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Full Moon Rising: The Resurgence of Werewolves in Film

Beginning with 1941’s The Wolf Man, many of horror’s essential werewolf films seem to come in cycles. Like clockwork, at least one new werewolf feature joins the ranks among the canon every twenty years. The year 1961 brought Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf. The class of 1981 included game changers An American Werewolf in London and The Howling but also marked less special effects-heavy entries in Wolfen and Full Moon High. Jump ahead twenty more years to 2001, which marked the release of Ginger Snaps, and the production of the cult hit Dog Soldiers (released in 2002). While many memorable werewolf movies get released in between, it’s difficult to avoid seeing a pattern emerge for the subgenre’s benchmarks.

That pattern has the potential to continue right on cue in 2021, with an onslaught of new werewolf features on the way.

On the immediate horizon is indie werewolf thriller Bloodthirsty, releasing on VOD platforms in April. Lauren Beatty stars as Grey, a singer-songwriter who teams up with notorious music producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk) for help on her second album. It’s clear from the outset that Vaughn harbors dark secrets, and it seems to trigger an insatiable hunger for flesh in Grey as she gives in to her inner beast.

‘Bloodthirsty’

June brings the release of Werewolves Within, a lycanthrope-themed horror-comedy by director Josh Ruben (Scare Me) and writer Mishna Wolff. An adaptation of the video game, this horror-comedy is a “whatdunit?” that stars Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub as keepers of the peace trying to solve a murder mystery during a raging snowstorm. As the title indicates, the culprit responsible for the murders is a lycanthrope, but which resident transforms into a werewolf?

Recent fest favorites Teddy and Eight for Silver have no distribution plans announced as of yet, but that’s likely only a matter of time. The former is a French horror movie that sees its titular character undergoing bizarre body changes. The latter is a sprawling period piece that evokes Hammer’s Gothic style while using lycanthropy as a metaphysical form of revenge against wrongdoers. 

‘Teddy’

Then there are the projects in various stages of development. Tigers Are Not Afraid’s Issa Lopez had just turned in the second draft of her werewolf-western to Guillermo del Toro before the pandemic shut down production last year, so its current status remains unknown. If that moves forward, she teased a tone similar to Ginger Snaps. Around the same time, Ryan Gosling was tapped to play the lead in the Leigh Whannell-helmed reimagining of Wolfman for Blumhouse. 

The creator of the TV series Sons of AnarchyKurt Sutter, will be making his feature directorial debut with This Beast, a period horror-drama based on the Beast of Gévaudan. Blumhouse will produce the loose retelling of the true story about a mysterious beast that terrorized a French village in the 1760s for Netflix. Interestingly, the last major adaptation of the Beast of Gévaudan was 2001’s Brotherhood of the Wolf, another earmark in quality werewolf lore (albeit very loosely). Similarly, Steven Spielberg‘s arduous journey to adapting Stephen King and Peter Straub’s The Talisman, a fantasy novel that heavily features werewolves, is currently in development as a series for Netflix.

Werewolf lore and mythology date back centuries, and Universal’s The Wolf Man wasn’t the first to feature lycanthropic bipeds, not even from the studio. But it was the first to capture audiences’ hearts everywhere thanks to breathtaking transformation sequence by special effects legend Jack Pierce. Each prominent peak in the history of werewolves on film tends to coincide with an unforgettable transformation scene thanks to advances in technology, which is a large part of why An American Werewolf in London and The Howling remain the crowning achievements in lycanthropic horror.

From a narrative standpoint, the transformative aspect of lycanthropy provides fertile ground for metaphor. In the decades since Larry Talbot’s first on-screen brush with a werewolf, lycanthropy served as a metaphor for puberty, sexual awakenings, generational trauma, religious persecution, and even ruminations on mortality. The possibilities of exploring the werewolf mythos are endless, and the technology has long since caught up for filmmakers to find new ways to explore it. Every single production mentioned above takes a vastly different approach to the werewolf, demonstrative of the story potential.

There’s an inherent fear of change built into the very concept of this foundational movie monster. The curse brings a painful and daunting metamorphosis, and sometimes there’s no return to humanity. From storytelling or artistic perspective, change also breeds creativity. It just so happens that the present marks one of the most tumultuous periods in history. While twenty years between major werewolf cycles means significant advancements in special effects, it also means drastic shifts in social climates and culture. All of this would explain why we’re on the cusp of a massive werewolf resurgence; and the more, the merrier.