There’s a saying (or at least a sentiment) among horror geeks: Werewolves always get short shrift.
They just do. Of the classic cinematic monsters, which were essentially canonized in the public consciousness by the Universal monster films of the ’30s and ’40s, werewolves are never quite given the luster or romanticization of the others. They’re not nearly so ubiquitous as ghosts. They don’t represent the pop culture zeitgeist so appropriately as zombies. They’re not nearly as sexualized (and capitalized upon) as vampires. Even a foundation of the genre, such as George Waggner’s classic 1941 The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr., never received a direct sequel of its own—rather, the Wolf Man was lumped in alongside other monsters in the future, in films such as Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. For whatever reason, the werewolves themselves are rarely seen as vital enough to continue carrying a franchise solo.
Then of course there’s the issue of costuming—it’s a lot more expensive to build full-body werewolf suits than it is to slap a few wounds on an extra, call him a zombie, and call it a day. Werewolf movies are inherently more costume-dependent, and they also tend to be scrutinized more harshly for their effects as a result. It’s the Achilles’ heel of pretty much any indie werewolf movie—a refrain of “the suit looks cheap!” Horror fans are fickle, and tough to please.
Which is all to say that in the end, there are a lot fewer werewolf movies out there than there are for the other classic monsters. They continue to be made, but they’re utterly dwarfed by zombie movies, vampire movies, etc. But despite all that, we still love a good werewolf yarn, and there have been some cinematic classics in the genre along the way. Below we present the 25 best werewolf movies of all time, which constitute an 80-plus year journey through everything hairy and lupine. You can also check out some of our other big horror lists, such as the 100 best vampire movies of all time, the 50 best zombie movies of all time, and the overall 100 best horror films of all time.
Please note: We’re trying to keep this list to films that primarily revolve around werewolves, rather than simply featuring them as part of an ensemble. Thus, you won’t find the likes of The Monster Squad here, despite its “classic “Wolf Man’s got nards! scene. You also won’t find anything from the Underworld franchise—not because they don’t have enough werewolves, but because those movies are all dumpster fires.
Let’s get into it, shall we?
25. Arizona Werewolf, a.k.a. Werewolf (1996)
Director: Tony Zarrindast
Look, it’s no secret that we enjoy opening these lists with at least one entry that is so horrendous, it becomes extremely entertaining, and Arizona Werewolf is the ultimate example of a terrible (but side-splitting) werewolf feature. Famously lampooned on MST3k, where it bore the less geographically specific title Werewolf, the film is an inscrutable mess of vaguely European-sounding people lounging in attics and delivering hilariously garbled innuendo, served with a bonus side of Joe Estevez. In particular, the female lead played Adrianna Miles is a riot, as her repeated attempts to pronounce “werewolf” (war-welf? wor-wulf?) only stray increasingly into fantasy as time goes on. The werewolf costume, meanwhile, shockingly transitions in appearance from one scene to another—at one point, it looks like a reference to Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man makeup, but at other times it involves closeups of a huge, poofy mask that the MST3k riffers alternatingly compare to a bat or an insect. There’s a reason that Werewolf landed in the top 10 of our ranking of every single MST3k episode — it’s because the film itself is ludicrously entertaining to watch in its awfulness. —Jim Vorel
24. Werewolves on Wheels (1971)
Director: Michel Levesque
The “outlaw biker film” genre was well established by the early ’70s, having sprung like so many other wonderful ideas out of the mind of Roger Corman, following the director’s unexpected 1966 exploitation hit The Wild Angels. What followed were a string of greasy, dusty biker movies about gangs bearing the inspiration of the Hell’s Angels, which someone apparently looked at and thought: “Couldn’t we have a few werewolves in there, too?” It’s exactly what it sounds like: A biker gang stumbles upon a satanic church, which curses the leader to change into a werewolf that hunts the other gang members. The picture is grainy and the costuming is terrible, but it’s a very accurate moment in time of this style of exploitation cinema, which was hoping to combine the sexual titillation and counterculture aspect of the biker gang with some old-fashioned monster movie thrills. It doesn’t do either particularly well, but it does give us motorcycle-riding werewolves, so take that into consideration. —Jim Vorel
23. The Beast Must Die, 1974
Director: Paul Annett
Britain’s Amicus Productions is known to most horror geeks for their classic anthology films, which blend Hammer-style British horror and humor in titles such as Dr. Terror’s House of Horrors and The House that Dripped Blood. Less well-known are the full-length features, which tended to come off as “Hammer-lite,” despite starring many of the same genre staples such as Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee. This one is a rather farcical werewolf yarn, with elements that remind one somewhat of William Castle’s House on Haunted Hill when it comes to gimmickry. A millionaire invites a bunch of suspects to his mansion, then reveals that one of them is actually … a werewolf! The group is subjected to some hilariously silly tests, including putting a silver bullet in their mouths, to suss out the werewolf’s identity. Cushing is present in a professorial role, of the exact type that he played in seemingly every British horror film made between 1957-1975, and he’s unsurprisingly the highlight. Near the end, this goofy flick even features a 30-second “Werewolf Break,” where the audience is asked to guess the wolf’s identity. Castle would have loved its blend of silly horror and humor. —Jim Vorel
22. I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957)
Director: Gene Fowler Jr.
