A werewolf, or lycanthrope, is generally described as a person who changes into a fearsome wolf or wolf-like beast due to a curse. One can become a werewolf by surviving an attack by one and receiving a bite or scratch. Many people transform into werewolves during the full moon, but others can transform at will. In fiction, werewolves have different weaknesses, but the two that remain constant are Wolf’s bane and silver. Lycanthropy is not only limited to wolves, as there have been stories told of werebears, werejaguars, and even weresheep. No matter what the form, they are the manifestation of rage, violence, and the sin of man. They are some of the most fearsome creatures we’ve ever conjured up.
Werewolves have been represented in many ways through the years. In order to portray them in movies, some of the most talented makeup artists, costume designers, and special effects artists of all time have created horrific works of cinematic art that have inspired nightmares for generations.
Grab all the silver you can, because we’re going hunting for the scariest werewolves in cinema. Beware: there are spoilers ahead!
David: An American Werewolf in London (1981)
This quirky horror comedy is rated high on many people’s movie lists for a good reason: it’s awesome. Thanks to Rick Baker’s effects and John Landis’ directing, this is one of the best and most well-known werewolf transformations ever put on screen. From the first time we hear the beast on the moors to the scenes of it rampaging through Piccadilly Circus, we are filled with dread. Quick shots of the monster and brilliant sound editing create a truly wonderful and frightening creature.
The Family: Dog Soldiers (2002)
If you haven’t seen this breakout hit from director Neil Marshall (Hellboy: Rise of the Blood Queen), make the time. These are some of the most lethal, awesome, and terrifying werewolves of any movie on this list. They are fast, tough, and crafty, and the costumes are creepy as heck. The plot is reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead with a dash of Predator thrown in. Truly, some of the most bad-ass werewolf moments can be found in this movie, and if you have any doubts about the new Hellboy film, this should put them to rest.
Ginger: Ginger Snaps (2000)
This is a great, gore-filled film which makes a comparison between womanhood and monstrosity. The director refused to use CGI for the werewolf effects, opting to go full-on prosthetics and makeup. Ginger goes through many forms during the film, but the final form is something to behold. It’s truly creepy, like a sinewy, mangy demon wolf. It doesn’t have to move fast, either. It just creeps along, stalking its terrified prey until it gets close enough, then snap!
Eddie: The Howling (1981)
Rob Bottin’s creature effects are some of the absolute best in director Joe Dante’s fantastic tongue-in-cheek monster movie. Rick Baker was the original effects artist but left to work on An American Werewolf in London. The character and creature, Eddie, is hands-down one of the best lycanthropes ever practically created on film. He’s truly nightmare-inducing. Not only is he a fearsome-looking beast, but the audience also knows that the character is terrifying inside as well.
James: Late Phases (2014)
The werewolves in this horror/drama go for a different, yet kind of familiar, design. They take a cue from the bipedal beasts of The Wolf Man and The Howling, but with less of “dog” look. Robert Kurtzman designed these freakish and imposing creatures, and they look and move great. There’s also a very detailed and awesome transformation scene involving James, the ring-leader, which apparently took two days just to set up. Beneath the great werewolf action, there exists a wonderful story about age and respect. Star Nick Damici gives one of the best performances of his career as Ambrose.
Wolfman: The Monster Squad (1987)
Directed by Fred Dekker and written by Dekker and Shane Black, this is a wonderful children’s film incorporating all the classic Universal monsters going up against a rag-tag bunch of childhood monster hunters. Probably the most notable and frightening of the monsters is the Wolfman. For a kids movie, he looks truly nightmarish and frightening. Especially when he’s stalking the kids down a dead-end hallway. This is also the most anatomically correct Wolfman in all of cinema. Catch The Monster Squad on Hulu.
Related: The 10 Best ’90s Monster Movies
Reverend Love: Silver Bullet (1985)
The creature in this wonderful Stephen King adaptation is a huge grizzly beast that likes to appear at your window before leaping through it to tear you to shreds. The story is similar to Rear Window, but a heck of a lot cheesier. The film is quite entertaining and a great Halloween movie. Considering the production problems and the change in director half-way through (Don Coscarelli was the original director), it’s a miracle it got done at all. Carlo Rambaldi designed the wonderful suit used in the film.
The Girls: Trick ‘r Treat (2007)
In director Michael Dougherty’s awesome anthology film, the werewolves appear out of nowhere. When they do, they make a hell of an entrance. The effects are mostly large puppet heads, but they look great. Just looking at them, you can imagine the smell of wet dog hair and blood. There’s much more fun to be had in this film, though. It’s perfect for a Halloween movie night. Catch it on Amazon.
William: Underworld Evolution (2006)
Most people are familiar with this Romeo and Juliet-inspired story of vampires versus werewolves. Probably one of the most terrifying and bad-ass werewolves in any movie, William Corvinus is a giant albino beast that has lived for hundreds of years. He is the first true werewolf and cannot revert back to human form. This monster was brought to life by director Len Wiseman and Patrick Tatopoulos, who designed many other cinematic monsters including the blind aliens from Pitch Black.
Larry: The Wolf Man (1941)
The original Wolf Man was cursed to become a werewolf and attack those he loved. While second to the less successful Werewolf of London (1935), this movie is notable for the makeup and for making the Wolf Man one of the most iconic monsters in history. The transformation scene takes about 10 seconds of time onscreen yet took roughly 10 hours to shoot given the speed (or lack thereof) the era. The makeup and hair also took hours to apply. But when Larry walks out of the dark with a full wolf face, audiences freaked out in 1941.