The Good, The Bad and The Mangy…A Look at Werewolves

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With the “Twilight” saga’s movie series finally wrapping up this fall, it is now my turn to offer my own gripe with the series: the pretty-boy wussification of the Werewolf.

First, I have to say I’m not going to use this opportunity to rip  (too much) into the “Twilight” franchise. I both support and tip my hat to any book series that gets teens  — and formerly non-reading adults, for that matter — passionate about reading. No matter what I personally think of the book, I have to give props to author Stephenie Meyer for hitting a literary nerve with so many readers.

Also, I have nothing against Taylor Lautner; I don’t even know the guy. Jacob (with the entire wolf clan) is cooler to me any day than pasty vampires (and the whole Native American hottie thing appeals to the cowgirl in me), but it’s simply the idea of my “pet” monster type as a teen heartthrob that just somehow rankles me.

I feel it is my duty as a parent to let these “Team Jacob” pre-teens know their favorite shirtless fleabag isn’t the first and only werewolf marking their territory in pop culture.

As such, I’ve compiled a handy list of my personal favorite lycanthropes (and a couple of others needing mention) to print out and take along for quick reference.

Why werewolves?

What can I say; I’m a dog lover.

 Pup-friendly: Freely enjoy, watch or read about these with your kids:

• Professor Remus Lupin (“Harry Potter” book series) — Lupin has long been tortured by his alter ego. The third ill-fated Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher in the book “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban,” Lupin possesses a gentle, sad soul and is good friend and fierce ally for Harry and his posse.  Good buds with Harry’s Godfather, Sirius Black (of whom also deserves a mention as he can willingly transfigure into a dog), you just want good things to happen to Remus. And, they do…temporarily. Remus eventually makes the ultimate sacrifice in the final battle against Voldemort, but entrusted Harry to become the Godfather to his own new son. What a noble beast.

• Clawdeen Wolf (Mattel’s Monster High doll line) — Monster High are the fashion dolls of choice for my slightly twisted daughters, and Clawdeen rules the pack. This sassy werewolf has to be bold, since she is part of a large litter of siblings (including brother Clawd and little sister Howleen) in which she has to contend, but is also ironically a cat-lover with her pet kitty, Crescent, by her side. Even though she sounds like Rosie Perez sucking helium in the line’s webisodes, she has the right ‘tude to take on both full moons and “Fearleading” competitions. Clawdeen was the center of controversy when everyone from over-protective mothers to feminists became incensed by a comment in her description that she hates having to shave her legs all the time. Really, with all the things that bait young girls, wolf humor is hardly one of them. Clawdeen is one happening bitch (oh shut up Grandma, she’s literally a girl dog).

• Wolfie (“Groovie Goolies”) The epitome of early-70s television cheese, not only did this “Archies” spin-off have an annoying sit-com style laugh track and sketch-show style ripped right from “Laugh In,” they couldn’t even spell “Ghoulies” right in the title. But as a four-year-old hyped up on (appropriately) Count Chocula in the early dawn of Saturday morning, Wolfie, was the man. Howling, charging on all fours in full tilt and sassing off in the style of (who else?) the infamous DJ Wolfman Jack, Wolfie knew how to have a good time. He owned a sweet ride, too, the Wolf Wagon.

• Wolfman (Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas”) Although he was merely one of the many figures to make up Halloween Town only growling a few choice filler comments, I would be remiss not to mention this old-school looking wolf beautifully designed by Burton and crew. From his hunched figure to classic plaid attire, he helps make the tapestry of Burton’s landscape complete, and more pet-friendly to boot.

• “Werewolves of London” (song by Warren Zevon) — The late-great sorta-rocker’s catchiest tune about those kooky, little-old-lady mutilating werewolves who enjoy pina coladas at Trader Vic’s with immaculate grooming. A Halloween soundtrack necessity at our house, it will work its way into your cerebral cortex and you won’t get it out of your head ‘til Thanksgiving…and you will like it!

• ULTRA RARE BONUS: “Fruit Brute” (from the breakfast table) The boys of Kevin Smith’s View Askewnaverse may have lamented the inability to find Boo Berry (which you can now easily come across in the fall), this fourth addition to the General Mill’s monster cereal group was its resident werewolf. Not only was he the most adorable creature of this series, Fruit Bruit was a multi-colored mix of sugary goodness (like Fruity Pebbles but much more awesome). With all the nostalgia-tinged retro packaging coming back, why they haven’t brought back the Brute is beyond me.

