Sunday, November 15, 2015

Elements of Horror: Werewolves

This is one of the big ones. Werewolves may have fallen out of favor, in general, over the past fifty years or so but they remain a personal favorite of mine in the horror community. Vampires will seduce you and sip from your jugular, zombies will chow down on your flesh but werewolves will rip your guts out and leave you bleeding to death in a field.

When you think about it, Werewolves have a lot in common with vampires and probably don't have a reason to exist when vampires already do. Vampires can already shapeshift between the form of a man and a wolf. In some legends, they can even attain the half-human form that we normally associate with werewolves. But there is something soft and nearly feminine and/or erotic about being bitten by a vampire. There is nothing erotic or feminine about a werewolf.

Werewolves already take a scary part of nature, wolves, and up the ante by making them human sized. If you run into a wolf, he could probably mess you up with his fangs and claws. Now imagine a human sized wolf with the reach of a man. Those claws that can tear through your flesh like tissue paper are scary as hell. No one wants to be gutted like a fish.

Also, unlike a vampire, being a werewolf is blatantly referred to as a curse. If you become a werewolf, there are no cool fringe benefits, just waiting out the lunar cycle so you don't have to flee town again. Everyone who becomes a vampire seems to dig it, honestly. It is hard to fully embrace the werewolf lifestyle as a positive.

In Danse Macabre, Stephen King posits that the Werewolf is scary because it is our id unleashed. In that regard, Werewolves are similar to the Hulk or Mr. Hyde. Instead of tapping into that mutant fear of that which we may become, we are reaching backwards into our primitive urges and fearing those. Almost everyone knows what it is like to be pushed past the point of rational thought and into pure rage (usually by someone we love). The werewolf is that side of us, lurking in the shadows, waiting to get out.

What I find fascinating about the Werewolf mythology is that it comes with that very harsh limitation of only happening once every 28 days or so. The rest of the time, you are just living your normal life. You go to work, kiss the wife and kids, hang out with friends...and then two to three nights in a row, you become a savage killing machine. And it isn't even like you operate by wolf rules, you just straight up murder some fools. This is isn't hunting or eating or defending territory, this is just becoming a land shark.

Movies have a lot of fun with the idea of total transformation, too. American Werewolf in London has one of the best transitioning scenes ever. Dog Soldiers likes playing with the idea that you can't tell anyone apart once they are wolfing out. If you are a werewolf, you become unrecognizable to yourself and others. It is like letting your inner asshole run wild with almost no repercussions (I mean, who even has a silver bullet?). In a way, it is even more seductive than being a vampire in that you can still exist in the day time. You still get to be a good person most of the time. Just those three pesky nights where you have to indulge your base whims. It really isn't that bad a trade. Until you get got.

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