Epic Werewolf Fails: 5 Awful Transformations

GeekMom TV and Movies

From fabric-store fur to Lee press-on nails, werewolf transformations on film have a checkered past.

Movie versions of the werewolf metamorphosis usually rely on the actors to stare wide-eyed at their furry hands and creepy nails and emit panicky, mortified screams, although not nearly as convincing as the ones that must have escaped them at the movie’s premiere.

Most werewolf transformations–let’s face it–are epic fails. The “Twilight” movies opt for an instantaneous flash transformation over the stare-and-scream method, but then again [spoiler alert] the guys in question are not actual werewolves, but shape-shifters. Thus, they don’t really count.

But lest you think werewolf fails are a phenomenon of the pre-CGI past, I call your attention to the otherwise excellent BBC series “Being Human.” (Warning: there’s a nekkid tush in this video.)

#1: “Being Human”

He screams a lot, then screams some more, then turns briefly into Cindy-Lou Who before going full werewolf. I give “Being Human” sci-fi points for the physiological explanation, but the visuals of the transformation are an utter fail.

#2: “Teen Wolf”

The Michael J. Fox classic “Teen Wolf” enjoyed a feature-film FX budget, but didn’t fare much better.

Step 1: Grow long, lustrous nails

Step 2: Look in mirror; observe bubbles moving under facial skin; put hands over face

Step 3: Open mirror, perhaps in search of astringent for bubble-face issues

DONE!

#3: “The Howling”

The werewolf in “The Howling” also suffers from bubble-face/hand-staring syndrome (BFHS):

In addition, he also experiences theatrical snout-stretching with little accompanying facial reaction, which meshes nicely with the “when will this be over I would really like a latte” expression on the face of the gal witnessing the transformation. I’ve seen more fear on the faces of people waiting for the plumber’s estimate.

#4 “American Werewolf in London”

If we were to break down the transformation checklist for “American Werewolf in London” (tush warning #2), it would look a little different from the classic BFHS sequence:

Step 1:  Grab head

Step 2:  Shed clothes

Step 3: Looking-at-hand sequence (see previous)

Step 4: Morph into Harry from “Harry and the Hendersons,” while keeping downstage leg positioned to avoid NC-17 rating

COMPLETE!

#5 “Bad Moon”

Don’t let the cheesy production values scare you away: This movie has an original take on low-budget werewolf FX. Keys to the transformation are a Vaseline-smeared lens and, possibly, a taxidermied polar bear. Steps are as follows:

Step 1: Develop sudden orthodontia issues

Step 2: Scare the crap out of Mariel Hemingway

Step 3: Go really blurry and kinda lumpy

Step 4: Bust out of Reeboks

COMPLETE!

I’m sure I’ve stomped on some of your favorite werewolves, so please, tell me if I’m wrong. And if you know of a good werewolf transformation caught on film, do tell.

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13 thoughts on “Epic Werewolf Fails: 5 Awful Transformations

  1. Generally speaking, the American Werewolf in London transformation scene is considered the best one by werewolf movie fans.

  2. I have to wonder if the American Werewolf in London scene was thrown in as a troll or (at the risk of doing an ungentlemanly thing and discussing a woman’s age) if the author is too young to know that the movie was really the first one widely accepted as getting the transformation right. In 1981, it was the first time the man to wolf transformation had been shown clearly in a movie. It might not be as shiny and pretty as could be made today, but for the technology 30 years ago, it was very impressive.

    If the so called BFHS transformation seems cliche today it is only because it was done so well in this movie and has been imitated so many times since then.

  3. You’re quite right, GreyyGuy: My mom was horrified that I included her fave transformation scene (American Werewolf) in the fail list. But I wonder, viewed without its historical context – without adjusting for FX inflation, shall we say – do you still feel it’s successful?

  4. Context is king Alisson. The transformation in American Werewolf works because the sum is greater than the whole of it’s parts. View in the context of the film, the scene is a great moment that the viewer has been waiting for; viewed as a separate entity, and as GreyyGuy says, it set a precedent, and it’s the sorry imitators which have badly copied it over the years. If I was Rick Baker I would sue the BBC for their scene!

  5. So….given what’s on your fail list I’m almost afraid to ask what you consider a success.

  6. On what criteria do you judge a successful transformation into a werewolf? It’s not as if there are any real-world examples to compare the film versions to either.

    That said, by including one of the most highly regarded transformation scenes in film history (a quick internet search will no doubt go some way to supporting this opinion) in your list, you’ve failed in your list of fails.

    What next? Lack of Dolby Surround Sound ruins The Jazz Singer?

    1. Ditto to context…do you consider the transformations of the old Universal horror films to be fails because they lacked the technology to do it “right”?

      Also, it’s hard to tell what are intentional omissions – do you consider the transformations of “American Werewolf in Paris” to be superior to “London”? – vs those that you’ve never seen. How well-versed in lycanthropic cinema are you?

  7. I’m not well versed at all. This is just a sampling of things that bug me about transformations I’ve seen – my fault for not being clear on that in the post. 🙂 What I’m not seeing in the comments are any movie transformations that people feel are an unqualified success, regardless of time period.

    1. I would say that the American Werewolf in London scene counts as an unqualified success. It conveys the horror of experiencing the loss of control of one’s own body, and the pain of bones shifting and skin and muscle stretching during the transformation. It can be argued that it does not look realistic, but I would point out that it is showing a man transforming into a wolf. What should it look like? Similarly, I would even say that Lon Chaney’s performance sold the transformation scenes far more than the effects technology in the original Wolf Man movie. The confusion and fear shown, despite having to stay still for the visual effect to work properly, are impressive.

  8. Too many people have already taken apart your list for me to join them in doing so. However,since you ask about good werewolf transformations, I’d point you at the Ginger Snaps trilogy. Though,since in those films the transformation is a slow, irreversible process taking weeks,you might argue that doesn’t fit into the category. Frankly,like virtually all of your respondents, I think little of your effort here. If you don’t know much about the topic,you don’t have to write about it.

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