The Werewolf and the Vampire have always been rivals for the hearts of horror fans and casual moviegoers alike. With their sharply differing natures, the two horrors came to represent different aspects of evil, equally fearsome and attractive at the same time. In the last twenty years or so, however, things changed for the two creatures, and vampires became vastly more popular than werewolves. While lycanthropes remained fairly common figures of horror, vampires suddenly became heroes to an entire vast subculture several times larger than the Goth crowd from which it sprang. At first glance, it might seem that the change was mostly due to the enormous popularity of Anne Rice's Lestat books and 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'.

But that was a symptom, not the cause. The real reason for the vampire's elevated status is simple - vampires are everything modern culture encourages us to be. The archetypal vampire is now charming and intelligent, romantic and sophisticated. He has extended his lifespan through cold calculation, obstinacy and selfishness, and most importantly of all, a vision of the long term. We see vampires as supernatural yuppies now. Even their appearance, once a liability that marked them as menacing outsiders, has become an asset. After all, pale skin and gaunt features are the new look of health, and everybody wears black. The vampires in 'Blade' look exactly like the cool kids, so much so that for the second Blade film it was necessary to invent a new kind of vampire to horrify the audience. This new creature was dumber than the others, and far more bestial, and it was nothing at all like the traditional vampire. The new evil vampire looked, at first sight, fairly normal - until it got hungry or angry. Then its savage nature came out, and the thing's face split in half to reveal an enormous maw. This beastie didn't fool around with delicately sucking blood from its victims' necks. It bit off their faces.

Sound familiar? It should. The antagonists of Blade 2 were, in fact, werewolves. For this is the essence of the werewolf legend. Fur and wet noses are only part of the costume. The true nature of the werewolf is savagery hiding under a thin mask of normalcy. The werewolf is the Beast Within, the animal part of our nature that we can never completely eliminate. The lycanthrope doesn't always look like a wolf. Wolves are only the most common form, a natural enough occurrence since the wolf has always been the Northern Hemisphere's most feared predator. History has given us weres in the forms of sharks, tigers, snakes, the abominable Mr. Hyde, and Stan Lee's Incredible Hulk. From the other end of the lycanthropic spectrum, the animals that become humans, we have the foxwomen of Japan and, again, wolves and snakes (note the recurrence of snakes, another type of predator that humanity seems pre-programmed to fear). Blade 2's werewolves were no different, for all that they were tarted up with insectile CG mouths.

While the vampire defies the natural cycle of life and death through obstinacy and selfishness, the werewolf surrenders to a part of nature that most of us would rather deny. The curse of the werewolf cannot be fought with logic, and the archetypal victims of lycanthropy are actually the most civilized and logical specimens of humanity. Consider the heroine's boyfriend in 'the Howling' - the very model of a modern enlightened man. He is a vegetarian and a genuine Sensitive Guy, and we know he is doomed from the moment we see him voraciously downing a hamburger that's hardly even looked at a flame. This isn't healthy, and it certainly isn't attractive. But, as Sensitive Boyfriend soon finds out, it's delicious.

This is the fundamental danger of lycanthropy. We know that almost every aspect of the disease is disgusting, but our revulsion doesn't help us fight it. For all the walls of morality, propriety and culture we erect around our animal hearts, we can still hear the call of the wild. Most of us, I optimistically believe, desire to be good people. But I believe with equal conviction that hidden inside every one of us is a slavering beast, ready to leap out and attack at a moment's notice. In the most frequently quoted line from TV's Incredible Hulk, David Banner warns his nemesis, "don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." But Banner's real problem is that he doesn't like himself when he's angry. None of us do. We fear werewolves, not because they are scary monsters - truth be told, vampires make much scarier villains - but because they are a part of us that we don't like and can't ever get rid of.

This shows in the structure of the various tales of vampires and werewolves. The main thrust of most vampire movies is "vampire attacks, vampire threatens hero's friend or lover, hero kills vampire and frees friend or lover." Occasionally the hero may have to kill the friend or lover, but more often they are saved when the vampire is slain. All of this is usually seen from the hero's viewpoint. Werewolf movies, however, typically follow the effects of the curse much more intimately, and the new werewolf is likely to be the most sympathetic character in the movie, if not the actual protagonist. And he or she almost always dies in great violence, only then returning to the "pure" human form. The moral is that the beast is such a fundamental part of us that it can only be eradicated by killing the human.


Like the curse of lycanthropy, werewolf fiction comes in cycles. Most cycles seem to last fifteen to twenty years. In 'Danse Macabre', published in 1981, Stephen King wrote "there hasn't been a good Werewolf movie in ten or fifteen years", although he took care to note that alternate forms of werewolves, such as the Hulk, had been fairly common. But later that very year, three of the horror genre's finest movies ever were dedicated to werewolves: 'An American Werewolf in London', 'The Howling', and 'Wolfen'. They were all superb, and each one of them explored a very different vision of the Beast. Lycanthropes were back a year later in 'Cat People', which focussed on the animal nature of sexual desire. Another more sympathetic version of lycanthropy drove Neil Jordan's peculiar 'The Company of Wolves' a few years later. It bombed, showing once again that most audiences just aren't prepared to accept werewolves as sympathetic characters. (Then again, it could have been the fact that the movie was absolutely bizarre and completely uncategorizable.)

