What’s next for the lowly werewolf?

Horror, like anything else, has its trends. Vampires have gone mainstream thanks to Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyer; zombies are the new vampires, if 28 Days Later and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are any indication; and ghosts, while they haven’t made waves since movies such as  The Sixth Sense and The Others more than ten years ago, are the only spooky creatures that people actually still believe in. Where, then, does that leave werewolves?

An American Werewolf in London

They’ve been normalized somewhat in paranormal fiction. And they show up in concert with vampires in books such as the Twilight series or in TV shows such as True Blood, but to me they often seem as if they’re playing second fiddle to the bloodthirsty main monster. But while there have been some modern classics in movies such as An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, and Ginger Snaps, and in books such as David Wellington’s Frostbite and and Kelley Armstrong’s Bitten, I’m not sure the werewolf as a monster has evolved in a way that keeps scaring us.

That is, not the literal turn-into-a-wolfman-by-moonlight version, adopted by Hollywood and perpetrated ad nauseum. We’ve seen that, watched The Munsters, been wowed by ever-improving special effects, and still we’re not scared.  The concept of uncontrollable bodily change has been picked up in pop culture by the Hulk, and the notion that some people may be secretly more than human is in fact, a basic tenet of all superhero stories.

And certainly, we’ve seen werewolves serve as a pointed metaphor for life transformation.  Puberty is an obvious one, and has been done many times in such movies as I Was a Teenage Werewolf and the Michael J. Fox vehicle, Teen Wolf (as well as the recent series based on it). More recently, the werewolves-as-boys-to-men cliché has been challenged, such as in the movie Ginger Snaps (girl-into-woman) and in novels such as Catherine Lundoff’s Silver Moon, in which lycanthropy is presented as a metaphor for menopause.

But are these monster meant to terrify us? With the recent exception of Dog Soldiers, in which British soldiers are hunted down in the wilds of Scotland by a pack of werewolves, not really. When werewolves show up in movies at all these days, they are usually taking part in some intra-monster feud as in the Underworld series, the Twilight adaptations, or in the unwatchable Van Helsing.

I think it’s because we’ve replaced werewolves with a new monster that speaks to the same fears.

What always scared people about werewolves, at least in traditional folklore, was rooted in a belief that anyone could potentially become savage, bestial, and cannibalistic.  Some of the most disturbing tales of medieval werewolves involved the abduction and murder of children, and even to a 19th-century-observer such as Sabine Baring-Gould, the tropes of werewolf tales began to look more like chronicles of mental illness.

Which is what really frightens us these days: that someone who looks otherwise normal could suddenly transform into a vicious monster.  The tropes are played out ad nauseum in thrillers and cop shows, and the endless variations on serial killers and torturers.  What is Hannibal Lecter but the respected intellectual-become-monster? (A similar theme was seen in Silver Bullet, the movie based on Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, in which a trusted, respected community leader is revealed as the monster.)

Every week, the dogged team of special agents in Criminal Minds hunts down the various human monsters perpetrating savagery on innocent people. I’ve argued elsewhere that this fits the template for the Beowulf story, but Beowulf’s foe, the cannibalistic Grendel, stokes the same fears of the human/monster hybrid fears that werewolves have also played to.

This connection between the werewolf and modern-day killers such as Richard Ramirez, the infamous “Night Stalker,” is explicitly made by Brad Stieger in the introduction to The Werewolf Book: an Encyclopedia of Shapeshifting Beings.

So I think we have replaced the werewolf in its the traditional role with a new kind of human monster, one that is believeable to modern audiences. (And, perhaps, given the frequent misunderstanding of mental illness today, plays to a similar ignorance as the fears of the ravening, insatiable wolf did in an earlier age’s misunderstanding of basic predator-prey ecology).

What do you think?  Has the werewolf as we know it had its day? Or is there room for resurgence of this fascinating beast in the imagination of the 21st century? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. Some interesting theories posed by the folks at Cinema Knife Fight.

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37 comments on “What’s next for the lowly werewolf?

  1. I can’t believe you put Anne Rice and Meyer in the same sentence. Sigh.

    The only scene I remember from Dog Soldiers: the guys guts being crammed back in his abdominal cavity and said cavity being superglued shut. I gagged and laughed at the same time. Haha!

