Let’s get hairy, fiends! Today’s Cineray recommended movies are two of my favorite werewolf movies ever!
Ever since I was a kid, werewolves have been among my favorite monsters. Something about the lore and the look and the general terror associated with the creatures fascinates me. The concept of being a noble, good-intentioned person cursed to become a monstrous beast driven to attack people by the changing moon is mesmerizing. It’s not Jekyll who keeps taking his potion or an evil vampire driven by bloodlust. No, this is a person trying to control a beast within and trying to cure themselves of it. So today’s double feature is Werewolf of London and Dog Soldiers.
Werewolf of London is Universal Pictures’ first werewolf movie and an interesting take on the werewolf myth. Wilfred Glendon is a world-renowned botanist who travels to Tibet to find a rare flower that only blooms under the full moon. He succeeds in finding it but is also attacked by a beast. He fights the attacker off and survives with only a scratch on his arm.
Later, back in England, Wilfred and his wife host a party for people to see his impressive collection of plants. Among the guests are Paul, Lisa’s childhood sweetheart, and Dr. Yogami, a fellow botanist who says he met Wilfred while in Tibet. He warns Wilfred that the bite of a werewolf will cause Lycanthropy and that the cure is the bud of the plant from Tibet. Wilfred subsequently discovers the wolf who bit him in Tibet was indeed a werewolf when he later becomes one. As Wilfred struggles with finding a cure using the flower, he has to deal with changing into a monster under the full moon. Dr. Yogami is also after Wildred’s sample of the flower, and if that wasn’t enough, Paul seems to be making moves on Lisa.
Werewolf of London is a fun movie and has a richer place in film history than most people realize. This film was released in 1935, a full six years before The Wolfman came out and, therefore, had more impact on the classic Universal Monster version than is generally recognized. Werewolf of London was the first film to introduce the concept of the full moon triggering the transformation. Traditional folklore had associated werewolves with witchcraft, i.e., people willingly undergoing the change. They also become more animal than a person when changed.
Another point is the makeup Jack Pierce developed for this film was later used in The Wolfman. Henry Hull, who starred as Wilfred, famously objected to being so covered in makeup that he was unrecognizable, so the other more human-looking make up was created. The film’s producers also worried the other makeup would get censored, so Pierce felt forced to oblige. Pierce liked his design so much though he used it when he was hired for The Wolfman. But it does make one wonder if more animal-inspired makeup would have made this werewolf canon instead of the other.
Dog Soldiers is the Aliens of werewolf movies, with all the great action and horror elements associated with James Cameron’s film. A young couple camping at night in the Scottish Highlands is attacked and murdered by unseen assailants. Nearby a military officer named Cooper is involved in an exercise to prove himself capable of being in a special forces unit commanded by Captian Ryan. But when Cooper refuses to shoot a dog in cold blood as part of his test, he fails and makes an enemy in Ryan. Six weeks later, Cooper and his squad are sent into the same area for an exercise with a Special Air Service group, but instead, they find the ravaged remains of the group with only Ryan left alive and injured. He refuses to completely disclose what happened, and soon they are all fleeing from the same creatures that attacked the group. As they run, a member of the squad dies, and their leader Sargaent Wells is nearly mauled to death. They are saved by a zoologist named Megan, who drives them all to a nearby home. Megan reveals she is there to investigate the claims of werewolves, who are now pursuing them. Ryan may know more than he claims as the creatures do not seem to surprise him. With the monsters outside trying to break in, no way to communicate with the world, the injuries to Wells, and the nearest civilization more than 10 miles away, the group will have to fight to survive.
Dog Soldiers is one of those rare horror movies that are so intense in their action and plot that they bridge the genre gap and become enjoyable for pretty much any viewer. From the start with the young couples’ deaths, it establishes itself as a horror movie. Once the squad is fighting the group of attacking werewolves, the film moves into action movie territory. Like Aliens, the action is super impressive considering the limits placed on the story and the small cast; this film is a standout among werewolf movies. The werewolves themselves are also a great design. They are tall and psychically imposing with huge claws and teeth, but the fierce tenacity and clever mind of the people they usually are. The cast of characters is also a squad of young men that are very easy to like. They are strong, capable, and funny young men caught in a bad scenario who can maintain an air of bravado and humor despite the odds. And as mentioned, the story is limited to a few set pieces, but it’s also smart in that construction. The film does so much with small-scale production and does it exceedingly well. Therefore the film moves at a nice brisk pace, sometimes sprinting and other times letting the viewer catch a breath like the characters just before something else happens.
Sadly none of the streaming services have these available as part of their libraries which is a real shock, but you can rent them both on streaming. Werewolf of London is on Apple TV, Youtube, Amazon, and Vudu and a couple have it available for purchase for a mere dollar more which I think is worth it. Dog Soldiers is only rentable on Youtube and Fandango Now.