For as long as I can remember, werewolves have held a special place in my heart. The werewolf myth can be iconic, but it can also be used to usurp the status quo and journey into unknown territory. That is what these six films (and one TV series) do—they take us into strange places where imagination and terror collide. None of these could be called the “typical” werewolf story, and that is a wonderful thing. But don’t worry, monsters abound—they are just a little different than what you’re used to.
Creep (2014) Struggling videographer Aaron travels to a remote mountain location to do a video diary for Josef, his client. Josef explains he has an inoperable brain tumor and wants to make a heartfelt video for his unborn son before he dies. Aaron is a kind person, and low on cash, and agrees to record everything that happens during their 8 hours together. As Josef’s humor gets darker and his behavior gets stranger, Aaron begins to question if Josef is simply an odd person, or possibly a dangerous one? Creep is a slow-burn, horror film with a fresh take on the found-footage genre. Outfitted with a single camera, realistic dialogue, and a few central props – including a foreboding axe and an unsettling rubber wolf mask – Patrick Brice and Mark Duplass create a surprisingly original, darkly humorous horror film. While there is technically no werewolf, there is the legend of Peachfuzz, the “friendly wolf”. The viewer learns that Josef’s father would ‘transform’ into Peachfuzz and sing and dance for the neighborhood kids. In one scene, Josef enthusiastically performs the Peachfuzz song, “Hello, my name is Peachfuzz. I might look like I’ll eat you up! But I’m as friendly as a rabbit. And I make a very good friend. Peachfuzz! I am here. . . and there’s nothing to Feeeeear!” This movie puts the ‘creep’ in creepy. If this sounds nuts, you haven’t seen anything yet! You’ll be singing the Peachfuzz song long after the movie is over. Trust me.
Good Manners (2018) Clara is an unemployed nurse hired to be the nanny for privileged, eccentric mother-to-be Ana. However, Clara needs the work and finds her boss’ quirks oddly attractive — even when the full moon compels Ana to sleepwalk through the streets and eat stray cats. A tender bond develops between Ana and Clara until tragedy strikes when Ana gives birth to a werewolf infant. Clara’s devotion to Ana compels her to raise Ana’s son as her own and protect Joel at all costs. Good Manners is a Brazilian film with Portuguese subtitles, but don’t let that stop you. This is not your typical werewolf film. Not only is it gorgeous to look at, but the relationship between Clara and Joel is genuine and compelling. You can put yourself in Clara’s shoes (and even Joel’s) and see that often love transcends logic and reason. The magic of Good Manners is that it is full of surprises. Is it a modern-day parable, a poignant romance, a coming-of-age story, or a darkly original horror film? And as with all magic tricks, the watcher is spellbound at what unfolds before them.
When Animals Dream (2014) 16-year-old girl Marie lives with her overprotective father and her ill, heavily sedated mother in a small Danish fishing village. Much to her dismay, Marie notices strange changes to her body such as patches of hair sprout on her chest and back. Her calm, passive demeanor soon becomes agitated, and her dreams are bloody and violent. As Marie deals with her own changing body, she investigates how her mother “got sick”—discovering why her father is so protective and why the fellow villagers are suspicious and distrusting of her family. When Animals Dream is not a typical “werewolf” movie. Instead, it offers a much more subdued and domestic look at the affliction of those living with the werewolf curse. This is a film that is much more interested in a sense of atmospheric dread than in gory shocks; it is smart, moody, and grim. Like the Scandinavian vampire film, Let the Right One In, it regards its monstrous heroine with empathy rather than horror and that is worth watching. Marie doesn’t look especially frightening but the contrast between her frail appearance and her dormant ferocity is crucial to the film’s emotional power and its feminist themes. In the best horror films, there is crucial social context at work and there is one in this film. Thus, it’s a movie about the Other, the power of female sexuality, and the lengths that men will go to tame and suppress a force that threatens their control of the world. When Animals Dream is not the first film to use lycanthropy folklore as an allegory for patriarchal anxieties about female puberty, sexuality, and empowerment but it is one of the few werewolf films to handle it quite so well. Refreshingly original, it is everything you want in a horror film!
November (2017) Liina, a peasant girl in 19th century Estonia pines for Hans, a young man who has fallen in love with a pretty German baroness far above his station. While the villagers are doing their best to survive the long, impending winter, Liina and Hans each try to capture the attention of their beloved while communing with the ghosts of their loved ones, employing the services of witches and kratts (magical creatures in old Estonian folklore), embracing lycanthropy, and making deals with the Devil. November is a dark fantasy film written and directed by Rainer Sarnet, based on Andrus Kivirähk’s 2000 novel, Rehepapp ehk November. This film is eccentric and imaginative, but it is Mart Taniel’s spectacular black and white cinematography that feels transcendent and makes the film worth a watch. The viewer travels along with Liina, Hans, and the other villagers across a haunting, surreal landscape; its strangeness will frustrate some and entrance others. Again, this is not a typical werewolf story but a peculiar mishmash of dark comedy, romance, fantasy, mythology, and philosophy that comes together in a bizarre, interesting way. I have actually watched November two times in the last month, and I keep finding new things to be surprised by. I think you will too!
