The clock strikes midnight and as you peek outside, you notice a bright, full moon. Is that a howling you can hear in the distance? Since Lon Chaney Jr. donned the fur in The Wolf Man, wolves and werewolves have been a common occurrence in cinema with many different angles on these lycanthropic beasts. Sometimes they rip your face off, okay most of the time they want to rip your face off, but sometimes they want to live peacefully and sometimes they even want to solve crimes. We’ve picked out 9 of the most frightening werewolf films worth watching when the moon has waxed. Load up with silver bullets and maybe grab a crossbow too.
Well, we had to start with this didn’t we? Two American backpackers run into trouble while hiking across the Yorkshire Moors when they are attacked by a deadly beast. One ends up dead and the other turned into a terrifying werewolf. Friendly nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) tries to assist but can David be stopped?
Featuring staggering makeup effects from Rick Baker in an unforgettable transformation scene and on location shooting in London Zoo and Piccadilly Circus, this film remains a cult classic and one of the best examples of a horror comedy you’re ever likely to see. Comedy fans will also enjoy a cameo from a young Rik Mayall, a patron of the most unwelcoming of all pubs The Slaughtered Lamb.
A year after filming The Street Fighter and The Executioner, martial arts legend Sonny Chiba would take on another starring role: Wolf Guy. Produced by Toei Studio, Chiba is Akira Inugami, an investigator who uncovers a conspiracy while looking into a spate of violent murders. What gives Inugami the edge however is that he’s descended from a clan of werewolves and can use his lycanthropic powers to crack the case!
An extremely violent and mind-bending genre smash that isn’t afraid to go to weird and wonderful places. Over-the-top? Yes, but that’s the point. A psychedelic assault on the senses with a hypnotic synth soundtrack.
Ginger Snaps (2000)
While having her first period, teenager Ginger is bitten by a strange creature attracted by the smell of blood. When she heals quickly and begins to grow things like hair in strange places and a tail, her sister Brigitte suspects she might be turning into a werewolf.
Hampered by bad timing on release – real life school tragedies in Canada where the film was made caused a moral outrage towards the theme of violent teenagers – it has since been rediscovered as a cult classic, particularly for its feminist interpretation. A sequel and prequel emerged shortly afterwards but the original is a teenage werewolf film worth sinking your teeth into.
The Beast Must Die (1974)
An Amicus Production, this contains a welcome set of ingredients for a 70s British Horror – a gothic mansion, a rabid beast and Peter Cushing. It’s a twist on the whodunnit as a big game hunter welcomes a group of people to his country abode and reveals one of them is a werewolf. Using state-of-the-art tech including CCTV and motion sensors, the werewolf will be uncovered!
Notable for a “werewolf break” where towards the end of the film, there is a 30 second pause intended for the audiences to discuss among themselves who the werewolf might be. Director Paul Annett thoroughly disliked the idea but was overridden by a producer.
The Company of Wolves (1984)
While we’re talking about gothic British horror, let’s look at The Company of Wolves. Director Neil Jordan (Mona Lisa, The Crying Game) puts a surreal spin on fairy tales with an anthology of stories featuring a young girl and her grandmother who warns of “men whose eyebrows meet in the middle”…
Ambitious and imaginative, and like others entries in this list, it includes a memorable transformation scene. Loaded with dreamy layers and metaphor, it’s as much a coming-of-age story than anything else and the gothic stylings are exquisitely done.
Silver Bullet (1985)
An ‘80s horror based on a Stephen King novella where in a small town murders occur whenever there’s a full moon. A young boy (Corey Haim) in a souped up wheelchair nicknamed “Silver Bullet” teams up with Uncle Red (Gary Busey) to investigate after Red is suspected of being the killer.
With dry ice inspired fog, killer fireworks and head flying decapitations, there is enough charm to brush over some of the more dopey aspects. A solid piece of ’80s nostalgia and a great turn for the entertaining Busey.
We could have picked any of The Howling series but we’ve got our sights on Philippe Mora’s brilliantly barmy sequel. A tall, mysterious man (Christopher Lee, of course) tells Ben that his recently deceased sister was actually a werewolf and requests he and colleague Jenny travel with him to Transylvania to defeat werewolf queen Striba (Sybil Danning).
The most out-and-out fun entry on our list. It’s campy, cheesy and corny but you’ll never forget it. Mora’s follow-up Howling III: The Marsupials where the action is transposed to the Australian outback continues the amusing theme.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
Neil Marshall (Hellboy, The Descent) made his directorial debut in 2002 with this fresh spin on the killer canines subgenre. A group of British soldiers are dropped in the Scottish Highlands as part of a training exercise but find themselves under attack by a fearsome pack of werewolves.
With satisfying echoes of Predator and Aliens as soldiers grab big guns to take out an enemy threat in an isolated location, Dog Soldiers manages to strike a fine balance between horror and action with a wry sense of humour. The special effects deserve to be marvelled at as well.
Werewolves Within (2021)
We end with the most recent title on our list, 2021’s Werewolves Within. In the small town of Beaverfield, a snowstorm rages causing residents to congregate in a lodge for safety. When a man’s hand is inexplicably bitten off, they make the logical conclusion that this was the actions of a werewolf who hides among them.
Film adaptations of video games have proven to be a challenge for some time but director Josh Ruben (read our interview with him) achieves something special with this. An ensemble piece with finely tuned comic performances, in particularly from Sam Richardson and Milana Vayntrub, shows there are still fresh ideas for the killer wolf motif.