Tag Archives: The Wolf Man

Fright Club: Social Anxiety Horror

You want to know the fears and anxieties at work in any modern population? Just look at their horror films.

There are certain anxieties that plague us no matter the era. It Follows, for instance, brilliantly brought horror’s long obsession with underage promiscuity into modern focus. Unfriended, #Horror, Rings, The Den and dozens of others touched on our loss of control in a digital age. You could even read The Witch as a comment on the power of radicalization.

What horror films had their fingers most firmly on the elevated pulse of their respective times?

6. Hostel (2005)

In April of 2004, photos and videos from Abu Ghraib detention center created a previously unimaginable public dialog about the appropriateness of torture. And we knew that what we were seeing on the news had to be far less graphic and horrific than what we didn’t see.

The sudden realization that there were so many more people on earth who believed there were appropriate uses for torture – and that there were others who could so easily be provoked to indulge their bloodlust – sparked a real, palpable discomfort in the US.

Writer/director Eli Roth created a new subgenre with this his meditation on that very bloodlust. As his tourists hit Slovakia in search of wild times, they become the fodder for someone else’s hedonistic indulgence. Graphic and provocative, Hostel is hardly a masterpiece or even a classic, but there is no question that it touched a nerve.

5. The Wolf Man (1941)

By 1939, the second great war had begun. The tale of shadowy European villainy turning a good hearted American man into a monster felt somehow compelling to an audience seeing yet another generation of soldiers facing and contributing to the real horror of war.

Like most of the films on this list, The Wolf Man created a mythology many would copy. But writer Curt Siodmak’s take on the monster that lurks inside a good man differs from many because he pulled on his own experience with Nazi Germany to create an atmosphere. He’d seen firsthand what it looks like when apparently good people turn suddenly savage.

Lon Chaney, Jr.’s sympathetic performance only drove home the point that it could be anybody. You want badly for this decent-hearted man to somehow be saved, but you know that he’s done too much. There is no redemption left for him now.

4. Rosemary’s Baby (1968)

The late Sixties saw cultural change like few eras before or since. Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ira Levin’s tale mined more than a few, but it was the sexual revolution that most fed this picture’s dread.

The Pill was first approved for use in America in 1960. This led to some happy people, yes, but also a lot of worry. Whenever science steps into God’s territory, people get anxious. This tension fueled many horror films, but the way Polanski represents the female body as a reproductive tool entirely outside her own control is endlessly terrifying.

It helps that Mia Farrow is the picture of vulnerability, trying desperately and without success to regain power over her own body and future. Doctors are no help – they’re in on it. She can’t look to her husband because he benefits from this perversion of her biology as much as anybody. It’s a fascinating observation, filmed so that we can’t help but feel that we are voyeurs in her struggle.

3. Get Out (2017)

What took so long for a film to manifest the fears of racial inequality as smartly as does Jordan Peele’s Get Out.

Peele writes and directs a mash up of Guess Who’s Coming to DinnerRosemary’s Baby and a few other staples that should go unnamed to preserve the fun. Opening with a brilliant prologue that wraps a nice vibe of homage around the cold realities of “walking while black,” Peele uses tension, humor and a few solid frights to call out blatant prejudice, casual racism and cultural appropriation.

Peele is clearly a horror fan, and he gives knowing winks to many genre cliches (the jump scare, the dream) while anchoring his entire film in the upending of the “final girl.” This isn’t a young white coed trying to solve a mystery and save herself, it’s a young man of color, challenging the audience to enjoy the ride but understand why switching these roles in a horror film is a social critique in itself.


2. Night of the Living Dead (1969)

Romero’s first zombie film – the first proper zombie film – hit upon cultural anxieties aplenty. The generation gap that accompanied the era of social change had people seeing those of the other generation as aliens – or maybe zombies?

The war in Vietnam – televised almost constantly, and for the first time – was reflected in Romero’s onscreen broadcasts of unimaginable horror. He depicts the changing paradigm of the generations in the power struggle going on inside the besieged house.

More than anything, though, Romero hit a nerve with his casting. The filmmaker has long said that African American actor Duane Jones got the part as the lead because he was simply the best actor in the cast. True enough. But his performance as the level headed, proactive, calm-under-pressure alpha male – followed by Romero’s gut-punch of a finale – spoke volumes and is one of the main reasons the film remains as relevant today as it was when it was released.

1. Godzilla (1954)

Is Godzilla the best film on this list? No. But, more than any other film in the genre, it spoke directly to global anxieties, became a phenomenal success, and changed the face of horror.

As Japan struggled to re-emerge from the 1945 bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, director Ishiro Honda unleashed that dreaded kaiju—followed quickly by a tidal wave of creature features focused on scientists whose ungodly work creates global cataclysm.