You might want to keep the kiddos away from these guys for a while:

• The Wolfman  — First and foremost, the classic must be mentioned.  This iconic character has been portrayed again and again, first seen in a silent film in 1924, but made famous by Lon Chaney in 1941. It’s Chaney’s portrayal and image that is so readily recognized as the classic Wolfman today still, and will always be the Wolfman to which all others will be compared, in my opinion.  B, C and D-grade movies have followed, as well as comics, anime series and books, not all with great success. Remember Jack Nicholson’s 1994 film, “Wolf”? Yeah, me neither.

The latest remake, starring Benicio Del Toro, however, had me scared to walk past my window at night for weeks, because these buggers were just SO FREAKING FAST. I just knew they could attack out of nowhere.

•  Josh Levison (Syfy’s “Being Human”) — The North American take on the hugely popular BBC series.  Josh, portrayed by nerd actor extraordinaire Sam Huntington, is currently my favorite actual werewolf for several reasons, but most of all because he is just plain funny. Fighting all stereotypes of the werewolf, Josh may be the first Jewish werewolf in history. He is also a socially inept geek with a real squeamishness about his lot in life, even though he has already accidentally changed one love interest, Nora, into a werewolf as well. Awww, how sweet…and slobbery.

• David Kessler (“American Werewolf in London”) — Cutting edge effects for its time, John Landis’s horror/comedy was one of the first films I’ve seen where I thought, “am I supposed to be laughing at this?” Even though Griffin Dunne’s ever-rotting best-friend/first victim stole the show, Kessler’s full-bodied transformation into his wolfen self was both frightening and fascinating. Please don’t be fooled by it’s horrible sequel attempt, “American Werewolf in Paris,” and just see the original…with the lights on and with friends…and a few Dr. Peppers.

• Scott Howard (“Teen Wolf” original 1985 comedy) — Suitable for teens, this fun, but low-minded comedy starring Michael J. Fox (who, for some reason has irritated me since I first laid eyes on the pipsqueak in “Family Ties”) turns the idea of the werewolf curse into an annoying family secret that tends to provoke car surfing and really bad dancing. This somehow was popular enough to evoke a short-lived animated series, poorly received sequel starring Jason Bateman before he became a decent actor and (this should go without saying) the current MTV black comedy that is doing pretty darn well in ratings.  There is no link, however, between these titles and Michael Landon’s 1957 MST3K-worthy “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.”

• The residents of The Colony  (“The Howling”) — Not to be outdone by Landis, Joe Dante’s 1981 adaptation of the schlock horror novel of the same name, reveals werewolves to be what we all figured, free-love murderous neo-hippies who enjoy a nice can of Wolf Brand Chili. Sorry Joe, stick to your “Gremlins.”

• The Lycans (Underworld Trilogy) — Never since the Hatfields and McCoys has there been a family feud like that of the Lycans (shape-shifting werewolves) and the vampires. This group’s back story is revealed in the third film in the series (yet technically a prequel) “Underworld: Rise of the Lycans.” This race of wolves is strong, fast and viciously aggressive, and — since the race was the result of a virus — very contagious. These films get consistently bashed critically, but must have something going for them since they have a rabid (no pun intended) fan base.

Not really Werewolves, but too cool not to mention:

• Monroe (NBC’s “Grimm”) — Monroe, portrayed by Silas Weir Mitchell, is what’s known in the world of the mythological creatures (aka “Wesen”), as a Wieder Blutbad, a wolf-like race with a deservedly bad rep.  Destined to remedy that image, Monroe is a mild-mannered flannel-wearing vegan peacenik who enjoys fine wine, playing his cello and pursuing a career as a clockmaker. The ideal neighbor, I would trust this guy to watch my kids anytime, but I just don’t want to get on his bad side.

• Lobo — (DC Comics) Since his first appearance in the early 80s, this profane, hardedge bounty hunter became one of comics’ favorite anti-heroes well into the ‘90s. To call this guy insane just isn’t enough. Lobo is a bat-crap crazy psycho “bastich” who can make Joker look introspective and withdrawn. I have yet to read a Lobo title where I haven’t had a least one WTF??!! moment. We don’t see much of him nowadays, but I have heard rumors of a Lobo movie in the works. Hmmm.

• Bigby Wolf (“Fables” comic series) — Paws down, Bigby is my favorite character in this Vertigo series. Bigby, writer Bill Willingham’s incarnation of the Big Bad Wolf, works in the Mundy (non-Fables) world, as a rough-edged Sam Spade-like detective. Married to Snow White, of whom he pursued from issue one, he is the son of Mr. North (The North Wind), and is one of the most complex characters in the series.  If there ever is a movie made from this book, please, please, please cast Liam Neeson in the role.

Who did I leave out? Let me know what other wolves are worthy of joining the pack from my fellow-wolf lovers. Oh, and if you run across any Fruit Brute out there, let me know. I’ve got a mad craving for them now.

Next month: Love that show/movie? Then read this book/comic!

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