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Werewolves Are Horror Staples So Why Are They So Consistently Weird?

Yeah, yeah, yeah. The Wolf Man (1941), I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957), An American Werewolf in London (1981). But there are weirder werewolves in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, to mangle Shakespeare so egregiously that I deserve to have my throat ripped out by one as soon as I stop typing. Lon Chaney, Jr., please step aside for these freaks.

She Devils of the SS (2007)
OK, it’s just Rob Zombie’s fake trailer from Grindhouse. But it’s some kind of wonderful: Udo Kier, Sherri Moon Zombie, Tom Towles, Sybil Danning and Bill Mosely in a movie that dares tell the truth about “Hitler’s diabolical plan to create a race of superwomen” in Death Camp 13, which somehow involves sexual abuse, extensive nudity, torture, Nicolas Cage as Fu Manchu and Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy.” Kill me now, because it’s never, ever going to get better than this.

Dog Soldiers (2002)
And now the real movies. Neil (The Descent) Marshall’s lean, mean werewolf machine opens with a camping couple in the Scottish wilds being slaughtered by something bestial enough to rend them limb from limb, yet capable of unzipping the tent flap. Cut to a six-man platoon of British soldiers finding the remains of a special forces base where everyone’s except a wounded captain who won’t say who (or what) laid waste to his unit. Hmmmmm, what do you suppose the military’s been up to?

The Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001)
Something is killing the peasants of 19th-century Gevaudon, France. Could it be a werewolf? The bestiary in Christophe Gans’ rip-snorting mix of action, monster-movie cliches and costume-picture swank includes decadent aristocrats, a two-fisted naturalist and his half-naked Iroquois sidekick (a shaman and a martial arts master), a glamorous prostitute (Monica Bellucci) with a sideline in espionage and, oh yeah, a pretty strange wolf-beast.

Ginger Snaps (2000)
Why do you think they it call it “the curse?” Trust me, the “Beast of Bailey Downs” has nothing on a PMS-ing she-wolf Ginger (comely Katharine Isabelle) in this viciously clever spin on wolfman tropes.

The Company of Wolves (1984)
“The worst wolves are hairy on the inside,” counsels 13-year-old Rosaleen’s granny (Angela Lansbury) — a font of arcane and what some might call inappropriate wisdom, like that zinger about why you address priests as “father” — in Neil Jordan’s sexually charged mix of fairy tales and Freud. Another plus? It’s adapted from stories by Angela Carter.

The Howling (1981)
A quarter of a century down the line, when everyone knows this is one of the best werewolf movies ever, it’s hard to remember how slyly subversive it was to posit werewolves checking into an Esalen Institute-style spa to commune with the beast within. Wolves letting down their hair.  Brilliant!

The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
Milton Moses Ginsberg made two movies: Lacerating counterculture artifact Coming Apart and this Nixon-era horror movie/political satire in which a White House aide (Bradford Dillman) gets wolfed and causes major spin problems. A misfire, but too odd to be cheesefest-worthy bad. Hang in there for the closing credits and the president’s voice over, “My fellow Americans… at night, I roam the silent, empty corridors of this great house, wrestling wih my conscience… if I’m to prevent out enemies from destroying… the very office of the presidency, I must have your support. And so… and so… and so….and so…grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr…. owooooooooo!!!”

The Beast Must Die (1972)
One of the first movies I ever saw on 42nd Street, where anything went and an adolescent schoolgirl could sit through a triple bill of ghastly horror unmolested. Anyway, it’s not the werewolf that’s weird — it’s gajillionaire hunting buff Calvin Lockhart, who thinks someone he knows is a shapeshifter and so invites his pals to his palatial estate for the weekend — need I say that the moon is full? — then goes all Most Dangerous Game on them. Why do I not think that’s the way Emily Post would handle the situation?

Werewolves on Wheels (1971)
Bad, hairy bikers get badder and hairier after a satanic high priest zaps them with a werewolf whammy. Oh, and one of their mamas — the smokin’ hot one — dances butt-naked with a snake and a skull. Far be it from me to suggest that folk-musician Barry (“Eve of Destruction”) Mcguire’s decision to become a born-again Christian had anything to do with playing a hard-drinking, ass-chasing motorpsycho who belongs to a chopper club called The Devil’s Advocates. (That’s him eulogizing biker chick Shirley as “a great freak, man.”) Still, the timing is suggestive: He converted the year this picture was released.

Click here for the full schedule of The Beast Must Die on AMC.

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