horror film, The Howling, has been overlooked just a little bit due to it’s release being the same year as John Landis’ own horror film, An American Werewolf In London. Both were werewolf films and both were good in their own right.

Dante’s film has been called silly by some critics, but it was the more serious of the two with Landis’ own film mixing in more black humor in the narrative than Dante’s which took on a more traditional approach to the werewolf horror. Even the transformation scene from both films took on opposite sides in terms of mood and tone. Where Landis’ film treated the scene with both a mixture of horror and camp (due to the music playing in the background) in The Howling the scene went for full-on horror.

This has been one of my favorite horror scenes and it’s all due to the work of the very person who made John Carpenter’s The Thing such a memorable piece of horror filmmaking: Rob Bottin.

This man should be handed every award for every effects work he has ever done and will continue to do. It’s a shame that he hasn’t done anything of note since 2002’s Serving Sara, but until Hollywood decides that if they want great practical effects paired with advancing CG ones and hire Bottin once again we can always fall back on his past work such as the one’s he did for The Howling.

Horror Film Review: An American Werewolf in London (dir. by John Landis)

I resisted seeing An American Werewolf in London for quite some time because 1) I kept mixing the film up with its “sequel,” An American Werewolf in Paris (which is seriously one of the worst films ever made) and 2) werewolves scare me in a way that vampires and zombies don’t.  Seriously, what is a werewolf other than a really big pit bull and to say that I’m not a dog person is an understatement.  However, this Halloween season, several people on twitter suggested that I give the film a chance so, reluctantly, I watched it and I’m glad that I did.  Good call, twitter.

Originally released way back in 1981, An American Werewolf in London starts with two nice guys from New York (played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) backpacking across England.  They stop in one of those proverbial, fog-drenched English villages where they are told, by the secretive town folk, to stay off the moors.  Naughton and Dunne promptly wander into the moors.  “Whoops,” they literally say as the full moon shines behind them.  Suddenly, they are attacked by some sort of wild animal.  Dunne is killed and a severely wounded Naughton wakes up days later in a London hospital.

While recovering in the hospital, Naughton meets and starts up a tentative romance with his nurse (Jenny Agutter) even as he finds himself haunted by disturbing graphic nightmares in which he sees his family being massacred by humanoid wolves dressed up like storm troopers.  (Seriously, these genuinely disturbing nightmares were so seamlessly worked into film that they took me totally by surprise.)  Even worse, Dunne’s progressively decaying corpse keeps popping up in his hospital room and telling him that 1) they were attacked by a werewolf, 2) Dunne’s spirit is trapped on Earth until the werewolf’s bloodline is extinguished, and 3) that bloodline is currently being carried on by Naughton.  Fearing for his sanity, Naughton moves into Agutter’s flat after he’s released from the hospital and, for a brief moment, it actually seems like he might actually be okay.

And then, inevitably, a full moon rises and soon, there’s an American werewolf in London…

An American Werewolf in London is an oddly succesful hybrid of genres that don’t always mix well: it’s scarier than Paranormal Activity, funnier than Scream, and ultimately more romantic than any of the Twilight films.  David Naughton and Jenny Agutter are both so appealing in this film that you actually get invested in their relationship and, as a result, the inevitably of the film’s conclusion becomes all the more tragic.  As this film was pre-CGI, Naughton actually had to act out the process of transforming into a werewolf and, as a result, An American Werewolf in London feels real in a way that most werewolf films do not.

Director John Landis manages to maintain a perfect balance between the horror and the comedy and, as a result, I found myself both laughing out loud and hiding my eyes throughout this entire film.  For me, the scariest scene in the film comes when an unfortunate commuter finds himself being tracked through a nearly deserted tube station by our werewolf.  Landis  wisely draws the sequence out, with the camera taking on the point-of-view of the prowling werewolf.  Seriously, this growls heard during this whole sequence reminded me of why I’m so scared of big dogs.  The other stand-out sequence comes towards the end of the film, in which Naughton takes refuge in a filthy porno theater and talks to Dunne (who, by this point, is just a skeleton).  Dunne, it turns out, has brought with him the spirits of all the people who Naughton killed during the last full moon.  So, while Dunne and his new friends encourage Naughton to commit suicide and Naughton starts to painfully transform into a werewolf, the worst porno film ever made is playing in front of them.  The scene — with its perfect mix of tragedy, comedy, and horror — epitomizes everything that makes An American Werewolf in London work as a film.

