Sexy Beasts: My, What Big Teeth You Have...
By Desmond Reddick
18 June 2007 — Since "Little Red Riding Hood" has been told to small children, the spectre of the wolf as a sexual deviant has permeated the world culture. From the iconic portrayal of Lon Chaney, Jr. as the original werewolf to the latest spate of sexy-cool males and more feminine lycanthropes, the werewolf film has always been linked to sex. As you will soon see, the link runs deeper than most can imagine.
Historically, when women were being burned as witches men too were being persecuted as werewolves. Like vampirism, our hairy horror icon was often used as a scapegoat. Men who preyed on children would use the excuse that their rape and murder of innocents was brought on by an uncontrollable, savage urge explained as lycanthropy. Furthermore, the rampant legends and occasional historical account portrays Viking warriors dressed in wolves' skin consuming psilocybic mushrooms and using the resulting hallucinations to enrich their savagery in battle. But women as werewolves are different beasts altogether. Let's run it down in general and then go gender by gender in this examination of sex and the werewolf.
Without being gender specific, The Howling is a perfect example of the werewolf as a sexual being. A woman fleeing the psychological damage of a werewolf attack in a booth at a porno theatre is recommended to a commune in the woods populated by people she thinks are also convalescing. The porno theatre attack aside, the commune is essentially a constant werewolf orgy. The woman's husband is even seduced by a werewolf woman in a moonlit rendezvous. The Howling series is quite prolific in the werewolf sex department as well. But there are several instances where we find a gender gap in the werewolf world.
Men are portrayed in a variety of ways as werewolves. There is, of course, the Harry Talbot Wolfman "curse" of lycanthropy. This is found from the original Universal Wolfman film to An American Werewolf in London to Underworld. While this is the least appealing kind of male werewolf to me, there are still several examples of a sexual connection to these wolves. The Wolfman himself chased the beautiful woman through the woods at night. The woman happened to be his new lady friend, but, as a perfect gentleman, the only way Talbot could express sexual desire was through his wolf form. This werewolf is the tragic hero personified. Still, it's rather tame compared to its counterpart on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The consumer / aggressor werewolf is a much more enjoyable kind of monster to watch. Wolves of Wall Street, while a terribly shitty movie, portrays American Psycho-like stock traders who move in packs as werewolves. Wearing designer three-piece suits and hunting women, they are the pinnacle of consumers. Of course, this kind of werewolf can be executed on celluloid competently. The Company of Wolves is a lyrical and haunting spin on the "Little Red Riding Hood" story. And it happens to be the only werewolf film to feature Angela Lansbury!
The werewolf itself is such a masculine construct it is difficult not to discuss the thoughts of another slightly more prolific writer than yours truly. As Stephen King discussed in Danse Macabre, his treatise on the genre, there is hardly a better analogy for this link, and sexual awakening, than a certain scene in I Was a Teenage Werewolf. While sexual arousal is not what turns Michael Landon's character into a werewolf (bells do the trick), the transformation occurs when he sees a beautiful girl performing gymnastics in the school gymnasium. The link between these two instances places the werewolf clearly in the realm of burgeoning masculinity in young men. Rapid hair growth in new places, aggression and sexual awakening all generally occur at this time in life. (Remember, at the time most teenagers were perceived to be not having sex. A quaint innocence layered American culture. The same innocence gave James Dean, with his cigarettes and late-night escapades, power and sex appeal.) There is no greater example of the link between sex and werewolves for the male gender. Werewolves of the female gender, however, is another matter altogether
Female werewolves are much less represented in horror films. But due to a late resurgence in the genre, it appears any kind of proverbial glass ceiling has been shattered. While the few she-wolves that have appeared in film have been seductresses, most notably in The Howling, the recent surge in the sub-genre ties the female werewolf to sex in an entirely new light. In the Canadian werewolf trilogy Ginger Snaps, the title character is attacked by a werewolf and turned. Nothing new there. Well, these films tie the transformation in with female menstruation. In a television interview with director John Fawcett, he corroborates the idea that the transformation girls go through in becoming women is by far more physical than ritualistic, so it's only natural that Ginger's physical transformation is highlighted in such a way. Following this, after becoming a werewolf and becoming more animalistic in response to the cycles of the moon, Ginger elicits sexual behavior of a very aggressive nature in the back of a car (where many teenagers have their earliest sexual encounters). This upgrades any promiscuous behavior the character indulges in from T & A to the acceptance of womanhood and the exertion of those powers. Ginger Snaps is important not only because it portrays females as werewolves (and not victims), but also because it portrays them as something other than slutty silver bullet fodder.
The deviant wolf is always present in our culture whether he, or she, wears sheep's clothing, and I hope this week's column enlightened you as to why you really have to beware the big bad wolf.