    • I wasn’t comparing writing ability or literary merit — obvs Anne Rice wins on both. 🙂

      As for Dog Soldiers — funny, that’s the most memorable scene for me, too: that, and the dog trying to get at all those yummy guts. Yeek!

  2. First off Ginger Snaps (#1) and American Werewolf in London (#1 again) were very worthy Were films. Beyond that, the British version of Being Human did a decent job of giving our lycan friends a boost (though they did mix him in with a Vamp and a Ghost), then the follow-up series made it a laughing stock with the ooey-gooey love crap. As to Twilight and that ill-begotten Anthony Hopkins abomination, I can’t even go there without shuddering. If you are into Japanese anime, there are a few decent Were anime’s, but other than that, I say they haven’t gotten their fair, or ferociously appropriate accolades. Excuse me, even though I only thought Twilight, I still need to go wipe my tongue clean… ;}

    • I agree on AWiL and GS being great films, and werewolf classics — but I think they’re more noteworthy for their tweaks on the legend. AWiL demolished many movie clichés about how the werewolf transforms — it’s all seen, in full light, not hidden — and dispensed completely with the bipedal Wolf-Man idea. And Ginger Snaps inverted the notion of lycanthrope-as-male-puberty metaphor brilliantly.
      I think my point is (if I have one) that the werewolf as mere wild beast doesn’t scare us the way it did people in more agrarian times, when there wasn’t the reassurance of civilization all around you as there is in modern cities. (AWiL made a striking counterpoint to this in the famous scene in the Tube — even in the city, you’re not safe from the beast.) That’s why I think the trend has been toward crazed, serial killers and the like — they are the new wolves among the sheep.

  3. Wonderful insight as always, and my students reading BEOWULF next semester will be treated to this analysis as well, if that’s all right. I don’t have an answer for your question, although I can completely see your point about the transformation of the human monster from a literal beast to a figurative one.

    One of the things which has always fascinated me about Grendel is that he represents both literal and figurative danger to the Danes. He is an actual monster coming into the mead-hall to wreck shop and feast upon slumbering warriors, but he also signifies the potential for evil. He is an outcast, a pariah tormented to the point of rampage every night by the Danes’ singing about his cursed ancestor Cain. In a culture where lineage is all-important, the shame drives him to murder. So then the Danes begin sleeping away from the mead-hall, avoiding the center of the community. The danger of Grendel then evolves into the potential for the Danes to become outcasts themselves.

    Kit Whitfield wrote an article in the Folkroots section of the June 2006 edition of REALMS OF FANTASY magazine (which I desperately wish was still around!) entitled “The literary werewolf is something of an orphan.” Have you read it? Excellent stuff. (And I don’t have a photographic memory; I have the article in my archives here at my desk!) It put the choice (intentional or not) to have Stephenie Meyer’s werewolves be Native Americans into a very interesting and respectable perspective, I thought.

    • I used to love Realms of Fantasy! I haven’t read that article — I will see if I can turn it up.
      One thing that I have been mulling over is the treatment of werewolves in different traditions. I liked that in Nordic cultures, the wolf has positive and negative figures (Odin’s wolves Geri and Freki; on the other hand, Fenrir), and that the notion of transforming into a bear, or taking on animalistic qualities as in a berkerker rage, is more normalized. I’m still looking at how First Nations cultures treat the wolf — but if I can make a broad generalization, it seems the cultures that fear the wolf most have their roots in herding and animal husbandry, and those that are OK with wolves or attribute them places of honour have hunter/nomadic roots.
      But this doesn’t respond to your assertion about Grendel, whcih I think, in your reading, exposes what was horrific about the werewolf in AWiL (and Ginger Snaps) — the monstrosity stems from the person’s body, it’s not something they can ever escape, leading to despair and fatalism.

  4. Kote Tepezano (Ghost)

    October 10, 2012 at 2:38 pm Reply

    To me, that’s not what werewolves are about anymore. To be scary, you can’t see them as an external monster, but a thing that happens TO YOU.