One final note: one of the problems that I have with a whole lot of horror films is that they rarely make good use of their setting.  Whether it’s that old deserted building or that piece of wilderness that’s not on anyone’s map, horror locations often feel as a generic as horror plots.  However, Landis makes good use of both London and the English countryside here and this is a film that really should serve as a lesson for aspiring horror filmmakers todays.  Of course, it helps that the location in question happens to be London with all of its gothic traditions and old school horror heritage.  Let’s face it — An American Werewolf in St. Louis* just doesn’t carry the same punch. 


* Or, God Forbid, Vermont.

Quickie Review: Wolfen (dir. by Michael Wadleigh)

1981 was a great year for wolf movies. There was the excellent An American Werewolf in London by John Landis and Joe Dante’s equally creepy The Howling. To finish off the trifecta of werewolf films for the year there’s Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen. Wadleigh’s film was a very good werewolf tale that added a bit of Native American folklore to the typical lycanthrope story, but it’s slightly overlong running time keeps it from being as great as Landis’ and Dante’ contributions.

Wolfen takes place in the city of New York and its growing urban jungle of decaying and condemned buildings in the city’s ghettos. One has to remember that the late 70’s and through on the mid-80’s the inner-cities of most of the major metropolitan cities in the US have turned into rundown ghettos rife with drug problems, high-crime rates and unemployment. It is in this setting that Wolfen takes place in. The film used the screenplay co-written by horror veteran novelist Whitley Strieber and his quirky style heavily influences this werewolf story. Strieber’s screenplay mixes together a police procedural, political intrigue, business corruption, race and class relations, Native American lycanthrope folklore and horror. Wolfen tries to combine all these different elements together as well as possible and it mostly succeeds, but there’s times when the film gets dragged down a bit trying to accomplish this.

The cast was made up of mostly new actors (well young and new at that time) with a few veteran actors holding things together. Albert Finney gets the choice role of NYPD Detective Dewey Wilson who begins investigating a series of brutal murders of three individuals whose race, class and personal status brings no discernible clues that ties them together. Joining him in his investigation — which Wilson gradually suspects has some sort of supernatural angle to it — were the very young Diane Venora and Gregory Hines. Edward James Olmos plays a Native American whose knowledge ties to who or what was involved in the killings might be closer than everyone thinks. The performances from all involved were pretty good though Hines comic relief performance was a bit too blackface in its tone and execution. 1981 Hollywood was still not ready to discount such racial stereotypes and it gives Wolfen a certain sense of creepiness and insensitivity. Maybe the screenplay was written just that way to highlight one of the film’s themes of racial and class inequality. If it was then Strieber sure did an excellent job of hammering home the point.

There’s a point in the film where we find out the nature of these wolfen and it does stretch the usual definition of the typical werewolf story. But looking back on it now this version told by Strieber and Wadleigh does lend credence to native folklore about wolves who were cunning as men and who preyed not just on the animals in their territory but hunted men as well. Whether they’re wolves or men in the shape of wolves really is left to the audience’s imagination even after the brief explanation of the wolfen and it’s role in the legends and myths of Native Americans.

The film had very creepy moments whenever the story switches over to be told through the viewpoint of the wolfen. The skewed perspective the camera takes on to signify that we were seeing things through the eyes of the wolfen was disorienting and creepily well-done. Wolfen never really has pure horror moments in the film though in the hands of a director like Carpenter these sequences definitely would’ve raised the level of dread and horror. Wadleigh does a good enough job, but it seemed like he was treating the horror aspect of the story with less attention than it was its due.

Wolfen marks the weakest of the werewolf trilogy of 1981, but thats not to say that it was a bad film. The finished product was a well-done film and its attempt to be very ambitious in its storytelling has to be commended. The fact that the filmmakers and all involved were able to keep all the different themes and genres together without having the film spiral into utter confusion makes it a worthwhile werewolf film. It may have been the weakest of the three films mentioned but it wasn’t by much.