What’s the classic werewolf story?


Recently I’ve been putting together a course on Monsters, and in compiling the topics week by week, I had a moment to pause. Whereas many monsters have seminal texts – Dracula being one example, what exactly constitutes the seminal text for the werewolf? And anyway, why do we need one? There have been some good stories where the themes and characters are decidedly wolfy, such as Little Red Riding Hood, a werewolf is a different thing. Unlike the vampire or Frankenstein’s monster, it isn’t a fixed form, and continually exists in binary form – wolf or human. Despite some of the more recent literature trying to claim that the wolf effect lasts all month long, and can be ‘felt’, the simple aesthetic fact is that only one night out of the month does a hairy snout become a feature of your appearance. Although, as with other monster tales, the story of ‘origin’, ie how they got the ‘curse’ is often told, and the loss of innocence that comes with transformation. Werewolves are unlike other monsters in that they eschew many of the traditional human aspects such as appearance yet remain imbued with a desire for hierarchy (the wolfpack). werewolf

In many ways, it can be said that Louis-Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde is the epitome of the  werewolf tale. It details the glorious divide between the public and private, the civilised and the primal and the division of self that comes with being something other than human. After all, vampires may have been human once, but these memories are echoes, which distort with time, and remain untouched in the past. Werewolves instead have to continuously relive the human experience, altered by their secret identity. Hiding the monstrous becomes a focus of the narrative, unless of course, the story is set in a world populated by other supernaturals, such as Nightwatch, or even Harry Potter. 

The fact that there isn’t a seminal werewolf text (and if I’m mistaken, please feel free to tell me) may be a good thing. Writing and reading a lot about vampires, particularly media texts, there’s only so many times you can read the ‘history’ of the figure and it mention Dracula before you want to tear your hair out. He was not the template for the vampire, only a mixture of folklore and Stoker’s imagination. But that’s all these monsters are. Figments of our imaginations.


Monsters of 2013


Well, apparently we didn’t get enough of the monstrous last year. And because I spend far too much time thinking about them, here’s a list of upcoming films to sink your teeth into….

Warm Bodies

Ah, the old ‘sentient zombie’ trick. Always a good romance story. WARM BODIESOh, wait, I’m thinking of vampires. Although it looks more like a comedy than anything else, it’s still taking a leaf out the vampire tome and attempting to bridge the gap between the undead and us, despite the tricky logistics. Could be terrible, but a different take none the less.

World War Z

world-war-z-trailer-brad-pittI’m just about to read the book, and everyone who’s read it says it’s excellent. About time we had a decent zombie novel. And film adaptation. Plus Brad Pitt. He’s good at those monster things.

Monsters University

Hey, who said it had to be serious monsters? Making monsters cuddly since 2001, Pixar return with their attempt at continuing the franchise, though no one says that’s a bad thing when Sully is involved…


Only Lovers Left Alive

More vampires! Tom Hiddleston! Tilda Swinton! only-lovers-left-alive-posterThis looks like it will be excellent. Plus the description sounds like this: Adam (Tom Hiddleston), an underground musician reunites with his lover for centuries (Tilda Swinton) after he becomes depressed and tired with the direction human society has taken. Their love is interrupted and tested by her wild and uncontrollable little sister (Mia Wasikowska). (imdb.com)


Neil Jordan returns to form (I hope) directing another vampire film with the gorgeous Gemma Arterton and Jonny Lee Miller. This one focuses on the bond between mother and daughter, so here’s hoping it won’t be a descent into a vampy love story unlike the films of recent years…

I, Frankenstein

Not out til September, this film is apparently about Frankenstein’s creature finding himself caught in a war between “two immortal clans”. Whether that’s vampires or lycanthropes is something else entirely. Bill Nighy’s in it too, which probably means it’ll be good. Unless it’s a child’s film. We’ll see.

Hansel and Gretel Witch Hunters

MV5BMjA4MDQwODg2NV5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNTc5ODc2OA@@._V1._SY317_Gemma Arterton again, and Hawkeye, I mean, Jeremy Renner as Hansel and Gretel…because now they’re witch hunters and that makes sense. Still, the trailer has suitable amounts of gore, despite the premise being witches eat children and are all hideous. Could be fun.

Beautiful Creatures

From the trailer, it’s painfully obvious that this is Twilight with witches. But this time, the ROLES ARE REVERSED. It’s the guy who’s the human, and the girl who’s supernatural. I’ve seen the trailer. It could be good, but will definitely be good if you’re a teenage girl.

In sum: Less vampires, more witches, and sentient zombies. Monsters are definitely undead.

Romance is undead…


Well, it certainly seems that way. I’ve been wondering why almost every show has to feature a helpless (but ‘independent’) female falling for something undead. The evidence just piles up. Firstly, there’s this guy:


He kinda started it off. Although everyone goes on CONSTANTLY about Buffy kicking ass, there’s no denying that she went all swoony and girly around Angel. And then Riley. Both turned out to have bad consequences for her. She took all her awesomeness and then got destroyed by a vampire; instead of physically, the damage was undoubtedly emotional. Is that any better?

