The Best Werewolf Movies You've Never Seen

(Welcome to The Best Movies You've Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. This week things get hairy as we go digging for some underseen werewolf gems!)

There are seemingly thousands of movies about vampires and zombies, but for some reason the werewolf doesn't quite warrant the same degree of ubiquity. It's arguably the cooler creature, but therein rests the reason why there are so few werewolf movies – and even fewer good to great ones. You can't just toss some plastic teeth in an actor's mouth or paint their skin gray. Werewolves require prosthetic effects/transformations, and they don't come cheap. (Well, usually.) The advent and availability of inexpensive CG has seen a minor burst in the sub-genre in recent years, but quality-wise they're more hairballs than hairy nightmares.

If the top tier of great werewolf films features An American Werewolf in London (1981), The Howling (1981), and Universal's The Wolf Man (1941) then the next includes killer but less popular movies like Silver Bullet (1985), Bad Moon (1996), Ginger Snaps (2000), Dog Soldiers (2002), and Late Phases (2014). And then what? Seventy or so mostly forgettable tales of lycanthropes on the prowl? Yes, but there are also a handful of good ones you've probably missed! And I shouldn't have to say this, but after seeing far, far too many lists including them I'm going to remind you that, while great, neither Wolfen (1981) nor Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001) are werewolf movies.

Keep reading for a look at six good to great – and even lesser known – werewolf movies that deserve a bite out of your time.

Wer (2013)

An American family on vacation in France finds tragedy when something emerges from the woods, kills the father and young boy, and severely mauls the mother. The police arrest a local man who fits the description of a large, hairy, human-like being, but the public defender assigned to his case isn't so certain of his guilt.

I'm not exactly sure why this one doesn't get more love. It's far from flashy, but it's got a high body count, lots of bloodletting, an interesting angle on the werewolf mythology, and some bonkers action in the third act including a werewolf killing a cop, throwing the body at a helicopter, and then walking away triumphantly from the ensuing crash and explosion. Director William Brent Bell (The Boy, 2016) also incorporates some found footage into the mix but wisely keeps it to a minimum via home video, police body cams, and news footage.

It's interesting in part for how it moves from legal thriller to werewolf horror with the latter including a heavy dose of action. Multiple SWAT teams go up against the beast with disastrous results (for the authorities), and the action varies in its geography from urban landscapes to forests. The cast is strong if mostly unfamiliar, but Westworld fans will recognize Simon Quarterman as an animal behaviorist helping investigate the case. Is he enough reason to watch a movie? Probably not, but luckily it's an engaging thriller that should grab and hold your attention pretty quickly.

Wer is available on DVD and streaming.

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt (2004)

Bodies are being found in rural Spain clawed apart as if by an animal and sliced with precision as if by a human hand. The populace fears a monster while the authorities suspect someone who would eventually come to be called a serial killer, but it's quite possible they're both correct.

This terrific period thriller is based on the true story of Spain's first serial murderer, and as such its werewolf is arguably far from "real." I'm including it, though, as the film's presentation keeps it just vague enough as to the possibility that the killer is a werewolf. We even get a transformation scene from wolf back to man paired with a pretty solid psychological exploration of a man who believes himself a monster, and Julian Sands makes great use of his typically removed performance-style to bring the conflicted man to life. The onscreen text at the end doubles down on the possibility that the man was a werewolf by leaving the door open on the truth.

Director Paco Plaza – one half of the duo who gifted us with [Rec] and [Rec] 2 – is at the top of his solo game here and has yet to match it. The film is beautifully shot with the grime of the period contrasting the beauty of the landscape and a furious Elsa Pataky, and Plaza's more than happy to dip his camera directly into the carnage left behind by his killer.

Romasanta: The Werewolf Hunt is available on DVD and streaming.

Kibakichi (2003)

A lone swordsman wanders the land after seeing his own kind – werewolves – slaughtered by fearful and violent humans. He finds a temporary home in a small town populated by shape-shifting gangsters who work with corrupt humans to eradicate (and eat) their criminal competition.

East meets west in terrifically creative fashion here as genres blend with abandon. What starts as a tale of a skilled swordsman fighting bandits shifts into a creature feature before bringing in story threads from westerns, crime pictures, The Last Samurai, and more. Our hero's inner werewolf busts out in the third act as bad guys with shotguns, automatic weapons, and leather duds show up to start slaughtering his new friends. The action's a fun mix of legit swordplay, explosive gunfights, and carnage at the hands and teeth of skeletons, hot spider girls, and of course, one pissed off werewolf – he's only on the screen for twenty minutes, but those twenty minutes are the best werewolf movie ever made. The creature effects are playfully effective despite the film's serious tone, and while the werewolf only fully comes into play in the final twenty minutes the end fight is alone worth the price of admission as he dodges explosions, tears off limbs and heads, and kicks ass with mad martial arts skills.