Far more pointed and insightful than its American bastardization or any of the sequels or reboots to follow, the 1954 Japanese original mirrored the desperate, helpless impotence of a global population in the face of very real, apocalyptic danger. Sure, that danger breathed fire and came in a rubber suit, but history shows again and again how nature points out the folly of man.

Fright Club: Best Werewolf Movies

In honor of George Wolf’s birthday on “the 21st night of September” (thanks Earth, Wind & Fire!), we celebrate Wolf men today. Not the fuzzy abomination of the Twilight wolf boys – let’s skip them. In fact, in prepping for this one we noticed an awful lot of really bad werewolf movies, and even more decent efforts undone by the real curse of lycanthropy – the prosthetics and make up. There’s also one we leave off this list that will piss a lot of people off. It was a close call, but we gave goth poetry the nod over Eighties social commentary.

5. The Company of Wolves (1984)

Neil Jordan’s poetic tale of sexual awakening is saturated with metaphors and symbols – most of them a bit naughty. A young girl dreams a Little Red Riding Hood type fable. She was just a girl, after all, who’d strayed from the path in the forest.

Jordan looks at a lot of the same themes you’ll find in any coming of age horror – the hysteria surrounding the move into womanhood. It’s just that he does it with such a sly delivery.

Theatrical and atmospheric, it’s not a classic horror tale, but it is creepy and it builds genuine dread. It also takes some provocative turns, and it boasts a quick but outstanding cameo by Terence Stamp as the Prince of Darkness.

4. The Wolf Man (1941)

Obviously this classic needs to be remembered in any examination of the genre. Lon Chaney, Jr.’s incredibly sympathetic turn as the big American schlub who keeps accidentally killing people anchors a film that has aged surprisingly well. Just compare it to its heinous 2010 reboot and you, too, will long for the grace of the original.

Sure, the score, the sets, the fog and high drama can feel especially precious. And what self-respecting wolf man goes by the name Larry? But there’s something lovely and tragic about poor, old Larry that helps the film remain compelling after more than sixty years.

3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Sisters Ginger and Bridget, outcasts in the wasteland of Canadian suburbia, cling to each other, and reject/loathe high school (a feeling that high school in general returns).

On the evening of Ginger’s first period, she’s bitten by a werewolf. Writer Karen Walton cares not for subtlety: the curse, get it? It turns out, lycanthropy makes for a pretty vivid metaphor for puberty. This turn of events proves especially provocative and appropriate for a film that upends many mainstay female cliches. Walton’s wickedly humorous script stays in your face with the metaphors, successfully building an entire film on clever turns of phrase, puns, and analogies, stirring up the kind of hysteria that surrounds puberty, sex, reputations, body hair, and one’s own helplessness to these very elements. It’s as insightful a high school horror film as you’ll find, peppered equally with dark humor and gore – kind of A Canadian Werewolf in High School, if you will.

2. Dog Soldiers (2002)

Before Neil Marshall freaked us all out with the excellent genre flick The Descent, he breathed new life into the werewolf tale by abandoning a group of soldiers in the Scottish highlands as bait.

Wry humor, impenetrable accents, and a true sense of being out in the middle of nowhere help separate this from legions of other wolf men tales. Marshall uses an army’s last stand approach beautifully. This is like any genre pic where a battalion is trapped behind enemy lines – just as vivid, bloody and tense. But the enemies this time are giant, hairy, hungry monsters. So the idea (fantastically realized here) of traitors takes on a little extra something-something.

1. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

We’ve mentioned John Landis’s groundbreaking horror comedy in the past. It is the best of the bunch for a number of reasons: a darkly funny script, sharp writing that propels the action, Oscar-winning effects, a cool looking wolf. But is there one scene that encapsulates it all?

A pasty, purse-lipped Brit businessman leaves the train in an otherwise empty, harshly lit subway station. He pumps a small vending machine with change and comes out with mints. A tiny smirk of satisfaction crosses his face as he begins to unwrap the item, but the look turns to a grimace of unpleasant surprise. Echoing through the empty, rounded corridor comes a far off growl.

“Hello? Is there someone there?”

Again the growl.

Stern voice: “I can assure you that this is not the least bit amusing. I shall report this.”

There now, those hooligans have ruined his happy mint moment.

The camera follows him up an escalator, around a turn, into a rounded tunnel-like corridor uninterrupted for a long stretch by doors or windows. It’s a claustrophobic nightmare.

The camera takes the beast’s eye view, rounding a nearby corner, eyeing the Englishman. We see the terror as he backs away.

“Good lord.”

That awful howling sound.

And then David wakes up naked in the zoo.

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