    That’s why I like how the UK series (And to a lesser extent, the US series) Being Human handled werewolves in the first two seasons. They were people with a disease, and expressed their grief in rage, ultimately infecting others. This is an idea that can happen to any of us, it’s just harder to express this in a story that’s supposed to be jump-out-and-scare-you, but I think that’s a lot more of what AWIL was trying to do. This horror was happening to this kid’s body, along with the whole idea of being alone in a foreign country The disease parallel can show its self again, because when I’m sick and afraid, I know the only place I want to be is at home.

    Just my opinion, there’s a lot left for our furry friends.

    • I think there is too, particularly since you’ve fit on another primal fear that werewolves embody — fear of our own bodies. I think this is why they’ve often served as metaphors for puberty (and in the book mentioned in the post, for menopause).
      I haven’t seen Being Human but I’ve heard good things about it. I will look for that!
      The jump-out-and-scare-you werewolf may also just have too much competition, since we’ve seen similar monster scares in movies from Aliens to slasher flicks to psycho-of-the-week.
      Part of what always seemed frightening about werewolves too was their relative invisibility — they could be anyone, and were not immediately obvious (eg. zombies) or restricted from moving about during daylight (eg. vampires).

  5. Werewolf News (@werewolfnews)

    October 10, 2012 at 3:24 pm Reply

    Lycanthropy is scary because it’s an affliction that literally controls the afflicted character’s life. They have to figure out how to live with it, or find the courage to do what David Kessler couldn’t do for himself in that phone booth. Any story in which that tension is missing (any time the werewolf character is “cool with it”, for instance) immediately becomes dull dull dull. When I read about (or see a film about) a werewolf, I want to be terrified and fascinated at the same time, not fed “superhero / villain with some rules about silver” pablum.

    • Yes, it’s a wholly different dynamic. I think the unique position that werewolves could occupy (and traditionally have in modern stories) is the dual horror of what the werewolf does to other people, and what being culpable for the werewolf’s actions does to the werewolf’s psyche.
      The more I think about it, the more I feel that’s what a character like the Hulk did to superhero comics — it took the transformation and sudden acquisition of power (standard fare for superhero character origins) and made it permanently monstrous.

  6. Bestial rape and murder.

    Having an overwhelmingly powerful creature violate you and eat you as you are fully aware of it happening, without any ability to fight back. That is the original fear werewolves held in human minds.

    Now, interestingly enough they have become somewhat fetishized sexual icons, along with Vampires. They have moved from the horrible to the desirable.

    Which is better? Ask a werewolf 😉

    • I’d say it was likely just being eaten, way back when — when there was no artificial light, and people didn’t stray far from the fire after dark. But in a civilized, urban context, that’s a bit of a stretch, so the monster has changed.

  7. The point you make about the werewolf being replaced as a believable human monster is accurate, especially from the youth culture point of view. Now a day on TV shows like Teen Wolf and the Vampire Diaries, the werewolf isn’t being portrayed as a merciless monster, but as a human dealing with a loss of control, which I think many people can relate to. The depiction of the werewolf is venturing from the monster to something more human and even at times as a heroic figure. I think the werewolf’s M.O. as a beast could resurge, but I don’t know if people would want it to. I myself like to see the supposed-to-be beast overcome the bestial urges and become the hero.

    • Hm — I wonder, then, what those “bestial urges” might be symbolic of, in a modern context? Might the werewolf’s power be exhilarating for the lycanthrope, so that indulging it is akin to having an addiction?
      I wonder whether werewolves as monsters must predominantly be about that fight for self-control. This isn’t the case in a lot of urban fantasy fiction, I’ve noticed, such as in books by Rhiannon Held, Kat Kruger or Douglas Smith.

  8. While I definitely see your point about werewolves in recent literature and films playing pawns in larger monster battles, I don’t think that necessarily means that they will never rise to “power” again. Monsters pass in and out of fads, depending on what society at that time fears most. While society at the moment may be more captivated by vampires, that’s not to say that society in the future won’t look to werewolves as more fascinating and scary creatures. You make the point that monsters show us what we are most afraid of — and while humans may believe themselves immune to the struggles werewolves face, that doesn’t mean they will forever feel that way.

