Halloween Series: Werewolves (The Wolf Man, Van Helsing, The Howling, American Werewolf In London)

Werewolves tend to be grouped with vampires and zombies in the whole Horror Icon genre and, seeing as Dracula is the king of vampires, I figure I ought to move on to the other two. Firstly, werewolves, the men and women who are forced to transform into hybrid monsters by moonlight and hunt innocents. So just why is it that werewolves are considered such a staple of the horror genre??

Firstly, what exactly is a werewolf? Well most books and films describe a werewolf as a man or woman who has been infected via transmission of saliva or blood by a werewolf. Victims of the ‘werewolf’s curse’ are doomed to transform into werewolves under the light of the full moon. The transformation is usually seen as being incredibly painful due to bones having to reform and muscles being pulled out of shape. I think that’s a big part of the reason why we fear werewolves and also why we should pity them. It’s a victim thing, they can’t help the fact that they are infected and that makes us both pity them and fear then, more specifically we fear losing our humanity and that when we do we won’t be able to control it. It harks back to the idea that there’s an animal in us all, something that we subdue for now but when it breaks the surface it’s almost impossible to control and for the most part this view is seen throughout fiction. Werewolves are generally seen as victims, most don’t take any pride or joy in what they become and it’s seen as a curse. It’s not just the aspect of animalistic instinct and the fact that we fear loosing control that makes werewolves such a staple of horror. I think there has always been this very human fear of nature, specifically animals. Our psyche is geared towards our own preservation and to do that we have these primal fears of certain animals, those most likely to kill us. One of these animals is the wolf. Why are we geared to fear the wolf? Well our ancestors faced a variety of threats and the wolf was probably a common one. It’s a reasonably smart animal that hunts in a pack and has a pretty vicious procurement and the fact that the werewolves are in fact part wolf probably helps explain why there is a primitive part of us that still fears them. There is another more obvious reason for the success of werewolves as a horror icon. I’d like to share with you a dream I had several years ago where I was magically transported to my old primary school and a werewolf proceeded to hunt a group of  people I’d been to school with and myself. At the end of the dream, which was actually very short, I was cornered by the beast which then proceeded to rip me apart and to this day I swear I could feel its cold, steel like claws tearing into me before the nightmare shifted to…something else…

It’s like passing a kidney stone whose mother was a porcupine and whose father was a ball of flame…


Not only is this a testament to the power of the human mind but it also raises a pretty big reason why we find werewolves so scary. It’s their physical nature, the idea that they dwarf us in size and then proceed to literally rip us apart and devour us whilst we are still alive is pretty grisly, its body horror at its finest and I think that scares us as a culture because its something we are exposed to so much in the media, or at least in certain circles, that we become used to it as a norm but our imagination takes it and exacerbates it to beyond anything that can be put on film. Werewolves are pretty much the peak of violent body horror, not only in transformation but also in deed.

Werewolves combine a physically aggressive, challenging foe with the genetic fear of the animal, the psychological resonance of losing our identity and the perfectly rational fear of being torn apart.


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