The distinctive features of the wolf are unbridled cruelty, bestial ferocity, and ravening hunger. His strength, his cunning, his speed were regarded as abnormal, almost eerie qualities, he had something of the demon, of hell. He is the mysterious harbinger of Death. (Summers 65)
Werewolves, or wolf-men, have been fabled and
dreaded monsters in numerous cultures throughout the world for
centuries [the same ones as above, in which wolves themselves
are already demonized]. In many examples of werewolf literature,
werewolves are created by a severe sickness.
You many recognize [werewolves] by these marks:
they are pale, their vision feeble, their eyes dry, tongue very
dry, and the flow of saliva stopped; but they are thirsty. (Summers
Werewolves were originally viewed as very sick people who no longer had control over themselves: werewolves were people acting without conscience. Many believe "that all human, indeed all animal, behaviour is aimed at obtaining a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain, or even asserts that the desire for pleasure and the fear of pain are the main motives of all our actions" (Eisler 23). This is true for humans in the case of severe sickness and loss of mind. The werewolf in literature is the person who acts out in such a way, the way that a wolf would act [if the denigrating stereotype of the wolf were true].
As the legend of the werewolf has evolved,
the werewolf has become more wolf-like. This evolution has brought
the idea of a physical metamorphosis from man into wolf. In original
literature and stories, the metamorphosis from man to wolf happened
through a superficial application of costume, such as using a
girdle or wearing a wolf skin (Summers 112). The horror in this
concept is not the shape, or changing of shape, of the werewolf,
but rather the uncontrollable behavior. The change is the great
horror when depicted in horror films. In current film, the metamorphosis
is often the most horrific moment of the entire picture. Physiological
changes are actually observed occurring, including bone structure,
skin texture, and emergence of fangs. Hair grows over the body,
the nose protrudes, fangs enlarge, and pointy ears emerge from
the head. The difference between the original werewolf and the
werewolf of current films is not the behavior, for it has been
relatively constant. Rather, the difference is in the physical
The characters and myths of werewolves have
long been present but to this day remain extremely vague. No
one knows exactly what the werewolf is and why it is so horrific.
Perhaps this ambiguity is due to the fact that the werewolf does
not have a solid textual incarnation, but rather occupies legend
and lore. The werewolf has never had such clear description in
the way that Mary Shelley depicted the Frankenstein Monster and
Bram Stoker defined the vampire with Dracula. Werewolves simply
are creatures possessed by a demon, very sick, or who, through
some physical way, accrue the virus that leads to the cursed
[Wagner the Werewolf of the Victorian potboiler notwithstanding,]
there is not just one definitive werewolf.
Despite efforts in film to create the horror
of metamorphism as the primary terror of the werewolf, the real
horror is in the mystery of the creature. When one's intentions
or motivations are unknown, the results are feared. Dracula is
horrific due to his nature, but at least his intentions are known.
But werewolves will act out in ways that please themselves at
the moment. This behavior and the lack of conscience are foreign
[or at least disturbing] to all dignified humans, and therefore
the werewolf is alien, evil, and horrific.
Eisler, Robert. Man Into Wolf. NY:
Philosophical Library, 1951.
Summers, Montague. The Werewolf. New
Hyde Park, NY: University Books, 1966.