Although not as popular as vampires, werewolves are no strangers to cinema. Even though the subgenre started with 1913’s The Werewolf, it didn’t explode into the cultural zeitgeist until Universals Wolfman hit theaters in 1941. The Wolfman seemed to be the glue, the human element that universal films could use to help pit their other monster properties against each other. The 1940s were littered with these crossovers accumulating with Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
Now throughout the 50s,60s, and 70s the werewolf subgenre ebbed and flowed. Most of these films took a lighter tone, almost a tongue, and cheek approach like the later Universal werewolf films of the 40s, but none really resonated with audiences. Yes, there were a few hits scattered throughout, but it wasn’t until the early 80s that werewolf films transformed, yet again.
The slasher boom in ‘81 is easy to understand. Halloween in ‘78 was a low-budget movie and made a ton of money. Friday the 13th from 1980 replicated the success. Then in 1981 everyone wanted a piece of the pie. They copied the hot trend… but the werewolf films of 1981 are different.
There was no single catalyst that launched the resurgence. But is it fair to say that it was a coincidence that all these different companies decided to release werewolf films the same year? No. Of course not. My main theory is that literature sparked the interest.
The Howling was a popular novel from 1977 and The Wolfen was another popular novel from 1978. Movie companies bought the rights to these films and planned to release them. It would make sense then for Universal films, the granddaddy of the wolfman, to want to cash in on these two films being released. So then they went ahead and bought the script that John Landis first wrote in 1969, titled an American Werewolf in London. Fullmoon High doesn’t fit the mold, but with it being by Larry Cohen and low budget, it could have just been luck, or it was ahead of its time. Night of the Werewolf is another outlier. It was a Spanish werewolf film from Paul Naschy who had been making werewolf films for a little over a decade by this point. It was just another entry in his popular series.
Okay, so that could make sense why everyone was racing to get their werewolf films out, but why did audiences latch onto these films? I can’t say with much conviction, but many believe that werewolves best encapsulated the changing world of the new decade. Just like how werewolves transform, so too was society. Still clutching on the heels of the Vietnam war and going into Reaganism, America was at a crossroads. As Reagan was trying to impose traditional values, pop culture was running away with sensual and taboo themes. These Werewolves embodied the voice of the people. It was a dark awakening of sorts.
Graveyard Shift" Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com)Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 Licensehttp://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/
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