And not for nothing, but the film bears more than a passing resemblance to Clive Barker's Nightbreed. A loner finds himself in a community of monsters – fitting, as he too is a monster – and while conflicts among them arise the creatures band together to fight a marauding group of armed and bloodthirsty humans. Japan's Yokai tradition predates Barker's film (and source novel Cabal), obviously, but they share themes and a clear preference for monsters over people. Unlike Barker's film, though, this one at least got a sequel.

Kibakichi is available on DVD.

Howl (2015)

A group of strangers on an overnight train ride through rural England find trouble when a mechanical issue causes the train to stop near a desolate, fog-filled forest. Their situation worsens when a vicious creature begins targeting them for dinner. And it's not alone.

A big part of the film's success comes courtesy of some pretty fresh and cool-looking werewolf designs. As you can see in the image above, these beasts forego additional body hair in favor of muscles, teeth, and bad attitudes. It's a striking look, and it matches their ferocious nature as they tear through the train cars in pursuit of fresh meat. They're equally menacing in the woods as their glowing eyes and ominous silhouettes arise to encircle and attack their human prey.

The back half is where most of the genre fun lands, but the film doesn't squander its setup as time is spent crafting its character dynamics. The lead protagonist, a down on his luck conductor, makes for an engaging everyman hero, and the others off a solid blend of human fodder. It's an unassuming film that doesn't fancy itself as anything more than a fun creature feature, but it exceeds its modest goals thanks to inventive beasts, genuine thrills, and an appealing ensemble.

Howl is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming.

Big Bad Wolf (2006)

An awkward teen brings some obnoxious friends to his stepdad's cabin, but rather than impress them he watches as a smack-talking werewolf slaughters them all before his eyes. Now it's up to him and his best friend to find the creature and kill it.

I'm going to be honest with you and acknowledge that the film's lead protagonist is a wet blanket you'll want to see killed immediately, the performances are on a scale of bad to Richard Tyson, and the script has no awareness of how human beings actually react to things. Get past all of that, though, and you have a legitimately fun monster movie that's not for the kiddies. It's a bloody romp, and while it may lack the artistry of the subgenre's best it delivers an immensely entertaining horror throwback all the same. And yes, the werewolf talks, but it's mostly to insult people before diddling them and tearing them apart.

It most definitely embraces its R rating too, and while that may not be a plus for some I can't help but find it refreshing despite its willingness to offend. Creature features are already a rare breed in the horror genre with a preference towards the supernatural – i.e. cheaper films to produce – that invariably avoid more graphic visuals. This one says eff that noise and piles on the gore, T&A, and terribly inappropriate behaviors. How inappropriate? The way in which a teenage girl acquires a man's DNA so that a lab can test him for werewolf tendencies is, err, questionable at best (but ultimately effective).

Big Bad Wolf is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming.

The Beast Must Die (1974)

Tom Newcliffe (Calvin Lockhart) is a wealthy man with an obsessive love of hunting. He and his wife invite an eclectic group of friends to their vast estate for a weekend of drinking and chatter, but he soon reveals his true intention. He believes one of them to be a werewolf, and he's going to kill the beast before the weekend's over.

How do you not love a movie that literally pauses the onscreen action in the third act while a narrator welcomes viewers to the "werewolf break" and challenges them to solve the mystery as to the creature's identity? It's a ridiculous moment of genius in an entertaining movie played straight. Lockhart, in particular, brings a heightened degree of seriousness to the proceedings that play beautifully off the nonsense.

This is an undeniably goofy entry in the Amicus horror canon, and the fun is aided by a supporting cast of familiar British faces. Peter Cushing, Michael Gambon, Charles Gray, and Anton Diffring all bring old-school charm to this romp. They'd all be perfectly at home in an Agatha Christie mystery adaptation, and that's immensely fitting as the film is exactly that. Plus, you know, a werewolf. The film does a good job crafting its suspects and mystery before knocking them off one by one on its way to a fun and satisfying conclusion.

The Beast Must Die is available on Blu-ray, DVD, and streaming.

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