In any case, when the yuppie culture began to dominate the West, the wolf went back into hiding, leaving Nosferatu to roam virtually unchallenged in movies and books - only to reemerge in the late Nineties, when the vampire craze finally started to die down. The beast within cannot be denied. In the last few years, we've seen several new and uniquely wonderful visions of lycanthropic madness: 'Ginger Snaps', 'Dog Soldiers', and 'The Brotherhood of the Wolf' (which didn't actually feature any shapeshifters, but did deal with humanity's savage nature, which is the real point of any werewolf movie). There was also an execrable sequel to 'American Werewolf in London', but we'll gloss over that one, please. And in Laurel Hamilton's 'Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter' novels, some of the most intriguing characters are lycanthropes, with each werespecies representing a different aspect of humanity.

On TV, in the realm of the other popular Vampire Hunter - sorry, 'Slayer' - Seth Green played an interesting and much-loved werewolf for a couple of seasons, until his film career took off and he left the series. This gave his briefly grieving girlfriend a chance to grow from a shallow sidekick character to a well-rounded fan favourite, currently tipped as the character most likely to star in yet another Buffy spinoff, but that's another story.

And there are more weres on the way. Not only 'pure' werewolf visions, such as the upcoming sequel (AND prequel) to Ginger Snaps, but mutants like the big-screen version of the Hulk. And two upcoming pictures feature werewolves and vampires side by side - there is 'Underworld', about a werewolf-vampire romance (which might sound original, except the Anita Blake novels have been doing it with considerable passion for half a dozen years now), and the probably horrible 'LXG - the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen', which has as core members Jekyll and Hyde and the now vampiric Wilhelmina Murray.

The Moon is on the rise. And about time, too. The werewolf might not be able to overthrow the vampire as the popular favourite - the archetype of the vampire seems too firmly entrenched in modern culture for any serious challenge - but, as far as I'm concerned, the lycanthrope is a far more relevant kind of horror than the pasty-skinned undead. Vampires make for fearsome adversaries, but they are pure fantasy. They are symbols of the unknown darkness outside our campfires. Werewolves, on the other hand, are symbols of a terror we know all too well. They are sitting right there by the fire, inside you and inside me. And I don't think I like the way you stole that last piece of chicken. You shouldn't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry.


For anyone who's interested in exploring the nature of the beast, I'll list a few of the finer specimens. These are personal favourites, listed chronologically. I'll show my age by mentioning every one of the 1981 movies favourably.

THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE - the werewolf has only inspired one really good book to date, and this is that book. Sadly, there isn't a single wolf in it. But the demonic Mr. Hyde is undeniably a were, and in the capable hands of Robert Louis Stevenson his tale becomes one of horror's great masterpieces. Legend has it that the first draft of 'Jekyll and Hyde' was so horrifying to Stevenson's wife that he immediately threw it into the fireplace, only to rewrite it at lightning speed three days later. We should all be thankful.

THE WOLF MAN - this is the quintessential werewolf movie, the one that created the modern werewolf. Almost all the well-known aspects of 'traditional' werewolf lore were, in fact, invented in this movie. There's little in it that will actually scare modern audiences, but it's still a fun movie to watch.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON - a grimly humourous look at lycanthropy, with absolutely revolutionary makeup and modelling techniques. Inspired a worldwide rash of pubs called "the Slaughtered Lamb", most of them terribly sad places to get drunk in. The sequel is a horrid exploitation flick, to be avoided at all costs.

THE HOWLING - a wonderful "werewolves are among us" movie, slightly more in tune with modern reality than 'American Werewolf'. This one is more about the hideous attraction of lycanthropy, and sex is a key aspect. Again, the makeup is amazing, and the climax is an absolute pantswetter.

WOLFEN - Wolfen was the odd man out in 1981's werewolf trio, and made a lot less money than the other two. One of its most regrettable flaws is the inclusion of a really bad Token Black character and some fairly lame Indian characters, hitting theatres just when audiences were finally getting tired of these stereotypes. Wolfen's portrayal of werewolves is immediately recognizable, however, to anyone who ever played a game of "Werewolf: the Apocalypse". The weres here are wendigos, nature spirits out for revenge on the Stupid White Men who raped the planet and marginalised their more spiritual brethren. You'll note that most of the action takes place in an abandoned church. Wolfen is also notable for being one of the first movies to use distorted camera effects to show things from the creature's point of view.

GINGER SNAPS - this recent Canadian picture is, believe it or not, a coming-of-age movie, linking lycanthropy to a change that all of us are familiar with - the assault of hormones during adolescence, when we first begin to hear the call of our animal nature and the lunar cycle. The teen fascination with sex and death is explored here in hyper-realistic detail, and it's all done with monstrously effective humour. This is one of my all-time favourites, partly due to the fact that its protagonists are a couple of the most believable teen Goths ever shown in a genre that usually exploits the Goth subculture with shallow stereotypes.