  9. I think that in some strange, animalistic way, it’s easier for us to relate to werewolves and thus, we’re not able to be quite as scared of them. Vampires, zombies, and other monsters of the like are clearly human-esque, but, to me, they lack the animalistic qualities that humans and werewolves share. Vampires, zombies, etc… seem robotic: they kill, drink, eat for pleasure, but humans (and werewolves, so I argue) have an intrinsic emotional quality that the others lack. This makes humans and werewolves more alike, but in a comforting manner. Not in the way that a human is scared of a vampire because he/she sees him/herself in it.

    I argue that this progression from scary to less scary and powerful over time is due to humans’ realization and appreciation of themselves as emotional beings, not mechanical beings. Thus, the humans have evolved to slowly appreciate these animalistic emotions and begun to relate to the werewolf.

    • Aine, I think your point about how humans may relate to werewolves more than other monsters is very interesting. I think besides the emotional qualities that humans and werewolves may share, there also may be a bond between them because in most literature werewolves are in fact human most of the time before they lose control. Humans may also relate to the idea of the “outcast” or the “other” and quite lonely like the werewolves. Also, I think a reason our fear of werewolves may have decreased is because these days we feel much more in control–as sad as it is sometimes, we consider ourselves very dominant to animals, and have ways to “tame” them. So because a werewolf is half wolf, we may view it as inferior, and thus much easier to control and defend ourselves against.

      The point about werewolves representing a lack of control and mental illness is also a very interesting one. I think we could even stretch our fear of psychopaths and violent mental illnesses in shows to those in calmer, less life-or-death-with-cops circumstances (bipolar disorder, depression, etc). Werewolves did not choose to become werewolves, and people with mental disorders did not choose to have those disorders–nevertheless, they exist, and so both werewolves and humans with mental illness (harmful or not) are victims to stigma and prejudice.

    • I agree — and I think, perhaps, one of the reasons the werewolf scares us less these days is that we have a better sense that humans are not separate from nature, we are animals ourselves. The old dichotomy between “animalistic” and “human” behaviour is seen more as a continuum, thanks to advances in our understanding of other animals and ourselves.
      It’s possible, too, that the older (or, frankly, non-Western-European) tropes of animals-powers-conveying-wisdom are being expressed in urban fantasy in which lycanthropes and other shapeshifters are the heroes. The notion of becoming a bear was not so terrible in some Scandinavian sources, and in fact in the story of Sigurd, the power conveyed to him to understand the speech of birds saves his life. So maybe the werewolf-as-monster trope is done.
      Now, watch, as someone comes up with a new, brilliant take on this and kick-starts the entire genre, as was done with zombies over the last 10 years.

  10. I think people are not frightened by werewolves because we identify and even pity the werewolf; the werewolf, like humans, struggles with balancing humanity and being a monster. Vampires and zombies never revert back to their normal human selves, crossing over to full monster-dom. Meanwhile werewolves are totally human for a significant part of time, having human feelings and experiences. In fact, most werewolves I can think of are in love with humans, from Harry Potter’s Remus Lupin to Teen Wolf, clearly showing just how relatable they are. Other monsters, even when presented as love interests, are careful to remind audiences that they are the ‘exceptional’ monster, like the vegetarian Edward Cullen. We pity the werewolf because we can see that it can’t control it’s reactions and changes, in many of the same ways humans can’t. This loss of control scares us when we see it in ourselves, but we can identify with it in others. Werewolves had a greater ability to terrify when we couldn’t understand our relate to them because they were more of an ‘other’.

  11. If I was ever in a dark ally somewhere and a vampire, a zombie, and a werewolf all ran at me, I would scream first, then run; but ranking them in order of scariness, it would be zombie, vampire, werewolf. I ranked that without even thinking really, just “what would I be most scared of.” However, when I think more into it, I realize that yes, it has something to do with the appearance, but it’s also what you become after encountering these monsters. When attacked by a zombie, you die, entering this horrible state of mindless, bloodthirsty limbo where you don’t even look like a human. When attacked by a vampire, you still look and act human but have this monster deep within that only you know about. When attacked by a werewolf, you’re still human…you just have some unfortunate nights where you become an animal. Because of this, I don’t think that werewolves can be that scary, only because they are still human, still one of us. So I think that werewolves have had their time, and maybe, one day, someone will change the face of werewolves but until then, I don’t think they’ll be scaring anyone anytime soon.

