October 4th -- Werewolves

Ginger Snaps (2000)
Directed by John Fawcett

An American Werewolf in London won an Oscar in 1981 for its fantastic make-up work -- primarily for “the scene” where we witness the main character David turn into a beast right before our eyes. Since then, many other filmmakers have infused their own ideas into this transformation blueprint, yet they’ve come up short. Ginger Snaps, however, takes similar flickers of this scene, edits them into a few short bits, and takes maybe 10 seconds -- 3 or which are actually visible -- to illustrate Ginger’s own full transformation. And, boy, is it effective. Furthermore, it all also wouldn't be possible if the lead characters weren't female -- which adds a topical edge to Ginger Snaps that makes it all the more ferocious.

But it’s the lead-up to this final transformation -- the menstruation confusion, the growth of a tail, and the facial shifting -- that smoothly take us into her complete creation amid this sisterly werewolf tale. Watching Ginger start to change in her mannerisms and raw verocity, all the while seeing how her sister Bridgette tries to adjust along with her transformation, help to craft Ginger Snaps into an original and scary-as-hell twist on the genre clichés that stayed in effect for 20+ years. It plays by all the normal rules, adding dashes of snarling effects and grueling levels of bloodshed for tension’s sake, yet it’s the gradually shifting dynamic between the two “hell or high water” sisters make Ginger Snaps a frightening exercise in bestial humanization.

Dog Soldiers (2002)
Directed by Neil Marshall

Was the second time the charm with Dog Soldiers? Affirmative, soldier. Neil Marshall’s freshman horror flick rubbed me the wrong way with my first viewing, thinking that it was an unfocused scattershot as it trotted along. With a second turn, it still lacked in the scares department -- yet the way it orchestrates its grasp on the supernatural in a realistic environment proves to be more effective with a repeat dip. As a werewolf flick, it doesn’t exactly telegraph direct hits with make-up composition or scare tactics; as a singular survivalist military film with bestial forces at play, it manages to deliver a few sharp shivers. Most of all, Dog Soldiers never forgets to have a hell of a lot of fun with its premise.

The strongest supernatural moment in the entire film occurs around a campfire with all of the soldiers sharing a drink. They’re swapping stories about fear and such, when their captain steps up for a definitive answer. He tells a story about a soldier under his command that tattooed the devil’s face upon one of his buttcheeks as a display of his flesh’s allegiance. Along a routine sweep, his body is blown to smithereens, destroying everything in combustive shambles except for that patch of skin. This story introduces open-mindedness to the soldiers, as hard as it might be to swallow that story, which becomes integral when they’re fending off huge werewolves twice their size. It’s nature also encapsulates the mood of Dog Soldiers as a whole: silly, explosive fun with a dash of shiver-worthy grotesqueries.

An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Directed by John Landis

Crown jewel of all werewolf films, An American Werewolf in London fits the bill by squeezing its horror-based transformation tale between phenomenal make-up work and stinging humor. As an Academy-award winning horror film for taking its sweet time in David's "reconstruction" into his beastly alter-ego, along with a fantastic rendering of an undead victim walking and talking with his jugular torn to bloody shreds, it has become a bizarre classic because of its knowledge of horror conventions -- and having a great time poking and prodding at them.

More important, it makes certain to keep an entertaining blend between upbeat banter and chilling dread. The one concept that always sticks with me is the relationship that develops between David and his nurse: he's able to pounce all over a case of Nightingale Syndrome with her, a fantasy held in high regard with men of his age, only to have it stripped away through a series of dangerous, voracious nights as a lycanthrope -- nights where he's forced to unleash his inner beast.

What night of werewolf films would be complete without Landis' cheeky werewolf masterpiece? It never fails to crack me up, whether it's the banter between David and his travel mate Jack or the crazy situations that David lands himself in after nights of feeding off anything that moves within metropolitan England. But I enjoy the film for one extra reason that many might not: my mother was a big Van Morrison fan while I was growing up, and my particular favorite track of his was always "Moondance". Strangely that song accompanies, fittingly, the sex scene that our transforming werewolf enjoys. Several clever song choices are scattered throughout An American Werewolf in London, including pitch-perfect placement of "Blue Moon" and CCR's "Bad Moon Rising", that pour on yet another layer of enjoyability to relish within this classic hybrid monster film. Plus, speaking of sound, you can't deny that it harbors one of the best, if not THE best, wolf howl in cinema.


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