So why did I want to write about werewolves, at least for my first novel or three?
Well, for a few reasons. Firstly, werewolves are kickass and anyone who says different is a dirty liar. Secondly, because everyone else seems to be writing about zombies, and I’m all rebellious and non-conformist and whatnot. And thirdly, because werewolves have always scared the living crap out of me… but perhaps not for the reasons you’d expect.
My relationship with lycanthropes goes back over thirty years, to when I was a little boy with a big imagination. In those days one of the local TV networks (Crom bless ‘em) used to play a late-night horror flick every Sunday, and my older siblings sometimes used to stay up to watch them. Not that I ever had the guts to join them – no, I was tucked up safely in bed, trying not to listen to the horrible noises coming from the living room. Along with The Exorcist and The Omen, one of the late-night nasties I got to listen to through the bedroom door was The Howling. Imagination being what it is, I’d probably have been a lot less scared if I’d been able to see what was happening on the TV, but at that age the very idea of werewolves was enough to put me in the foetal position with the covers over my head.
Fast forward a few years and I got a little braver, enough to sit down and watch An American Werewolf in London, and finally sit through The Howling (albeit from the edge of my seat). I quickly figured out, though, that I wasn’t frightened by the scenes with werewolves running about attacking people – it was the transformation scenes that had me grimacing and looking away from the screen. David Kessler thrashing about on the living room floor while his body warped and twisted around him, Eddie Quist’s face rippling and bulging as the hungry beast inside him found its way out, the whole “body horror” aspect of a man turning into an animal – that was the stuff that terrified me. I wasn’t as afraid of being attacked by a werewolf as I was of turning into one.
With American Werewolf, of course, that was kind of the whole deal. The idea of the werewolf as a lurking menace in the dark is there – the attack on the moors that kills Jack and turns David is pretty terrifying stuff – but the real horror (and comedy) in that film comes from David gradually realising that he is the menace in the dark, the monster is lurking inside him, and what the hell does he do about it? This is a theme that plays out in many of your better werewolf stories, of course, and David goes through all the guilt and self-loathing that any good lycanthrope should (it gets a little more in-your-face in his case, of course, since the ghosts of his victims are literally following him around). But it was that gruesome visceral aspect of watching your own body transform into something nasty that always carried the “nope” factor for me. And while some werewolf flicks only hint at the transformation – using dim lighting or clever camera angles to fool the eye – American Werewolf revels in showing us the entire transformation from start to finish, in full lighting, with lingering close-ups on every stretching, twisting body part. The fact that it’s all happening in an ordinary suburban living room, with “Blue Moon” playing on the radio and a plastic Mickey Mouse looking on indifferently from the coffee table, only serves to make it more surreal and horrible.
Others have played around with the idea in their own ways, of course. Ginger Snaps linked the idea of werewolf body horror to the obvious (some might say too obvious) metaphor of puberty and menstruation. The Howling turned the “ick” factor up to 11 by showing us two crazy lycanthrope kids wolfing out mid-coitus (and you probably thought Chris Stone’s pornstache was creepy enough on its own). The 1994 movie Wolf with Jack Nicholson (a woefully underrated flick, by the by) turned the transformation into a slowly-advancing condition, with ol’ Jack becoming more and more lupine every night until the next full moon. The Hellboy story The Wolves of Saint August (based on the legend of the cursed Alba clan) focused on the religious aspects of the werewolf mythos, and the idea that the animal takes over not only the body but the soul as well (“Each time more of the creature remains, until all that is man is this thin skin”). And then of course Hellboy beat the crap out of a werewolf with an iron crucifix, because he’s practical like that.
So how do I handle it? Well, Coppertown Red is primarily a horror/action story with a little mystery thrown in, so there’s plenty of distressing transformations and gory violence to be had. But my werewolves (much like my vampires) come in all shapes and sizes, and also differ in their attutitudes to who and what they are. Some have been born with it and don’t know any other way to be; others have been infected and have to decide where their loyalties lie -whether to cling to their humanity or embrace their feral side, especially when the inevitable full moon throwdown kicks off. The upcoming second book – The Species Problem – will deal with the even thornier question of whether a werewolf should even be considered a human being… or, for that matter, treated like one.
All of which might be an interesting exploration of the psychology and culture of werewolves, or might just be me trying to figure out what makes them tick because they still scare the bejesus out of me, and I’m too fecking big to hide behind the sofa.
Next time, I’ll (hopefully) have some news of things to come. Watch this space.
Down Town by Viido Policarpus and Tappan King
Monster Pets: Dracula’s Cat by Gary Buettner
A new story featuring Helena “Borrowed Time” Downwright, and (lightly) revising the old one.