TWO MST3k movies on one “best of” list? You don’t see that often, but where Arizona Werewolf is laughably horrendous on every level, at least I Was a Teenage Werewolf is a semi-competent film—and one with more than a little campy appeal. Michael Landon of Bonanza plays the titular teen, a high school student with anger problems who is sent to a “psychologist” whose questionable treatment plan involves turning young men into killer werewolves. Just watch the trailer below to get a feel for the chuckling you’ll be doing throughout Teenage Werewolf—I particularly enjoy the description of Landon’s rival as “a tough, friendly enemy,” as well as the promise of “a constant threat of claw-ripping attack to everyone!” It’s the kind of film that you no doubt would have seen at a drive-in while trying to put the moves on a classmate, and Stephen King thought highly enough (or nostalgically enough) of it to reference it liberally throughout his novel It. Pennywise the clown even takes the form of the teenage werewolf at one point, complete with letterman jacket. —Jim Vorel
21. Teen Wolf (1985)
Director: Rod Daniel
It’s hard to know exactly where one should place a movie like Teen Wolf on this kind of ranking, which is populated predominantly by “serious” werewolf films, but it made tons at the box office and was a big enough cultural touchstone to inspire a massively successful modern TV series, so it’s safe to say that there’s still some fondness for Teen Wolf out there. Oddly enough, it opened at #2 at the box office, second to Back to the Future, which also obviously featured Michael J. Fox as its lead. The original Teen Wolf is a breezy comedy, set in a world where everyone is hilariously accepting of the idea of a high school student suddenly becoming a werewolf during a basketball game—it’s like they took the last film on this list and transplanted it into a world where no one was perturbed by the idea of a lycanthrope. Michael J. Fox is charming as ever, although his character is a bit less sympathetic and considerably more dense than Marty McFly. The werewolf costuming, meanwhile, is obviously on the minimal and non-threatening side, but Teen Wolf remains an entertaining, family-friendly (if occasionally risque) distraction, which you can’t say for most werewolf movies. —Jim Vorel
20. Wolf (1994)
Director: Mike Nichols
Mike Nichols’ Wolf is a divisive, difficult film to rank in the pantheon of major studio werewolf movies. It often seems to be aspiring toward profundity; the telling of a more mature, darkly romantic wolf story that touches on themes of entropy, ambition and the animal in all of us. But at the same time, it sought to give audiences at least a little bit of the “horror movie action” that studio execs presumably thought they were expecting from a werewolf movie, and the film’s two halves are (sometimes comically) at odds with one another. The casting choice of Jack Nicholson was widely lampooned at the time, but he’s giving it his campy best, and it could have been far worse. It’s the ridiculously over-the-top silliness of the ending, complete with a full-on werewolf battle between Nicholson and James Spader, that will likely have you chuckling when the director wanted you to be gasping. There are kernels of an interesting film in Wolf, but it feels like it’s been meddled with until its best ideas were diluted. —Jim Vorel
19. When Animals Dream (2014)
Director: Jonas Alexander Arnby
Movie monsters are beloved foremost for their baser expectations: We watch vampire flicks because we want to see fanged horrors drain humans of their life force, zombie flicks because we want to see some flesh and maybe some brains get chowed down on, and ghost flicks because there’s nothing quite like a haunted house to make you feel uneasy falling asleep at night. We watch werewolf movies, then, to bask in primal, unbridled ferocity, which means right off the bat that When Animals Dream may not be your jam. Here’s the rule to follow: If you couldn’t stand Let the Right One In, steer clear of When Animals Dream. If you do, however, appreciate horror films that lend their monsters layers of humanity, then Danish filmmaker Jonas Alexander Arnby’s feature debut will single-handedly make you reconsider the werewolf sub-genre. Taking a cue from Ginger Snaps, When Animals Dream trades masculine studies for a young woman’s coming of age, heralded by the traces of beastly ancestry in sixteen-year-old Marie (Sonia Suhl) as she grapples with her changing body and endures social isolation in the fishing village she calls home. Arnby’s pacing is deliberate; the film is in no hurry to get where it’s going. But the destination isn’t When Animals Dream’s best merit. The journey is. You’ll want for the bloody savagery that is the werewolf film’s birthright, but its combination of dread and compassion easily make up for the deficit. —Andy Crump
