With The Wolfman opening today and setting a new standard for special-effects transformations of man into beast, it's time to take a look at some werewolf transformations from the past, going from the absolutely stunning to a few real howlers.
THE BEST Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man
In this first sequel to The Wolf Man and the first of Universal's multi-monster mashups that led the way to The House of Frankenstein and The House of Dracula, we get a transformation/resurrection scene in which the full moon reanimates the late Lawrence Talbot in his lupine form. While we don't see much actual on-screen changing, there's truly creepy stuff as the grave robbers face a wolfsbane-packed sepulcher with a not-quite-dead lycanthrope in it.
This was the first onscreen use of extensive prosthetics to show somebody (in this case, Voyager's Robert Picardo) change into wolf form without the benefit of in-camera dissolves. Back in 1981, these effects, cooked up by Rob Bottin, were mind-blowing. They still are pretty damned cool, and Picardo's psychotic glee at changing into a monster is just awesome.
An American Werewolf in London
Rick Baker goes one better than Rob Bottin by turning David Naughton into a quadrupedal werewolf. Yeah, the light is a little too bright on the latex skin. But this scene still kicks butt, especially the way you see human anatomy changing into something totally different just under the musculature.
American Werewolf's creative team of director John Landis and Rick Baker team up again for this most famous of all 1980s undead/werewolf music videos. Michael Jackson's 1950s varsity jacket seems less dated now than his 1980s red leather jacket. Funny how that works.
THE GOOD Underworld
Yeah, CGI might seem like cheating to some die-hard makeup effects fans. But this is a really smooth and pretty convincing transformation of Underworld screenwriter (and uber-comic-book-geek and publisher) Kevin Grevioux into a Lycan.
The Company of Wolves
Neil Jordan and Angela Carter teamed up for this really wacked-out fairy-tale fable about lycanthropy and emerging sexuality. While some of Christopher Tucker's makeup work here might seem kind of Muppety, the sheer psychosis of having Stephen Rea flay himself is pretty freaky.
This is Neil Marshall's total pastiche (with werewolves) of just about any movie you can name, from Apocalypse Now to Zulu. Liam Cunningham's transformation isn't much technically. But the simple fact that he does the classic fall-behind-a-piece-of-furniture-and-come-up-hairy maneuver in a movie that is a sequence of homages is pretty sweet.
And speaking of homages, Fred Dekker's kiddie classic that honors the Universal monster movie legacy features some pretty good effects from Stan Winston. The final version of the Wolf Man, who indeed has nards, looks like a Bernie Wrightson werewolf, so extra points for that!
THE MEH! Silver Bullet
Kind of blah work from Carlo Rambaldi, who had previously won an Oscar for his creature effects on Alien and E.T.. Everett McGill's wolf form is a little too apelike, and there's not enough hair to cover the latex. Still, a werewolf using a truncheon is kind of novel.
Oh, look! Bella is having a hissy fit. There's something new. And a handsome supernatural boy comes to her aid. That never happens. Really cartoony CGI work here. Though the suddenness of the transformations is kind of effective.
THE WORST! Thundarr the Barbarian: "The Brotherhood of Night"
The normally pretty good animation of Thundarr (considering the budget and the era) falls flat with these transformations. The whole point of animation is that you can do whatever you imagine with it, and these transformations have no imagination behind them at all. Thundarr, in a post-apocalyptic Washington, D.C., faces werewolves led by the evil Ze-Von, as in almost "Warren Zevon," writer of the song "Werewolves of London."
I Was a Teenage Werewolf
A piece of glorious cheese from the 1950s' drive-in era and an iconic bit of crap exploitation cinema, showing up in everything from the music of the Cramps to Stephen King's It. But why does Michael Landon's transformation make everything around him blurry and looking like Vaseline smeared on the camera lens?
Dark Shadows: Quentin's many transformations
Barnabas Collins' brother Quentin was a tortured soul, cursed with lycanthropy and prone to long soliloquies while changing ... which typically entailed him contorting himself into a pretzel. Yes, this was a low-budget show taped in one take. But how can we take any werewolf seriously when his muttonchops look like two carpet samples taped to his jawline?