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Werewolf Movies That Aren’t Really About Werewolves

April 17, 2020 179 votes 39 voters 3.4k views14 items

List RulesVote up the howlingly best werewolf-adjacent movies

The idea of the beast within us, just waiting to get out, is a potent metaphor, and one that the most thoughful werewolf movies often take full advantage of. Werewolf movies have managed to turn the metaphor to a lot of different ends - it can represent everything from coming-of-age, to mental illness and PTSD, to love and lust. But not every werewolf movie actually has a wolf (or a wolf man) in it. In fact, clinical lycanthropy, the belief that you are a werewolf without actually transforming into such a beast, was on the medical books for years.

Sometimes, that metaphor managed to get even a little more metaphorical. Rather than sprouting hair and fangs, the victims in these lycanthropic films may simply find themselves with uncontrolled passions. They may think that they're turning into monsters, or feel like they are - or they may want people to think they are, in order to gaslight or mislead them. Whatever the case, some of the wildest and weirdest werewolf movies don't feature werewolves at all - but they're no less hairy for that.

  • There are werewolves aplenty to be found in Neil Jordan's The Company of Wolves, adapted from the stories of Angela Carter by Jordan and Carter herself, even if they mostly occupy the realm of fairy tales and metaphors. Which isn't to say that the film doesn't feature werewolves front-and-center - in a number of different ways, depending on how each story is being told. The beasts always occupy a place somewhere in a story-within-a-story-within-a-story, as the film nestles narratives to pull from fairy tales and genre trappings the metaphoric and thematic meat of adolescence, womanhood, class struggle, and much more.

    It's a heady cocktail that nonetheless never forgets to be gooily visceral, with memorably weird practical effects that stick in the mind long after the final frame has run. It's not a typical werewolf film - nor a run-of-the-mill fairy tale - but it's a bit of both and a lot of something else altogether.

    • Actors: Angela Lansbury, Terence Stamp, David Warner, Stephen Rea, Brian Glover
    • Released: 1984
    • Directed by: Neil Jordan
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  • In the middle part of the 18th century, a monster stalked the Gévaudan region of France. Described as a great wolf, the so-called Beast of Gévaudan may have claimed hundreds of lives, and has still not been conclusively identified. "The best and most likely explanation is Gévaudan had a serious wolf infestation" rather than one monstrous wolf, according to Jay M. Smith, historian and author of the book Monsters of the Gévaudan: The Making of a Beast.

    The legends that have grown up around the Beast over the years have proved fertile ground for filmmakers and storytellers, with perhaps the best-known dramatization being Christophe Gans' 2001 historial drama/horror/martial arts mash-up film, Brotherhood of the Wolf, which combines real history, palace intrigue, conspiracy theories, and lots of unlikely martial arts battles - along with a Beast designed by Jim Henson's Creature Shop - to create a weird and heady cocktail.

    For most of the movie, it seems like the hunters are after a werewolf, but the final reveal, while less supernatural, is actually quite a bit weirder than that would have been.

    • Actors: Monica Bellucci, Vincent Cassel, Gaspard Ulliel, Mark Dacascos, Jacques Perrin
    • Released: 2001
    • Directed by: Christophe Gans
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  • This arty Danish flick has been compared (both favorably and otherwise) to Let the Right One InGinger Snaps, and Carrie, so it should come as no surprise that When Animals Dream channels coming of age themes into its story of a girl in a lonely fishing town transforming into some sort of werewolf-like creature as she gets older. There's plenty of horrific material to mine from adolescence, and the other-ness that most of  us feel at one time or another as we're growing up.

    When Animals Dream salts that familiar meal with elements of familial secrets and a town that seems to know more than it lets on about young Marie, her wheelchair-bound mother, and the condition that is leading her to transform into a beast-like state.

    • Actors: Lars Mikkelsen, Stig Hoffmeyer, Jakob Oftebro, Sonja Richter, Benjamin Boe Rasmussen
    • Released: 2014
    • Directed by: Jonas Alexander Arnby
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  • Billed as a "teenage lesbian werewolf love story," this flick by writer/director Bradley Rust Gray seems to be filled with visual gusto, but not much else, at least if its 12% at Rotten Tomatoes and generally lackluster reviews are to be believed. This in spite of lead roles played by Juno Temple and Riley Keough, stop-motion sequences animated by the Brothers Quay, and a central metaphor of the transforming power of first love (both for good and ill) that is as potent as it is well-worn.

    While the "werewolf" part of this love story might be more figurative than literal, there's still plenty of weirdness and viscera to be found, even if the former is mostly in dream sequences, and the latter mostly represented by stop-motion segments of internal organs changing shape or being invaded by braided hair. The metaphor is obvious enough - love changes you, for better or worse, and those changes are often painful, jarring, and confusing - but for most critics, it didn't translate into an equally transformative cinematic experience.

    • Actors: Kylie Minogue, Juno Temple, Dane DeHaan, Riley Keough, Haviland Morris
    • Released: 2012
    • Directed by: Bradley Rust Gray
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