  12. Hey David, you have written both about the roles of werewolves about the role of Grendel. Basically, you argue that we never tire of Beowulf because the character of Grendel is transmuted upon modern “unsubs”; while, the werewolf has been replaced, coincidentally, by these very same “unsubs” (at least in the criminal minds example you provided). Before werewolves were replaced, they shared the same role as Grendel: to terrify.
    In modern culture though, werewolves have moved away from this role. Ironically werewolves have become “too human” while the humans themselves have become monsters. Werewolves have been given emotions and human goals in recent literary and cinematic works, emotions and goals that are all too easy to empathize with. The unsubs though terrify us through our inability to understand them or their actions.
    Humans (unsubs) acting as monsters relates to John Gardner’s book “Grendel.” The novel chronicles the story of Beowulf from the monster’s point of view, giving the reader insight on his thoughts (which are full of human thoughts and emotions). Grendel retains his title as monster because unlike the werewolf, he distances himself, and is cut off from, his human emotions.
    In a world filled with “don’t judge a book by its cover” stories, it is easy to see why the werewolf has been kicked to the curb. We are taught to ignore exteriors, and without the fuzzy toothy body, werewolves become just another human being.
    The only chance werewolves have of becoming top dog in the monster world is by becoming as insane as the unsubs; to become a popular topic in society again, they need to evolve into something society is no longer ok with.

    • I think you’re right — and I suspect that’s why, currently, werewolves are enjoying more popularity in urban fantasy than in straight horror. Maybe we’re embracing our animal nature, recognizing it as a source of power, perhaps, or wisdom? Something desirable, at any rate. I think, also, the “urban” in the genre’s title is telling. We rely on agriculture to eat, but the tales of werewolves and wolves in general are not being fostered by people whose livelihoods would be threatened by actual wolves, ie. farmers and livestock breeders. Though I notice one DOES hear about the “wolf problem” when wild packs start to have an impact on sport-hunting species such as deer, or on pets.

  13. I find the points about replacement of werewolves with more realistic psychological monsters very interesting. I agree with you that perhaps the traditional werewolf is becoming somewhat obsolete, especially given the context surrounding its conception as a creature and its modern interpretation. For a very long time, humans (modern western cultures, anyway) have maintained a fearful attitude towards both nature and the occult, and the lycanthrope figure embodied the savage unknown of those concepts. The solidification of the monster in common culture is built upon that fear, particularly given the relative powerlessness many felt (at the time of the werewolf’s development as an iconic creature of terror) towards the wilderness and its obscurity and peril. In contemporary times, however, we rarely find ourselves trapped in dark, foreboding woods or watching bestial shadows through our flimsy windows by candlelight; the knowledge we have gained about and the extent to which we have distanced ourself from nature (not to mention the physical securities we have developed) has vastly increased since that era. We no longer worry about beasts, supernatural or not, attacking us in the night, like we might a human “axe murderer.” We do, however, still worry about the unknown. The curse of lycanthropy is less a conscious permanent sadism, like you might consider vampirism, and more a temporary and irrepressible physical affliction which can clearly be distinguished when active. I would tie this directly into your theory about the “new kind of human monster,” a fear that now draws from the mysteries in the dark corners of the human mind rather than the comparatively mundane lurking of physical creatures in the shadows. `

    • And to add to your point Carter, the fact that there is such a number of coming of age werewolf media speaks to how high school pressures people into groups. There’s this internalized fear of being different that is all the more powerful in teenage years. I don’t remember where, but at some point I learned that during the teenage years people most feel the need for group conformity – whether that’s a scientific fact or social construct I believe it to be true.If a person has to hide in their own body to feel like they can survive, eventually they’ll burst, transform.

      Additionally, with David’s commentary about mental disease taking over the role of werewolves, the fear of the unknown you mention becomes something a lot of people can’t understand. Without that knowledge many people can’t sympathize with these “new werewolves” and honestly I think putting them as real monsters occasionally could make them more sympathetic for those who haven’t experienced mental disease. Werewolf characters often fight their urges to maim and kill, expressing how people with mental disease don’t want to feel the way they do but its almost unavoidable. Many people don’t grasp that fact, so I think there is still use for the traditional form of a werewolf, even if not in scaring people.

