Body Horror month continues here on Nightmare on Film Street! We’ve marched toward the inevitable, watched a few classics of the genre and collected some cool merch along the way. Now, a full moon is peering through the clouds and it’s time to give in to our primal, animalistic urges, as another kind of body horror unfolds. That of The Werewolf.
Whether it’s a story about losing self-control, a metaphor for puberty or an excuse for a special effects artist to show off their work, one thing every werewolf tale has in common is the complete and utter devastation it inflicts on the cursed individuals body.
So, in honor of the first “Super Blood Wolf Moon” of 2019 – which is apparently a real and coincidental thing – here is a list of the 10 Most Painful Werewolf Transformations in Horror!
10. Frankenstein Meets The Wolf Man (1943)
While the movie itself may have been made so writer Curt Siodmak could buy a new car, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943) is notable for the fact that it’s the first time Lon Chaney, Jr. is seen transforming into the famous beast in a close-up shot of his face. In 1941’s The Wolf Man, the only time we are graced with a “man to wolf” transformation is a close-up of Chaney Jr’s feet. What is so painful about the sequence in Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man is the process behind the scenes.
For it to look as seamless as possible, Chaney, Jr. had to lay perfectly still as Jack Pierce (the make-up artist responsible for most of the Universal Monsters) applied a new layer of latex and yak hair on to the actors face. To make sure he didn’t move between takes, Chaney, Jr. had to align himself with a piece of etched glass to keep him in place. He was also unable to get up to use the bathroom.
Unsurprisingly, the two men grew to dislike each other, with Chaney Jr. claiming Pierce intentionally burned him with a hot iron a few too many times. When asked if Chaney, Jr. and he had a contentious relationship, Pierce simply stated, “Yes and no. That’s all I can say.”
9. Trick R Treat (2007)
Mike Dougherty’s Halloween-themed cult classic, Trick ‘r’ Treat (2007) plays against horror tropes in the segment “Surprise Party”, and wonderfully turns them on their head.
Anna Paquin (True Blood, Scream 4) plays Laurie, the “virginal” girl who wants her first time to be special. Dressed up as Little Red Riding Hood, Paquin’s Laurie is stalked by a masked predator as she walks through a pumpkin-lined trail in the woods, on her way to meet her friends at a bonfire. It isn’t long before we realize Laurie is actually the one doing the stalking.
As it turns out, Laurie and her friends are actually a pack of werewolves and their party at the bonfire quickly becomes a feast. Set to Marilyn Manson’s cover of Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), we watch as Laurie’s pack start ripping off each other’s skin, revealing their monstrous selves underneath. While the transformation may look painful, as, again, all the women are literally ripping off their own skin, they seem to be having the time of their lives as they’re about to feed on the unsuspecting men.
8. The Monster Squad (1987)
It may be the shortest transformation on the list, clocking in at under a minute, but that doesn’t make the “phone booth” sequence in Fred Dekker’s The Monster Squad (1987) any less brutal.
You feel for the desperate man (Jon Gries) as he tries to hold on to his human form long enough to warn Sean’s dad (Stephen Macht) that Dracula is coming for his son. As the camera moves around the phone booth, the first layer of makeup is added in a seamless transition, with Gries screaming at the top of his lungs, “HE’S GONNA KILL YOUR SON!” Stan Winston’s effects are on full display as we watch the poor man’s face start to bubble underneath his skin, his agonizing groans becoming more and more monstrous. Finally, in full werewolf mode, he explodes out of the booth and races into the night.
7. Late Phases (2014)
Everything about the transformation scene in 2014’s Late Phases, directed by Adrián García Bogliano is a technical feat to behold.
Father Roger Smith (Tom Noonan) – the man who we believe is the werewolf wreaking havoc on the local retirement village – watches his friend James (Lance Guest) writhe in agony as he slowly transforms into the vicious man-beast in one gloriously long take.
As guest starts ripping off his skin, the camera pans back and forth between him and Noonan, looking on in a mixture of horror and awe. As the camera gracefully glides back to the ever-changing Guest, we are treated to another coating of prosthetics created by special effects artist Robert Kurtzman (Gerald’s Game, From Dusk Till Dawn). The capper being a close-up of Guest’s face – half-man / half-wolf – as he puts his hands in his mouth and violently rips it apart. The camera pans – before you can get a good look at the beast’s face – to Noonan coming to his senses and leaping out of the window.
6. Thriller (1983)
I’ve written about the impact Michael Jackson’s Thriller had on me at a very young age, but while the John Landis-directed music video is remembered for the “Night of the Well-Choreographed Dead”, it also features a truly hair-raising werewolf short film. The short begins with Jackson and his date, Ola Ray, as they head into the nearby woods after their car runs out of gas. Immediately after asking her to go steady, Jackson begins the unfortunately timed lycanthropic process.
