Moving into day 3 of our Halloween celebration we meet the quintessential shape-shifter, the Werewolf. The Werewolf has a history that is as long and lustrous as a good fur coat and has been featured in old-wives tales, native mythology, pop-culture music, and of course movies.
Duran Duran has ‘Hungry Like The Wolf‘ for that synthesizer seizure you may have been craving. This is actually the first time I bothered to view the video. Actually it is quite horrible now that I watch. Their lip synching is pathetic; he looks like a goldfish sucking O2 and the premise of the video is fairly stupid– not a ton of wolves in the … where is that? The Amazon? An East Indian rain forest?
OK, what about some good ol’ fashioned Metallica, like what your grandfather used to listen to? ‘Of Wolf and Man‘ has got to be better I hope. K, that link is to their S&M version with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra and their original version was on their Black album. Way better.
Movies, we love the movies; the visuals, the trauma of transformation, the running, the howling, and occasionally lots of panting. Sometimes tears, depending on how bad the movie is, on behalf of both the actors and the movie-viewing public.
From Movie Moron a list of dubious ‘best’ Werewolf movies:
- Silver Bullet
- The Company of Wolves
- The Curse of the Werewolf
- Ginger Snaps
- Dog Soldiers
- The Howling
- The Wolfman
- An American Werewolf in London
It would seem this list came out before the installments of the Underworld Trilogy as well as Van Helsing which also mixes Werewolves, Vampires, and Kate Beckinsale. I would also add the Wolfman on that list is the original, not the 2010 release with Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro, but I’m sure you could watch them both and compare.
As with the zombie movies I’ve not seen a lot of these due to the nightmare material overload. I have seen Silver Bullet, Wolfen, Wolf (sadly), and An American Werewolf in London. Truly one can consider An American Werewolf in London more of a comedy, but I feel of all the movies on the list (aside from the original The Wolfman) it should be required viewing. I would also be remiss in not mentioning An American Werewolf in Paris, but I warn you now it’s not worth it.
History of the Werewolf: Material mostly from ‘The UneXplained‘ by Dr. Karl P.N. Shuker with a dose of my own knowledge invigorated from Wikipedia.
Fear of Werewolves have been circulating around the areas of Europe since before the Dark Ages. There were numerous traditional methods for determine if someone was a Werewolf: protruding teeth, hairy hands or feet, ears that were pointed and small or positioned low and towards the back of the head. Unusually long third fingers, thick eyebrows joining on the bridge of the nose, and long curved fingernails tinged with red. People found to be eating the brains or roasted flesh of a wolf or the meat from a sheep killed b a wolf or those who drank from puddles forming in wolf footprints or at water-holes frequented by wolves.
Well, I don’t know about you, but that last part seems a little obvious to me.
The use of wolfsbane (monkshood) was used to ward off those suspected of being Werewolves. Another simple solution was to shoot a suspected Werewolf with a blessed silver bullet. During the Dark Ages France staged 30,000 trials between the years of 1520 -1630 to confirm if someone was a Werewolf.
One such trial was that of Gilles Garnier after the summer of 1573 when the partially devoured corpses of several slaughtered children were found and locals claimed that a strange wolf-like beast had been seen with Garnier’s face. Later that November villagers followed the screams of a child and found her severely wounded and those who discovered her claimed to have clearly seen the beast version of Garnier. A few days later Garnier was arrested along with his wife. At the trail he confessed to two of the killings and stating that he brought part of one body home which was also consumed by his wife. The two were quickly found guilty and burned alive at the stake in January 1574.
Was Garnier really guilty or his poor wife who seems to have been fingered only by her husband at the trial? Or rather were they just an odd reclusive couple that was chosen by the suspicious villagers for persecution?
Clearly the idea of actual shape-shifting is ridiculous. Garnier could have actually been a sadistic murderer and cannibal, but more likely as recluses, lacking friends or influence, they were scapegoats for the evil deeds of others.
Another person, Jacques Rollet, was actually caught in the act of cannibalistic dismemberment of a victim and claimed at trial he did have the ability to shape-shift. The judge rightfully committed him to an insane asylum.
Of course, based on how asylums were run in 16th century, that may have been worse than being burned at the stake.
People who believe they can turn into wolves have what’s known as lycanthropy, they will attack people with the teeth and nails, howl at the moon and even today people believing they can transform into wolves are reported out of Europe.
Another possibility of what would cause so many reports of Werewolves or the ability to transform into a wolf may have been a contaminated food supply. Frequently grains were contaminated with a fungus called ergot which secretes a compound similar to LSD that causes hallucinatory sensations of shape shifting (See the X-Files episode ‘Never Again‘ where Scully concludes that the tattoo ink had ergot fungus in it). During medieval times uncontaminated grain was reserved for the aristocracy; peasants wishing to make bread had to use grain likely contaminated with ergot. Little wonder that many would have hallucinated seeing Werewolves or thinking they could transform into one.
Transformation mythology of course is not solely based in Europe. The Greek pantheon of gods were always transforming or themselves or mortals to suit their needs. Hugh Trotti offered another explanation based on the ancient Egyptian god of death, Anubis (Refer to The Mummy, The Mummy II, Stargate, and TV the version SG1), a jackal-headed deity whose priests wore masks of wolf-like appearance while performing religious rites.
While this could contribute to transformation mythology in northern Africa, it is unlikely and certainly the ancient Egyptians wouldn’t have confused their local jackals for stories of wolves.
Trotti however hypothesizes that after the domination of the Roman empire the worship of Anubis was brought back to Rome, then Germanic troops recruited into the Roman armies would have observed the priests performing their rituals wearing the masks and would have brought those stories back into their native lands thereby introducing the transformation mythologies into their own culture of middle and northern Europe.
In Native American cultures shape shifting and other anthropomorphic traits were believed. Though not termed ‘Werewolves’ the Naskapis believed the after-life of a caribou was guarded by a giant wolf creature and the Navajo people feared witches in wolf’s clothing called ‘Mai-cob’.
Hypertrichosis is a medical condition, also called Ambras Syndrome, that generates an over-abundance of body hair and could also contribute to the belief of Werewolves and in some extreme cases has been referred to as Werewolf syndrome. The congenital form of hypertrichosis is extremely rare and present from birth, the acquired form of hypertrichosis can be caused by drugs, sometimes from types of cancer, or some eating disorders.
Now, I haven’t warned about this previously, but I’m only going to mention ‘Twilight’ for the sake of making complete and total fun of the series. The following infographic previously featured Edward and Jacob, but I despise what has become of the genre of Vampires and Werewolves since the publication of those books (and subsequent movies) and I replaced that art with other images.
I hope you enjoy!
[Edit] I found this link late I had thought it was more Vampire related, but it directly speaks to the latest movie with Benicio Del Toro and why the Wolfman movies never knock it out of the park.