  14. Hi, David. I think the idea that the werewolf is more or less obsolete in today’s pop culture is an interesting, though I hope not true, one. Personally, I feel like the particular brand of horror that werewolves provide—the capacity of anyone to descend into “savage, bestial, and cannibalistic” behavior—isn’t extreme enough anymore. Think about it. The things we allow basic cable networks like CBS and NBC to put on television are startlingly more grotesque, disturbing, and graphic than they were even 20 or 30 years ago. I watched every single episode of Criminal Minds with my father, and the first week or so that we watched together he made a comment in passing during a commercial break that stuck with me: “Where do they come up with this stuff? It would have been unheard of to put this on TV when I was a kid.” He’s right, as far as I can tell. It would’ve been unheard of. As characters like Hannibal Lecter have entered the mainstream consciousness, we’ve built up a bit of an immunity, the same way alcoholics need more alcohol to get drunk and opiate users more frequent fixes to stay high. The brand of horror werewolves provide is, astonishingly, too soft-core: it’s the Sports Illustrated swimsuit magazine of horror. The other factor contributing to that is the frequency with which regular seeming people commit disturbing and often unspeakable acts. So long as a defensive coordinator at a major Division I school can commit acts of pedophilia for decades while going largely unnoticed, we have to accept that no matter how upstanding a person looks, we can never truly know. On a much smaller scale, and I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet, the Louisville basketball program is currently in hot water for using strippers to coerce recruits into signing with the program. While a large portion of the college basketball world threw their hands up in protest, an even larger portion shrugged their shoulders and said, “Whatever. That stuff happens all the time.” We are so used to terrible things happening that it doesn’t have much of an effect on us anymore, and the werewolves’ brand of horror is much diminished when we know and accept that our next door neighbor might express “savage, bestial, and cannibalistic” behavior right under our noses.

    • I think it’s telling how quickly the narrative shifts, when one of these real-life horrors comes to light, to portraying the accused or the convicted person as a “monster” — whether or not the actual word is used. And I don’t for a second think abuses like the ones you mention are anything less than horrifying or monstrous, though I wonder whether we would see the perpetrators differently if we said they were “cruel” — meaning there was a deliberate agency and moral choice being made. I think the tendency to call a human or their behaviour “monstrous” is a way of saying they are not human, not like us. Whereas, as you point out, they are clearly human enough to live comfortably among us until they are found out. Maybe we don’t want to acknowledge certain ranges of human behaviour as “human.” I have a hard time with pinning this one down, but I do think it’s at the heart of most monster stories.

  15. From Hannibal Lecter to pathological creeps in CSI, the modern monster feels real. And the werewolf—it doesn’t. I completely agree that popular culture has the werewolf playing “second fiddle,” and I also agree that there is a more figurative fear of werewolves than tangible fear. But to take it a step further, werewolves also may no longer induce the same fear because humans have ruled them out as being real. Humans are naturally logical beings, and the idea of a werewolf is illogical.

    Perhaps the Hulks and Thors and Fantastic Fours of the world draw attention because Marvel movies always explain the existence of seemingly impossible occurrences. However, modern culture lacks a popular werewolf-focused film or novel that panders to humans’ desire for explanation.

    Until the werewolf gets a new paint job, some shiny wheels, and quality advertising, it’s not going to sell.

    • You may be right! Although I should point out, the Hulk fulfills most of the “werewolf” tropes — he embodies the inner wildness and power of our animal side, and he can’t control his transformation. In fact, in the beginning his transformations from Bruce Banner to the Hulk were also affected by the moon! So the Hulk may be the new paint job for the werewolf, so much so as to be unrecognizable at first.