18. Trick ’r Treat (2007)
Director: Mike Dougherty
This is a tough one to rank for a “werewolf movie” list, as I was trying to focus exclusively on films where they are more or less CENTRIC to the plot, but the werewolf section of this creatively threaded anthology is just so good that I have to include it here, while simultaneously keeping it on the lower portion of the list because it’s only one of four main stories happening simultaneously. It stars a shy, pre-True Blood Anna Paquin as a teen girl out for a debauched Halloween night with her sexually explicit sister and friends, only to fall prey to a stalker … before viciously turning the tables when the true nature of her sister’s “squad” becomes painfully clear. It’s a playful twist on the modern werewolf mythos that is perfectly threaded into the previous story of the anthology, paying off the misdeeds of the last story’s central character in apropos fashion. All that, and a pretty solid transformation scene, too—if this story was somehow strung out to feature length, it would no doubt be much closer to the top of this list.
17. Wolf Guy (1975)
Director: Kazuhiko Yamaguchi
This is almost certainly the strangest film on the list, which is saying something. Wolf Guy is a little-known Japanese feature, based on similarly titled manga, which starred martial arts star Sonny Chiba, best known to American audiences for his late career appearance as sword-maker Hattori Hanzo in Tarantino’s Kill Bill Vol. 1. To us martial arts geeks, he’s better remembered for his classic The Street Fighter series, whose brutal antihero Terry Tsurugi also seems to be the model for his Wolf Guy character. In it, he plays “the only survivor of a clan of werewolves, who relies on his feral, full-moon-activated superpowers to solve mysterious crimes.” In reality, the film is an acid-trip combination of action and horror, but mostly action. Bizarrely, Chiba never actually transforms into a wolf or wolf man—instead, he gains “feral” superpowers that depend upon the cycle of the moon, which allow him to do everything from catch a bullet to literally survive having his guts torn out. It’s a hilarious piece of Japanese exploitation cinema, that despite somewhat lacking in overt werewolfness, is more than enough fun to make it worth watching. —Jim Vorel
16. Wolfen (1981)
Director: Michael Wadleigh
Wolfen is an odd-duck film, and one gets the sense while watching it that it couldn’t possibly have been what the studio was wanting or expecting, especially once you look at the marketing. It was made to look like an exploitative, slasher-esque horror film, but in reality Wolfen is brooding, morose and dreamlike. The titular creatures aren’t “werewolves” so much as they are predators from a higher plain of consciousness, who share a bond with Native Americans. This is made all the stranger by the fact that the setting isn’t in the country—this film is set in New York City! It follows a cop who is attempting to solve a series of wolf-related murders, before learning that things may not be nearly so black-and-white. It was noted for early adoption of the in-camera “predator vision” effect for the wolves, which was similarly used in 1987’s Predator, but in this case the effect is illustrating how a wolf’s sense of smell combines with its visual signals. In general, you’re never quite sure of the tone Wolfen is trying to evoke—sometimes it seems to be making a genuine effort at scaring you, but other times it’s more concerned with making a moral or even ecological point. The Howling remains the much better remembered werewolf film from the same year, but every once in a while you’ll stumble upon one of those eccentric Wolfen purists who will try and make a case for this one. —Jim Vorel
15. The Wolfman (2010)
Director: Joe Johnston
In terms of both critical and audience appraisal, the 2010 remake of Universal’s The Wolf Man had a tough uphill battle ahead of it from the moment it was conceived. You could probably have changed some names and called it something other than The Wolfman, and been rewarded with at least marginally better reviews. The bottom line is that it’s a tough task to remake the most famous and iconic of werewolf movies, and even the serviceable results that we received were largely deemed middling by viewers with no opinion as to how it might have been improved. There’s room for more suspense, but there’s certainly some joy to be had in the prosthetics/makeup effects of Rick Baker, who went out of his way to emulate the iconic Jack Pierce makeup of the 1941 original as much as possible—when he wasn’t being superseded by CGI. Benicio Del Toro is fun as a somewhat strangely cast Lawrence Talbot, and Anthony Hopkins actually seems to be enjoying himself for once, but Emily Blunt’s female lead is largely wasted and Hugo Weaving’s inspector character simply comes off as an awkward creep. Perhaps this version of The Wolfman could have been a modern classic with a narrow scope and focus on slowly brooding suspense, but that was never really an option—an absurdly large $150 million budget pushed it into being the marketed as the blockbuster it should have never attempted to be. But you can still do far worse in the werewolf movie canon. —Jim Vorel
14. Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Director: Terence Fisher
How’s this, for a method of werewolf creation: A filthy beggar trundles into a Spanish hamlet and is imprisoned by the cruel marquis. He languishes in prison for years while eyeing the jailer’s beautiful daughter, and eventually rapes her when she’s also thrown into prison. The girl becomes pregnant and eventually gives birth to a baby on Christmas Day … which is apparently an affront to God, so the child is cursed to become a werewolf. Ah, makes perfect sen … wait, what? Regardless of the nonsensical plot, the saving grace here is that Curse of the Werewolf is a Hammer Horror production from the studio’s classic run of revitalized monster movies, right alongside the likes of Horror of Dracula and Curse of Frankenstein, and helmed by their A-list director Terence Fisher. It certainly looks the part, with lush sets and gorgeous use of color, and plenty of those trademark Hammer “heaving bosoms.” The performances, on the other hand, are pretty uneven—Oliver Reed has good intensity as the main protagonist/werewolf, but some of the secondary characters perform with cartoonish excess, evoking the dated comedic sensibilities of Una O’Connor in Bride of Frankenstein. The werewolf costume, meanwhile, seems like a pretty deliberate throwback to Jack Pierce’s iconic Wolf Man makeup. It’s fun and stylish, but if there’s one undeniable criticism, there’s just not enough werewolf action in this one. Still, “Hammer does werewolves” makes it a necessary watch. – Jim Vorel
13. Wolfcop (2014)
Director: Lowell Dean
Wolfcop is full-on horror comedy, but it’s delirious good fun. When an alcoholic small-town Canadian cop gets cursed and turned into a werewolf, he retains all of his human faculties—above all, a respect for the LAW. Using his newfound werewolf superpowers, he opposes the local cabal of reptilian shapeshifters. Yep. That’s your film. It’s one of those carefully calculated modern, indie horror-comedies that was created explicitly in the hopes of someday being labeled “cult classic,” but it does its job better than most. It feels at times a bit like the neo-grindhouse aesthetic of Hobo with a Shotgun, perhaps thanks to the gore effects, although it’s nowhere near as nihilistic. More than anything, you feel a very genuine love for the utter ridiculousness of the premise. It’s a film that people clearly enjoyed the hell out of making, which makes that fun infectious to the viewer. —Jim Vorel
12. Werewolf of London (1935)
Director: Stuart Walker
Before The Wolf Man, there was Werewolf of London, which actually stands today as the oldest surviving werewolf film that you can still plop down on the couch and view via DVD. It’s interesting how few people, even horror film geeks, seem to be familiar with Werewolf of London—like The Wolf Man six years later it’s from Universal, and it also features werewolf makeup (although not as complex) by the legendary Jack Pierce. It’s just not quite as memorable, although the image of a well-to-do, professorial werewolf in a smoking jacket is amusing enough that it will stick in your mind for a long time. The story concerns a botanist searching for a rare plant, who is bitten by a werewolf. Returning to his native London, he is followed by a rival botanist/fellow werewolf who is also after the plant, which may contain the secret to curing the wolf condition. It helped to establish some of the tropes of werewolves in cinema, but watching it today it feels a bit undercooked—a stepping stone to loftier werewolf pursuits. Still, for a werewolf completist it’s mandatory viewing. —Jim Vorel
11. The Company of Wolves (1984)
Director: Neil Jordan