Wolfwalkers (2020) In a time of superstition and magic, when wolves and nature are evils to be tamed or destroyed, a young English girl named Robyn comes to Kilkenny, Ireland, with her hunter father who is tasked by the Lord Protector with killing all the wolves in the surrounding forest. Told to stay close to home, the lively and curious, Robyn sneaks out of the gated town to follow her father. While in the woods, she meets Mebh, a wild, spirited girl who is perfectly at home in the forest. The girls find that they both have a thirst for adventure and Mebh explains that she is a “wolfwalker”, a tribe of shapeshifters who speak to wolves, protect the forest, and transform into wolves when they sleep. While in her wolf form, Mebh accidentally bites Robyn and heals her, however, this does not prevent Robyn from becoming a wolfwalker herself. Wolfwalkers is a lush, lyrical animated film wrapped up as an Irish folktale. However, this is not a safe, reserved fairy tale like what people typically expect from that genre. It’s a highly imaginative, action-packed movie as the main characters, Robyn and Mebh, seek to save a way of life and keep their people safe. And, of course, there’s layers of subtext underneath about empowerment, colonialism, and humankind’s tenuous relationship with the natural world. Wolfwalkers is a profoundly poetic film that you need to watch sooner than later.
Being Human (2011-2014) Being Human is a supernatural horror comedy-drama television series, based on the BBC series of the same name. It follows the same premise as the original presenting Aidan, a 200-year-old vampire, Josh, a werewolf, and Sally, a ghost living together as roommates. The three appear to be human 20-somethings sharing a home while trying to figure out where they fit into the world. The unique aspect of the series is they become close friends with the shared knowledge they will never be fully human. The three friends go through many ups and downs during the show’s four seasons and each one builds upon the next as they help one another navigate the complexities of living double lives. The title of the show is a play on words with the three of them clearly ‘pretending’ to be human but also trying to live a life that embraces humanity, in all its foibles and joys. Josh, the werewolf, has an interesting arc in the show where he meets the love of his life in a human woman named Nora, but Josh knows he must keep his lycanthropy hidden from her. As you can imagine, this causes trouble for them both with the growing tension and pressure of being a werewolf dating a human. When Josh changes into a werewolf, his screams of pain are palpable. He not only succumbs to the pain of his transformation but also the pain of being cursed to live a life alone, without the comfort and love of another person. Being Human allows the viewer to feel this anguish and as good horror does, find that emotional connection within themselves. The show is beautifully written, superbly cast, and has its own feel; one you can immerse yourself in. It’s simple viewing without being too predictable or too tame. There are many episodes of the show that have pulled the strings of my heart and really made me feel for the characters and what they are going through. This is what sets this series apart from others. From the start, Being Human comes across as one of the most genuinely horrific monster shows ever created, with a good mix of creepy effects and subtle suggestiveness, and it’s so, so funny. The blend of horror and humor permeates the show to great effect. Darkly funny, deeply affecting, and utterly entertaining, it is a show that celebrates life by dwelling on death. Watching these characters struggle and fight to maintain some semblance of humanity in their lives is what drives this fascinating story. I watched this show from its very beginning and was immediately drawn into their lives (and unlives). If you want a great escape tonight, this is the show for you!!
Wolf Lake (2001) Wolf Lake is an American supernatural drama television series that originally aired on CBS from September 19 to October 24, 2001. It follows Seattle police detective John Kanin who finds his world turned upside down when his girlfriend Ruby mysteriously disappears one night. After months of searching, an anonymous tip leads Kanin back to Ruby’s hometown of Wolf Lake. As soon as Kanin arrives, however, he is stonewalled by the suspicious, distrusting locals including the sheriff, Matt Donner. The longer Kanin stays in town, he finds more clues that help him in his search for Ruby but also gets him closer to discovering the town’s dark, ancient secret. Unfortunately, Wolf Lake was never given a chance to succeed as a series on network TV as it was clearly ahead of its time with its edgy, boundary-pushing storytelling. I watched this series when it first ran and have seen it several times since, and I am still impressed with the world John Leekley creates. Some episodes are darkly humorous, or absurd, while others are horrifying. The werewolves of Wolf Lake are not mindless, bloodthirsty beasts, but rather centuries-old creatures who have constructed a way to live among humans without being hunted. Mind you, it still has plenty of frights, but it is also intelligent and unique in its portrayal of ‘the pack’ and its ability to not only survive but thrive. It is one of the greatest TV series I have ever seen. If you enjoy anything to do with the werewolf mythos, don’t miss this! Awooooo!
As a writer of weird fiction and poetry, Nicole e. Castle is drawn to what lurks in the shadows. Publications include Pink Panther Magazine; Erie Tales; Between the Lines; Sterling Script; and Recurring Nightmares. She teaches composition and literature at Macomb Community College; edits the college’s literary magazine, ARTIFEX; and hosts a literary reading series called WORDcraft. She is also the editor of the Great Lakes Association of Horror Writers short fiction and poetry magazine, Ghostlight: The Magazine of Terror. If she could become any monster, it would definitely be a Howling kind of werewolf. Why, you ask? Because they are having just too much damn fun! Awooooooo!
Wow. Werewolves have always been my favorite “classic” monster, although in modern life they haven’t received their proper 15 minutes in the light like zombies and vampires have. Thanks so much for this write up. I’ll certainly be checking out a few of these. I’m particularly intrigued by CREEP and WHEN ANIMALS DREAM.