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Filmism.net Dispatch April 6, 2013

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A very quick goodbye and thank you to Roger Ebert, who succumbed to cancer this week. A giant amid insects, as the sage once said.

But let's turn to werewolves. After hearing about a werewolf movie I'd never known about called Bad Moon, I eagerly sought it out a few weeks back.

I love werewolf movies. Since being very badly traumatised by An American Werewolf in London at age 10 I've had an abiding fascination with werewolves. It's a sadly under-represented genre and every time a new one appears (or I hear about an old one) I movie heaven and Earth to watch it.

I'm even going to have to get an old VCR some day to watch a film called Project Metalbeast, because it's never come out on DVD and you can only get it at Amazon.

I'm sure it's going to be terrible, but most movies about werewolves are. Bad Moon wasn't just an awful werewolf movie, it's got to be one of the worst movies I've watched in the last 12 months. That leads to me wonder; why do werewolf movies suck so bad?

Sure, there are (rare) good ones. Neil Marshall got what werewolves were about with Dog Soldiers. Ginger Snaps did something understated and not overblown, the perfect recipe. You have to acknowledge Lon Chaney and George Waggner for The Wolf Man because it was the original, no matter how ropey it is nowadays.

Joe Dante's The Howling was the very academic expression of a great werewolf movie, it just didn't have the X factor of Landis' classic. Even Michael Jackson's Thriller had a fantastic werewolf sequence (but that's cheating because Landis was behind Thriller too).

In my constant search for great werewolf movies I've watched plenty that are only tangentially about werewolves, and even if the movie's good I'm disappointed when they play fast and loose with the mythology. Think Ladyhawke, Brotherhood of the Wolf, Wolf and Wolfen.

But there are very few good movies that have anything to do with lycanthropy. There's the simply cheap (The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, Silver Bullet). There are a lot of movies where you can tell the director doesn't really have a real affinity with werewolves as mythological characters. Films like Skinwalkers and Underworld have werewolves in them, but they've not about werewolves.

Neil Jordan had a great canvas to stitch the mythology to a classic fairy tale in The Company of Wolves, where Red Riding Hood was a perfect fit, but after watching it a few times I still don't know what the hell that movie's about (the confusion and pain of sexual awakening or something).

We've even had werewolf movies in completely new genres like Teen Wolf, but it was about being popular at high school, not horrific, bloody attacks under the full moon.

Most werewolf movies are simply bad. Joe Johnston delivered 2010's The Wolfman, a very sloppy retread of the 1941 original. Stephen Sommers' Van Helsing and Anthony Waller's An American Werewolf in Paris totally ignored what John Landis and Rick Baker taught us all; if you can make the audience believe a man is turning into a monster on camera and not starting a video game because of the crap CGI, you're halfway to making a good werewolf movie.

I wish, after writing all that, I had an answer to. There have been a million vampire movies across genres and styles, everything from the camp 80s comedy Love at First Bite to the teenage girl swoon of Twilight. Why can't more directors do the same with the poor misrepresented werewolf? Maybe Eli Roth is getting it right in his new series Hemlock Grove (here's a clip), but I still think using real dogs is cheating.

Still, Roth did okay work in Aftershock , which I saw recently, even if he came to a very nasty end.

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