  16. In order to fulfil its intended goals, the horror genre demands relevance, plausibility, and modernity. Like you said earlier, vampires, ghosts, and zombies are the quintessential characters of horror in our day and age, but these three didn’t make the cut by chance. Each of these supernatural beings contains some semblance of plausibility, some shred that could mean their existence in our world today. While most would push aside the ideas of vampires or zombies or ghosts inhabiting our world, one can never quite push the idea out of the mind; maybe, just maybe, vampires or zombies or ghosts exist. The basis of these characters is not freakishly outlandish, containing some sort of real potential. Vampires, in line with Stephanie Meyer’s writing, can be as incognito as teenagers in high school; no longer are vampires restricted to the image of the spooky Count Dracula who haunts Transylvania. Zombies, in a break from zombie film classics, don’t rise out of the grave anymore by magic; often times, it is disease that reanimates these corpses. And ghosts survive because of their plausibility that can never be fully erased. The werewolf, on the other hand, remains outside the realm of willing belief in our world today. It’s outlandish to believe that a man will suddenly transform into a hairy, beastly wolf at the sight of the full moon. It’s an aged tale that hasn’t adapted to the modern age much in the same way that vampires, ghosts, or zombies have. It’s the werewolf’s lack of modernity and unbelievable (in the true sense of the word) phenomenon that have displaced it from the top tiers of the horror genre. Sorry, Wolfman. I’m afraid we don’t quite believe in your tricks anymore.

  17. I agree— I believe wolves must revert back into the figures found in folklore in order to become a source of terror once again. In regards to current pop-culture, the werewolf has been transformed into a sexy, seductive character in an attempt to copy the success story of modern day vampires. However, where the werewolf comes short is that they do not have to kill in order to live, unlike vampires. While I agree giving the human ability to control their actions even in their wolf state allowed for some character depth, I believe that it led to the reduction of their scare factor. This means that they can never truly achieve the “bad character with a noble heart” archetype of the vampires because the werewolves will never really lose total control of their actions. Therefore, I believe that in order to truly become terrifying once again, werewolves must revert back to the basics and transform into complete beasts when they are in wolf form.

  18. I think what makes the idea of the deranged, psycho more terrifying to modern audiences as compared to the werewolf is it’s plausibility. Nowadays, with what we know about science and biology, werewolves aren’t as scary because we know that theres physiological way for someone to turn into a wolf. While werewolves may have been more terrifying in the past before society had a better understanding of science, in modern days there’s no underlying fear that a seemingly normal person could suddenly turn into a savage beast at any given moment. However, in the modern world, people are familiar with mentally illness and how it can truly have an affect on people’s behaviors. As a result, the mentally deranged killer, like you mentioned, has replaced the werewolf in modern horror stories because it’s something more realistic and believable. Like the werewolf, a mentally ill killer is scary because of it’s hidden dangerous potential. The idea that a monster could be walking around us in society without us having a clue is downright terrifying.

  19. I really enjoyed reading this post! I think you are definitely right that more realistic, human monsters like the criminals on Criminal Minds have replaced the traditional werewolf for modern audiences. I think that part of this is due to a sort of (sad) immunity that our society has built up to such terrible and violent crimes that makes the traditional werewolf look like a teddy bear. Another factor could be that the majority of werewolves that we have been exposed to take the form of teenage boys that are really not all that scary. That being said, I believe that there is still room for the werewolf to make a comeback in the 21st century as the monsters that each society fears tend to come and go after being overused. The next wave of werewolves will be far more violent or dangerous than what we have seen traditionally to keep our society engaged.

  20. I always categorized werewolves into the “monster” category; however, after reading this post, I agree – werewolves have lost their scare-factor. Even with stories (and now movies) like Beauty and the Beast (which is arguably a twist on a werewolf story), the idea of a werewolf is fantasized instead of scary. One thing that I think makes them less frightening is actually their less humanlike state. Vampires and zombies essentially always take a human form, despite other external and internal qualities, but werewolves transform into an entirely new and different beast all together. This transformation dehumanizes them, lessening the fear of a creature that is so close to being human yet lacking human warmth, love, etc. The werewolf is an animal, so there is less to relate to. The fear that we have of vampires and zombies stems somewhat from being able to see ourselves as lust-driven or brainless creatures just from natural instinct. It is scary to imagine that taking over oneself. However, it is nearly impossible to imagine myself turning into a wolf. A few modern adaptations of werewolves have tried to fix that (ex. making the werewolf a stereotypical teenage boy); however, even then, the story seems more in the realm of fantasy instead of horror.

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