Posts Tagged ‘wolf man


Where’d HE come from? The Wolf Man

It’s nighttime. A full moon is on the rise. Your hands are itching, so you begin to scratch. Dark hairs start to grow on the back of your palm. Your ears, eyes, and nose begin shifting around on your head. Dropping down to all fours, you have but one thought on your mind: human flesh. A radio in the background is playing “Werewolves of London,” by Warren Zevon. In irrepressible urge to howl at the moon floods over you. But, how did we get here?


Werewolf legends are almost as time immemorial as vampire lore. Both stem from the idea of shapeshifting, albeit into bats, wolves, or whatever. One of the earliest examples is the Greek story of Lycaon, the mythic king of Arcadia. After resorting to eating human flesh, Zeus turned him into a wolf. And according to Herodotus, there was a tribe that turned into wolves once every nine years.


And these legends, again like vampires, twist and turn through the ages, mainly becoming more elaborative and exaggerative in Europe, where the wolves were thought to be evil men who were commanded to terrorize by the Devil. Some werewolves were thought to be fighters who disguised themselves in wolf clothing. Whatever the cases or the causes, one thing remained simplistic: werewolves brought murder and carnage with them.


Enter Peter Stumpp. For twenty-five years he had a track record that would make Dracula envious: he sucked the blood from goats, sheep, lambs, men, women, and children, as well as having consumed their flesh. Upon torture, he claimed to be in league with the Devil and to have had incestuous relations. Some theorize that this was socio-politically motivated, but either way the guy had a gruesome death. He was put on a wheel and had his flesh torn from his body using hot pincers, his limbs were broke and he was beheaded, all to keep him from returning from the grave. As a warning to others the torture wheel was set on top of a pole with a figure of a whole on it as well as his severed head.


But how did one become a werewolf? Two distinct ways: one, make a pact with the Devil. Two, be bitten by another werewolf. The upside to number one is that it’s less painful, but there’s the whole “selling you soul to Satan” thing. Number two is more painful, but if you kill the werewolf that bit you the “curse” is lifted. Or so Hollywood says.


And that’s where the real mythology of werewolves comes from: Hollywood. Traditionally speaking, werewolves are less romanticized than vampires and were often the excuse behind killings more appropriately attributed to serial killers and the like. Wolves in general rarely, if ever, attack a human being, but we find ourselves mortally afraid of the possibility. But once cannibalism, mutilation, and wolves are mixed with ideologies and myths reaching back to ancient times, the rest is sheer fiction.


That Hollywood history begins with “The Werewolf,” a 1913 movie about a woman taught how to change into a wolf, seeking revenge on white settlers. Also a silent film, “Wolf Blood,” was released in 1925. It’s about a logger who, after an altercation, needs a blood transfusion. He gets the blood of a wolf and imagines himself as one. Meanwhile, the rival logging company is being picked off one-by-one by wolves. Coincidence? And “Werewolf of London” (1935) was the first to show werewolves on two legs.


1941’s “The Wolf Man,” was the cornerstone to the collective werewolf mythos. Larry Talbot (Lon Chaney, Jr.) returns to his ancestral home, falls for a girl, and buys her a silver-headed walking stick with a wolf on it. When he saves her friend from an attack, he’s bitten and now cursed to be a werewolf. After roaming the countryside for a bit, he’s finally returned to normal (read: killed) by his father with his silver walking stick. Silver, changing during moonlight and the pentagram tie all came from this movie. Of note, the “changing under a full moon” idea came from the sequel, “Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man.”


From that point the “Wolf Man” has met Abbott and Costello, been a teenager (“I Was a Teenage Werewolf”), and even had its own TV series (“Werewolf”). Also, watch for Benecio del Toro as “The Wolf Man” next year!


“Stick to the roads, and stay clear of the moors.”