Werewolves. They’re often treated as the lesser cinematic monster. After all, there are tons of zombies, vampires, and ghosts throughout movie history. But lycanthropes rarely have the red carpet rolled out for them.
That being said, there are still plenty of great werewolf films out there if you know where to look. So for your howl-at-the-moon pleasure, here are six werewolf films to watch as soon as possible. Full moon optional.
Cinema has given us so many versions of the Big Apple over the years that eventually you think you’ve seen it all. But Wolfen proves you wrong. This might be the loneliest incarnation of New York City ever to grace the silver screen. Albert Finney’s hard-nosed police officer is investigating a series of murders, not realizing that he’s being drawn deeper and deeper into a supernatural world beyond his comprehension.
Without a doubt, Wolfen is very much of its time, and there are certainly aspects of the movie that haven’t aged well, but if nothing else, the use of actual wolves for the werewolf scenes is well done and memorable—and for anyone who’s ever watched a Dracula adaption and had to witness scruffy German shepherds playing “wolves,” you’ll understand how much featuring the real deal makes a difference. And seriously, what horror fan doesn’t want to see werewolves roaming the streets of Manhattan? That alone is worth adding this one to your watch list.
The Howling (1981)
So most people would probably put An American Werewolf in London on this list over The Howling, and honestly, the argument can clearly be made in its favor, considering how groundbreaking it was at the time. That being said, given John Landis’s deeply problematic past—and the simple fact that I personally don’t love his movie as much as Joe Dante’s 1981 classic—let’s go with The Howling instead.
Dee Wallace plays a dogged reporter who’s determined to face off with her dangerous stalker and get to the bottom of who he is and what he wants. To be fair, she manages to do exactly that while paying a steep price for the knowledge. The seedy cityscapes and fabulous countryside scenes all shot on location in California combine to create an ambiance unlike any other in werewolf movie history. Plus, the special effects are an absolute blast, including the horrifying transformations and even the stop-motion wolves toward the end. This film is such a nostalgic horror romp, so give it a watch (or re-watch) as soon as you can.
The Company of Wolves (1984)
So for anyone who knows me or reads my articles regularly, you’re already well aware that I’m a huge Angela Carter fan. Her collection, The Bloody Chamber, literally changed my horror-loving life, and I’m definitely all the better for it. And while no cinematic adaptation could ever truly do Carter’s lush prose justice, director Neil Jordan does a respectable job with this 1984 film. With his signature style and some very impressive and sumptuous cinematography and set design, The Company of Wolves reminds us that the werewolf genre can be set in any era and can look just as beautiful as any arthouse film. Add in some very delightful creatures (more real-life wolves!), and you’ve got a haunting fairy tale for the ages.
The 1990s were an interesting time when it came to the landscape of cinema. There were a lot more films made specifically for adult audiences, as opposed to the modern proliferation of cross-over films like comic book adaptations meant for adults and children alike. That meant you got some unusual fare, such as this rather contemplative, sophisticated take on the werewolf genre starring Jack Nicholson, Michelle Pfeiffer, Christopher Plummer, and James Spader. Even looking at that cast list and remembering they starred together in a horror movie directed by Mike Nichols (of The Graduate fame) still stuns me in all the best ways. Also, for writers, there’s the added bonus of this film having an entire subplot about how cutthroat the publishing industry is. And needless to say, Michelle Pfeiffer is amazing in everything, so her presence puts this film up over the top. Wolf doesn’t get nearly the love that it deserves, so if you haven’t seen it before, take my advice and give it a chance. It’s a lot of fun.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Possibly the least known of the films on this list, Dog Soldiers is one of the most unique werewolf films I’ve ever seen. The plot goes in directions you don’t expect, and the atmosphere is an intense and disarming one. Director Neil Marshall has since gone on to more acclaim with The Descent, Hellboy, and Game of Thrones, but Dog Soldiers is the one that started it all for him. And what a marvelous directorial debut it is. A group of British soldiers on a routine training exercise in the woods realize something dangerous is after them. It doesn’t get easier for them from there. To be honest, it’s been years since I’ve seen this one, which means I’m long overdue for a rewatch. So let’s all put this one on our streaming queue ASAP, shall we?
Ginger Snaps (2000)
I remember seeing this for the first time when I was a teenager, and I’m not sure I’ve ever been the same. Sisters Ginger and Bridgitte are morbid and inseparable, living in their boring suburb with their clueless family. That is, until Ginger starts her period and is promptly attacked by a strange feral creature. Dealing with coming-of-age in an undoubtedly brutal way, Ginger Snaps is a movie that understands what it’s like to be different and not fit in with the rest of the crowd. A decisively feminist twist on the traditional werewolf tale, this one sticks with you.