The Company of Wolves is among the most bewitching and oddest of werewolf movies, uneven but memorably bonkers all at once. Evoking fairy tale and Brothers Grimm sensibilities, it mostly takes place within a dream—or a dream within a dream—and visually reflects this with a sheen of creepy, gauzy otherworldliness. The fantasy world that exists within draws upon fantasy cliches of magical, haunted forests, while also infusing itself with the gothic grandeur and stateliness of Hammer horror productions. It feels at times like a high production value stage play, with somewhat unusual, campy performances but little plot to speak of … until the moments that it explodes with gory, violent intensity. To watch only the various transformations and “wolfy” moments, you might think the film was an excessive ’80s American gore film, but whenever we move away from what might be deemed “horror scenes,” the focus is instead on lush sets, beautiful backdrops, vivid colors and a positively “painterly” mindset. It may not quite serve up the coherent story and tight plotting that a modern audience would expect, but the images of The Company of Wolves will likely stick with you for a long time. —Jim Vorel
10. Wer (2013)
Director: William Brent Bell
Wer represents one of the more creative, novel takes on the classical werewolf mythos in recent memory, and it’s a shame that the low budget (which isn’t a constraint at all) meant that few ended up seeing it. In structure, this film is an unusual mix of presentation styles, with elements of mockumentary, court procedural and found footage horror, all wrapped up into one. After a family is brutally murdered in the French countryside by an apparent animal, police arrest a local, hairy eccentric with some distinctly “wolfish” features. Our protagonist, though, isn’t a cop—she’s a lawyer representing this apparent werewolf, who she quickly begins to suspect has been framed. What follows is a film that morphs from an unusual (but effective) character study and courtroom drama into a surprisingly vicious werewolf action-horror hybrid in the second half, which is something most viewers honestly won’t see coming. The tonal shifts are weird, but they echo the transformation inherent to the werewolf himself—from lumbering, harmless man into slavering beast. I also have to give Wer points for featuring what I think has to be the only “shaved werewolf” in cinema history. I’ve already said too much—go see this genre-defying movie for yourself. —Jim Vorel
9. Silver Bullet (1985)
Director: Dan Attias
The best Stephen King adaptations have a consistency at their core, and that consistency is the palpable, warming feeling of nostalgia. Perhaps you didn’t expect us to start waxing philosophic about the warm and fuzzy feelings we’re getting from werewolf movies, but that’s how Silver Bullet will make you feel. It’s an intriguing blend of elements that simultaneously evokes the childhood coming-of-age quality you get in Stand By Me with some good old werewolf blood ’n’ guts at the same time. Corey Haim is a unique protagonist for this sort of film in the sense that he’s paraplegic, although not nearly as immobile as you’d expect—the titular “Silver Bullet” is his totally rad motorized wheelchair/motorcycle hybrid. The structure is almost like a parody of slasher movies, which were at their peak of popularity at the time—an unknown assailant in town among a list of suspects, while various people turn up dead in increasingly gruesome fashion. The special effects are a little suspect at times—the wolf kind of looks more like a bear—but it’s the only movie I know of where you can watch a young boy shoot a werewolf’s eye out with fireworks, and you’ve gotta reward that. Plus: Don’t discount the drunken Gary Busey Bump. —Jim Vorel
8. Bad Moon (1996)
Director: Eric Red
Presenting the most underrated film on this list, and thus the “most underrated” of werewolf movies: Bad Moon. From the premise, which revolves around a single mom and her precocious little boy living out in the woods when their werewolf uncle comes to visit, you might for a moment think that this film will be treating its subject with kiddie gloves, but man would you be mistaken. This is made clear enough within the opening minutes, which not only includes a fairly explicit sex scene but then features a camp full of people being torn limb from limb by a werewolf before its head is blown off with a shotgun. It’s a fist-pumping, Peter Jackson-esque “FUCK, YEAH!” moment that sets the tone for what is a campy, stupid but very fun feature. In some sense, the actual main character is the family’s overgrown and defensive German shepard, who is the only one to suss out the werewolf’s identity, pitting dog vs. wolf in a battle of wits. Featuring a whole lot of bloodletting, Bad Moon is entertaining despite (or perhaps because of) its melodramatic performances, and it also happens to feature one of the best physical werewolf suits you’ll ever see. Why the filmmakers used any of the atrocious CGI you’ll see in the transformation scene is beyond me, given how spectacular the actual suit looks. Don’t sleep on Bad Moon—it’s the best werewolf movie you’ve never heard of. a—Jim Vorel
7. Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943)
Director: Roy William Neill
Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man was a big moment for Universal’s original series of monster movies, even if it arrives during the latter portion—the first true “monster mash” feature that begat many others in the years to follow. On one hand, it’s a somewhat garbled continuation of the increasingly confused Frankenstein series, but it focuses more tightly on its role as a sequel to The Wolf Man. Lon Chaney is back as Larry Talbot, who is revived from the dead when moonlight falls on his corpse (it’s just that easy!), and seeks to die again in a way that is a bit more permanent. He eventually hears that “permadeath” is a secret that Dr. Frankenstein can bestow, which kicks off the chain of events that leads to the Wolf Man’s iconic confrontation with Frankenstein’s Monster, here being played by Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. It’s a film with moments of iconic Universal horror charm—such as the opening graveyard set, which is lovely to look at—but it bogs down in the middle with a lot of wasted time before finally delivering upon the fight that all the audience members wanted to see all along. It can’t stand up against the better entries in the Frankenstein series, or the original Wolf Man, but there’s no substitute for seeing two of the original monster icons go toe-to-toe. —Jim Vorel
6. Late Phases (2014)
Director: Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Late Phases is a limited but kind of brilliant take on the werewolf movie, featuring a truly outstanding performance by screenwriter-turned-actor Nick Damici (from Stake Land) as an elderly, blind Vietnam veteran who moves to a retiree community currently being menaced by a lycanthrope. After beginning with a bang, it unfolds slowly, developing the strained relationship between the protagonist and his son, the difficulties presented by his blindness and the search for the werewolf’s identity. The characterization of the embittered protagonist is very well developed, and the film shines with lots of the “little things”—great sound design, great dialog, well-cast minor roles. It even features a pretty awesome werewolf transformation scene that, if not quite in American Werewolf in London territory, is one of the best I’ve seen in quite a while. The actual werewolf costumes, it must be noted, look just a little bit ridiculous—like a man in a wolf-bat hybrid suit, and nowhere near as good as say, Dog Soldiers—but the blood effects are top-notch. It’s far above most indie horror films in terms of performances, though, and even tugs at the heartstrings a bit with some effective drama. If werewolves are your movie monster of choice, it has to vault up your must-see list. —Jim Vorel
5. The Wolf Man (1941)
Director: George Waggner
Wolf Man Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), along with Frankenstein’s Monster, represents the more sympathetic side of the Universal Monster movie canon, although some viewers would doubtlessly use the word “whiny.” Regardless, poor Larry never asked to turn into a werewolf, and he spends most of the sequels trying to figure out a way not only to be cured, but to kill himself and end his long suffering in the process. The 1941 original remains the best and most earnest film in the series—a portrait of a man who has no power over the raging beast within. It’s the film that made Lon Chaney Jr. a household name, throwing him into the same career full of genre films as his father during the silent film era. Famed for the groundbreaking FX of its iconic transformation scene, and aided by the same top-notch makeup that Jack Pierce employed in Frankenstein, it raised the bar for horror FX and makeup substantially. Like other Universal horror films from the classic era of monster horror, it’s heavy on the atmosphere and old-fashioned spooky settings—fog-wreathed graveyards, dark forests and gothic dwellings—while taking to heart some of the lessons learned by superior Frankenstein sequels such as Bride and Son of Frankenstein. Throw it on at your next Halloween party, and you’ll see that it holds up remarkably well. —Jim Vorel
4. Dog Soldiers (2002)
Director: Neil Marshall
If someone ever asks me to venture an opinion on the best-looking practical effects/full-body werewolf suits used in a feature-length horror film, the choice of Dog Soldiers will be an easy one to make. This isn’t exactly a character-driven tale, a la American Werewolf in London, but instead an action-packed wolf yarn that pits a squad of soldiers against a rampaging family of lycanthropes in the Scottish Highlands. It borrows the basic structure of Night of the Living Dead to do so, having our group of protagonists holed up in a rickety farmhouse that is under siege by a large group of werewolves. As members of the squad are slowly picked off in increasingly grisly ways, the only question is: Who, if anyone, will survive? Dog Soldiers is a stylish (although sometimes a bit dark and hard to see) entry in the genre, with great pieces of action and, as previously mentioned, some really spectacular werewolf designs. I love the odd proportions they give the monsters—humanoid bodies with long, somewhat thin limbs which give the werewolves an imposing height, but heads that are straight-up wolves rather than a mixture of wolf and man. They look utterly alien, and it’s great. —Jim Vorel
