Our culture has a fascination with werewolves. These mythical creatures have been the focus of legends for hundreds of years, and there have been countless books, films, and television series that depict werewolves in all their ferocious might. A wolf isn't always a wolf however, and werewolves are often used as stand-ins for various social issues. Many werewolf stories are allegorical, using the werewolf as more of a metaphor than a monster.
Werewolf movies are no exception, and pretty much every werewolf in cinema has some kind of metaphorical undertone to it. Sometimes, a werewolf stands in for a forbidden lover or the danger of traveling to a new country. Themes as broad as "coming of age" or as specific as the corruption of the Nixon administration have also been thoroughly explored in werewolf films, even if you weren't consciously aware of the point.
John Landis's horror-comedy classic An American Werewolf in London follows two friends, David and Jack, backpacking through the UK. They're just college kids having a good time, and neither is really worried when some of the locals warn them to stay away from the moors. They don't, of course, and soon are set upon by a werewolf. Jack is slain, while David is infected with the werewolf curse.
The rest of the film follows David as he drifts about aimlessly through London, trying to avoid the hard truth that he is now a werewolf. The film seems to punish David for his aloof attitude, condemning the whole lifestyle of entitled, aimless college students who take vapid vacations in foreign countries. He ignored the advice of the locals and ultimately pays for it.
Actors: Jenny Agutter, Frank Oz, Rik Mayall, David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, + more
Directed by: John Landis
Dog Soldiers may be an action/horror schlock-fest, but there's arguably some metaphorical baggage hiding behind all those British accents and heavy arms. The film follows a squadron of British soldiers on a training mission gone horribly wrong. The soldiers quickly realize something is wrong when they find the savaged remains of the team they were to meet up with, and slowly they learn that their "training mission" is actually part of a disturbing military operation to capture a live werewolf in order to develop it into a soldier.
It's eventually revealed that the squadron was meant to be bait for the werewolves and were not meant to survive the mission. Here, the werewolves clearly become metaphors for the ravages of conflict, often inflicted upon the youth by generals who are nowhere near the action. It shows how corrupt military organizations are often willing to sacrifice the lives of their own to forward unsavory and despicable goals.
Actors: Kevin McKidd, Liam Cunningham, Sean Pertwee, Craig Conway, Darren Morfitt, + more
Directed by: Neil Marshall
Lots of werewolf stories have religious undertones to them, but Silver Bullet makes those undertones overt. The movie follows the residents of a small town as they are whipped into hysteria by a series of strange and grisly slayings. A mob soon forms, and local religious leader Reverend Lowe tries everything he can to stop them. It's soon revealed that it is Lowe himself who is the werewolf, and the process slowly turns him insane.
He begins to believe that he is a holy warrior and that his slayings are sanctioned by God. His zealotry leads him to start slaying anyone in town who gets too close to the truth, in order to protect his divine mission. The film plays with a lot of religious themes, including how religion can justify atrocities.
Actors: Gary Busey, Corey Haim, Terry O'Quinn, Tovah Feldshuh, James Gammon, + more
Directed by: Dan Attias
The Howling is what happens when you try to write a werewolf movie after an ayahuasca ceremony in the desert. The story follows Karen White, a person stalked by a deranged serial slayer. The police eventually catch the person with Karen's help, but she is deeply disturbed by the whole affair. Her therapist recommends Karen spend some time at the "Colony," an isolated commune centered on mental health and rehabilitation.
Of course, the Colony is not at all what Karen was expecting. Like so many before her, Karen is accidentally conned into a weird California cult, only this time everyone is werewolves. To make things even worse, it turns out that her psychotic stalker is one of the head werewolves at the commune. The metaphor might not be subtle, but the werewolves are meant to represent the dangers of falling into a cult. It showcases how vulnerable people are at a greater risk of being taken advantage of by one of these cults as well.
Actors: Dee Wallace, John Sayles, Slim Pickens, Patrick Macnee, John Carradine, + more
Directed by: Joe Dante