His jaw widens as his palms begin to bubble. Sharp, pointy nails painfully protrude from the tips of his fingers as he wails in anguish, his voice growing deeper as he becomes more and more cat-like. Rick Baker, the special effects master who designed all the make-up in the video, described Jackson’s wolf-man as “more feline, and made him more of a fantasy cat creature thing.”
While Landis has stated the video was nothing more than a vanity project for the pop singer, who just wanted to see himself turn into a monster, it is also a perfect metaphor for puberty, the ultimate body horror.
5. The Howling (1981)
Much like our own Jon DeHaan said of Best of 2018 list, each of the Top 5 entries could be number 1. On any other list, they probably would be. But I say this so you understand where I’m coming from when I place what is considered to be “the greatest werewolf movie of all-time” at number 5.
While the transformation in Joe Dante’s The Howling (1981) looks painful, as Dee Wallace (Cujo, The House of the Devil) watches her serial stalker, played by Robert Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager) change into an actual monster, it’s definitely more of a special effect showcase. And with good reason, with special effect artist Rob Bottin (The Thing) handling the state of the art effects. Originally Rick Baker was attached to helm the werewolf makeup but left the project to work on John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, also released in 1981. While we’re on the subject, we might as well just dive in head first!
4. An American Werewolf in London (1981)
American Werewolf in London follows two American college students (David Naughton & Griffin Dunne) as they backpack through Europe. One of them gets killed after being attacked by a werewolf, while the other is badly wounded but still breathing. After being nursed back to good health, the surviving student (Naughton) begins a relationship with the nurse who treated him (Jenny Agutter), while being haunted by the rotting ghost of his best friend (Dunne).
In a truly harrowing sequence, Naughton finally changes into the dreaded creature. Set to Sam Cooke’s rendition of Blue Moon, Naughton does an incredible job of making you feel his pain as his limbs stretch out into inhuman shapes right in front of his and our disbelieving eyes, his cries for help going unanswered.
Rick Baker is back on the list for an incredible transformation that won him the inaugural Academy Award for Best Make-Up! What’s great about his work on this film, is finding where the actor’s real limbs end and the prosthetics begin.
3. Ginger Snaps (2000)
Another example of lycan-ism standing in for puberty is John Fawcett’s 2000 coming-of-age story, Ginger Snaps, starring Emily Perkins and Katharine Isabelle. After getting attacked by a wolf on the same night she gets her first period, we watch as Ginger’s (Isabelle) attitude and body slowly start to change over the course of the film. She becomes increasingly more violent, to the point of killing a neighbor’s dog and even starts to grow hair from her wounds and a tail!
While her final transformation in the back of van is painful to watch, as her bones burst through her skin, blood streaming down her mouth, it’s the slow burn that her sister, Brigitte (Perkins) has to witness that is heartbreaking. Her once closest friend turning into something she hardly even recognizes anymore.
2. The Company of Wolves (1984)
I’ll be perfectly honest, I hadn’t heard of Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves until I started to research for this list. Roger Ebert once described the movie as a “disturbing and stylish attempt to collect some of the nightmares that lie beneath the surface of ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’”
But when I saw the scene where a wolf’s mouth comes shooting out of a man’s mouth before that man’s body splits wide open, I knew there was no way I couldn’t include it. And that’s not even the most brutal transformation in the 1984 movie.
The other scene features a man who maniacally rips off layer after layer of his own skin until all that is left is his exposed muscle tissue. From there, he starts to sprout his more wolf-like attributes, as a woman watches in horror cradling her two infant children. Finally, before any harm can come to the family, a local hunter comes barging in and cuts off the wolfs head with an axe.
1. Fright Night (1985)
The most painful thing about Evil Ed’s transformation in Tom Holland’s Fright Night (1985) isn’t the turning into a wolf part, but watching him turn back into a human.
After getting stabbed by reluctant vampire hunter, Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall), Stephen Geoffreys Evil Ed writhes on the floor with a broken table leg sticking out of his chest. Or more accurately, Evil Ed’s *wolf-form* writhes on the floor with a broken table leg sticking out of his chest. In a heart-wrenching sequence, brought to life with grotesquely beautiful make-up effects, we watch the beast fight for every last breath as it slowly changes from wolf to man, extending its hand to the morbidly curious and grief-stricken Vincent.
Where every other transformation on this list deals with the pain of turning into a monster, this is the rare exception where turning back into one’s former self is the painful part. If werewolves are a metaphor for giving into your primal, animalistic urges, then dealing with the aftermath and the choices that were made are part of that too. You truly feel devastated for Ed in those final moments, much like Vincent, even after Ed tried to eat him a few moments earlier.
There you have it- 10 of the most painful, most heart-wrenching, most awe-inspiring werewolf transformations in the history of film, television and otherwise! Did we leave any off the list that you felt need more recognition? Howl at us on Twitter, Reddit, or in the Horror Movie Fiend Club on Facebook!