3. The Howling (1981)
Director: Joe Dante
1981 happens to be the best year in the history of werewolf cinema, thanks to three films: An American Werewolf in London, The Howling and Wolfen. Of those, The Howling can’t quite compete with the macabre humor and budget of John Landis’ British werewolf classic, but it still ranks among the best lycanthrope movies of all time. The Howling is grittier and darker, but it still maintains a sort of perverted, sadistic sense of humor, as well. Its iconic transformation scenes are long, grisly and exceedingly painful looking, as is just about everything else in this movie, such as the werewolf’s face that has been splashed with corrosive acid—all of the practical effects are absolutely top-notch. It’s rife with historic werewolf movie references for the cinephiles in the audience, including obvious allusions to The Wolf Man and Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, while still delivering on the pulp, gore and cheap thrills demanded by the multiplex crowd. That’s the Joe Dante Special: Smart enough to appeal to the film geeks, but silly and funny enough for the layman. It might be the most “pure” of all the modern werewolf films, with a singleminded focus on blood, guts and crowd-pleasing thrills.
(P.S. — The Howling’s sequels are largely terrible, but Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf is worth seeing solely for the most awkward performance of Christopher Lee’s career—not to mention some hilariously gratuitous Sybil Danning nudity. —Jim Vorel
2. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Director: John Fawcett
Ginger Snaps is a high school werewolf story, but before you go making any Twilight comparisons, let me state for the record: Where Twilight is maudlin, Ginger Snaps is vicious. A pair of death-obsessed, outsider sisters, Ginger and Brigitte, are faced with issues of maturation and sexual awakening when Ginger (Katharine Isabelle) is bitten by a werewolf. As she begins to become bolder and more animalistic in her desires, the second, meeker sister (Emily Perkins) searches for a way to reverse the damages before Ginger carves a path of destruction through their community. Reflecting the influence of Cronenberg-style body horror and especially John Landis’s American Werewolf in London, Ginger Snaps is a surprisingly effective horror movie and mix of drama/black comedy that brought the werewolf mythos into suburbia in the same sort of way Fright Night managed to do so with vampires. It also made a genre star of Isabelle, who has since appeared in several sequels and above-average horror flicks such as American Mary. Even if the condition of lycanthropism is an obvious parallel to the struggles of adolescence and puberty, Ginger Snaps is the one film that has taken that rich vein of source material and imbued it with the same kind of punk spirit as Heathers. —Jim Vorel
1. An American Werewolf in London, 1981
Director: John Landis
Few directors have ever displayed such an innate tact for combining dark humor and horror the way John Landis does. At the height of his powers in the early ’80s, one year removed from The Blues Brothers, Landis opted for a much grittier, scarier story that stands as what is still the best werewolf movie of all time. When two travelers backpacking across the English moors are attacked by a werewolf, one is killed and the other, David (David Naughton), infected with the wolf’s curse. Haunted by the simultaneously unnerving and hilarious visions of his dead friend, David must decide how to come to terms with the monster he has become, even as he strikes up a relationship with a beautiful nurse (Jenny Agutter). The film lulls you into comfort with its witticism before springing shocking, gory dream sequences on the viewer, which repeatedly arrive unannounced. The key moment is the protagonist’s incredibly painful, traumatic full transformation, set to the crooning of Sam Cooke doing “Blue Moon,” which is still unsurpassed in the history of the genre. Legendary FX and monster makeup artist Rick Baker took home the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup and Hairstyling for creating a scene that has given the wolf-averse nightmares ever since. —Jim Vorel
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident horror guru. You can follow him on Twitter for much more film writing.