Curling up to watch some seasonal mayhem, Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, played out in the darkened room. Curious as to how other had viewed this particular film I learned it was generally seen as a poorly directed, acted and plotted tale of the werewolf legend. Not enough onscreen wolfy-ness apparently.
There are many excellent novel interpretations of the legend and even a few good movies. That got me to thinking why are there are so few stellar were movies?
The werewolf (or even were animal legend) can be communicated, in my opinion so far, in one of two ways:
- The unknown outsider whose motives, abilities, and hungers we cannot begin to fathom. A threat that is mindless, soul-less and such an 'other' we feel superior because we know we are not such animals. We are civilized victims of the terrible monster bloody of tooth and claw who acts by ancient instincts we have long ago outgrown. As such, we are in danger each time we exit a building to enter their domain. The conflict comes from this encounter.
- The other is the creature who seems an extension or reflection of our own deeply hidden selves. We understand this creature a little too well because he/she/it is able to act on the hungers and desires we keep hidden deep within. This creature fulfills those secret thoughts and acts on those forbidden fantasies. This is the source of the tension and suspense, this realization that maybe there is less difference and distance between the beast and the man in the mirror.
The problem with a movie such as Howling IV was not its lack of werewolves but of the fear and tension generated as a result of whichever interpretation was being used.
At its essence the classic werewolf legend is the story of the outsider who follows his own code and satisfies his own hungers and needs without regard for his victim. I use male pronouns here because I believe the imagery of the werewolf was saying something about their societies. These 'werewolf' actions reflected all the actions seen in war and struggles for domination. The 'werewolf' was metaphor and symbol of the worst beast of all released without ties, without community, without restraints, and without conscience.
The worst beast was the human...a werewolf story that does not show that tension, that fear, that hunger and that disdain of being in conflict with the hidden, secret self will be believable or suspenseful.