Saturday, June 7, 2014

What Makes a Good Werewolf Story?

Location and Legend!

Unlike the undead characters of zombies and vampires, a werewolf is technically man and beast.

This concept compels me even more in fiction.

The animal side of man has the needs to eat, sleep, drink, seek protection from the elements and mate. In his human state and being reasonable and with conscience, he gets a job to pay for the things he needs, finds someone to marry, decides how many children to create, what to eat for supper.

The werewolf, however, has these needs and has no conscience about gaining them by killing, stealing and raping.

Like the “is Bigfoot man or ape?” dilemma, we have to wonder; is a werewolf more wolf or more man? It walks on two feet but it looks like a wolf. Hmm… Which takes precedence for him?

They are most often portrayed as more wolf than man. There is a man host and it walks on two legs, but all else man-like qualities are overridden by the wolf. But, what if a werewolf were portrayed as having a conscience? Showing intelligence? Or able to hold out on instant gratification?

A good and inventive werewolf story should give us an element we haven’t seen yet.

For my upcoming erotic horror novel, I used the angle of Scottish Pagans settling a mountaintop in West Virginia in the early 1800s, choosing the location because of the rock within the mountain; limestone, quartz, and granite; all ideal for enhancing their magic. But what happens if the woods become cursed and those who enter it turn to the most elemental of spirit beasts? Instead of a full moon, a person only has to walk into the forest to become - a beast!

Location and legend appear to be the two elements most critical to a good wolf story. A werewolf is an amazingly hard to believe creature, but if you were to drop him in the city where a wild animal wouldn’t normally be, you’ve now asked the audience to suspend their belief system two times over. (Remember when they did a movie putting “Predator” in the city—godawful! Or when they brought the dinosaurs from to our shores in the second “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” installment?) I’m not cool with city werewolves, though I’m sure it could be done in an interesting urban way, it just doesn’t scare me to think of a wolf running around with pushers and pimps, robbers and prostitutes. There’s no contrast between evil and evil-er.  And most people are more vulnerable and out of their element in the woods.

I admittedly liked certain werewolf movies purely for location, such as “The Howling” with the camp in the California mountains that lent itself to the concept of a commune of wolf-people. The wolf itself looked rather comical and tazmanian-devilish, but the location was prime! I also enjoyed “The Howling V” but that was because it took place in a castle. Not a bad location to lock up a wolf and let him feast in the corridors and hidden rooms. 

Ultimately, the woods are the wolf’s domain. Part of what scares us the most about werewolf stories is that people feel vulnerable in the woods to predators, but to have one that can run on two feet and is powerful—that’s really frightening. You’re in his territory, no help available, and he’s giving chase.

The legend of the werewolf is critical too. “Blood and Chocolate” did a neat job of giving us some background on a culture of people/wolves. Too many werewolf stories and movies have a simple bite turning into a full-moon maniac scenario. It has no cultural or mythological basis to seep it in generations of fear and cult-like fervor. We really want to believe this is possible and we really need the cult and the legend to mystify it for us. 

Some legends could be unique, for example portraying the beast like animal inside a man so that it is more behavior that literal transformation or perhaps a person raised as a feral child by wolves.  What if there was a type of human that evolved from canines instead of ape family? Perhaps they are intelligent, walk on two legs, but have features and actions like a canine. What if this population lived in hidden areas and liked its isolation but man came into his territory and started cutting down trees? 

It’s the loss of humanity in a werewolf who still looks rather human and sometimes by daylight is still human, that truly fascinates us. The werewolf is the conscienceless Michael Meyers but with teeth instead of a knife and actually more feasible than a dude who can’t be killed but is mortal…(never understood that one)

When going to movie form, I admit that I prefer my werewolf to mechanically transform. If you have to show full-frontal morphing, please do it like “An American Werewolf in London.” It should look organic and technically difficult. If a moviemaker wants to CGI the transformation, they’ve lost me. It’s too smooth and slick and too cartoonish. I want to hear agony and crunching and cracking sounds. To grow a snout—it can’t be easy. They took an easy way out in "Blood and Chocolate" but I rather liked it - they leaped into the air and turned into wolves as they landed.

I believe it comes down to the cult and legend of the werewolf and the location in which he is let loose to prowl that ultimately make the werewolf story. We want the truly wild human turned animal running free in the night aspects of Jack Nicholson in "Wolf" and the lush setting of the moors from the original "The Wolf Man" while having the graphic transformation of "An American Werewolf in London." We don't mind a little suspension of reality, but not too much - do not use a novel location along with CGI or perhaps a bizarre concept for the wolf and a novel location.

Oh, and another thing, forget the full moon bullshit. I don’t want my werewolf coming out once every month!

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