Then of course, there’s the vampires of True Blood, Twilight, Vampire Diaries, and even Being Human. 

Whereas before, there were vampires, and there was romance, but there was also a darker, deeper subplot, now there’s just….romance. And ‘vampire-type drama’, which inevitably comes from vampires struggling with their true nature. Some have read this, particularly in the case of Twilight, as a way to broadcast a Christian message, namely no sex before marriage. But in reality, these relationships equal danger, exoticism and special treatment…So I think that in itself is a pretty good answer. These vampires are the archetypal ‘bad boy’, except, they’re trying to be better. And then vampires got a little too human, so now the age-old dramatic device of the romantic triangle is back in play, with one ‘good’ monster, and one ‘bad’ one. This is evident in all the shows listed above.

So now the whole romance thing is more than romance….it’s about romance SO STRONG you’ll overcome your natural tendencies (both for humans and vamps) to be with the one you love, or in these cases, the one you’re ‘drawn to’ because of their ‘magic blood’. FYI, the comparisons between True Blood and Twilight are ridiculous (in the sense that the similarities are so strong in some cases). But that’s not the topic here. Why aren’t more of us asking the question – ‘why is the central storyline of these vampire narratives all about romance’? Surely the undead are fascinating enough as it is without having to make it all about the unrealistic, devoted pursuit of one human? Maybe that’s just me. I wonder how many watch these shows with the undead nature being a subplot. Any responses would obviously be welcome…and I leave you with some more pictures of ‘romantic vampire interests’:


The Halloween monster of choice


Recently, I was looking at a local Festival Listing (Bournemouth Arts by the Sea), and a Shaun of the Dead Party was advertised, which included the option to dress up like a zombie. Then it somehow became a browse onto a site for a Halloween ‘Scare Park’, which also included people dressed up like zombies….

Yup, there’s no denying it; people love dressing up like zombies on Halloween. And why not? It’s easy – it requires gross make up, and little explanation over what exactly you’re ‘supposed to be’. Everyone knows, because it looks like half your face is rotting away. The choice of Halloween costume is very interesting, and if you’re a celebrity, it gets scrutinised by the press (at least, it does on the sites I look at anyhow).

Once, people used to dress up as monsters on Halloween, or ‘All Hallows’ Eve’, because of the nature of it. A festival somewhat hi-jacked by Christianity (the festival has pagan roots, despite the Christian etymology of the name), the whole ‘dressing up as something scary’ probably came from the idea that the day after was the celebration of souls recently departed. Dressing up as something undead, and possibly death inducing, fits the overall feeling.

Anyway, getting sidetracked here: according to my sketchy internet research, the top 10 Halloween costumes are something like this. And with anecdotal evidence (ie from trips out at Halloween), I’d say I’ve seen far more zombies than vampires. But that’s if people even dress up like monsters anymore. It’s become something of a fancy dress free-for-all rather than any adherence to the original meaning. Are monsters becoming too unattractive to dress as? Obviously there are swathes of people dressed up as zombies on Halloween, but there are still vast amounts in very little, with a touch of fake blood to make it ‘Halloween’. The best costumes are the ones you can completely become something else in. And sadly, with vampires being so much like humans, there’s no real difference. For those fans of Halloween, the zombie is the ultimate costume – physically and mentally you can look sub-human, and take the night off from thinking. What’s not to love?

Vampire’s Kiss: crazy monsters


Dear god. Yesterday, I watched Vampire’s Kiss (1988) starring Nicolas Cage. Firstly, Cage is batshit crazy (!) and second, it got me thinking. Well, to be honest, I’m usually thinking about monsters. Monsters and madness, however, is something a bit different. When I first started watching it, I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be a comedy or not. Cage’s depiction of a man becoming increasingly more disturbed and living more in hallucinations and fantasy than reality was…weird. Perhaps it was this face:

Chilling, right? Well, it’s played for laughs. That much is obvious. It’s the kind of crazy that Easton-Ellis goes on to use in American Psycho, and it tears a chunk out of the same sector of deluded corporate types who are presumably more about appearances. Which I suppose is similar to Jekyll and Hyde. Anyway. The use of monster as a marker for madness is interesting. Does it imply that without sanity, we are monstrous? That sanity is essentially that which makes us ‘human’? You only have to think of fairytales like Beauty and the Beast, where a man, deemed monstrous, is made literally that until he can prove his worth as human. But here, we’re talking about insanity. Vampires, in particular the ones who follow their ‘natural’ urges and kill in order to sustain themselves, are seen as ‘unhinged’. Cage’s character, Peter Loew, undergoes a transformation from merely ‘eccentric’ to ‘insane’ shown by the number of vampiric traits he acquires and displays. When he realises the extent of his psychological damage after raping one woman and killing another (sounds brutal, but somehow it still manages to be a comedy…), he tries to stake himself. Cage’s character does not invite sympathy, and is mildly disturbing. Are all monsters unhinged?

Surprisingly, it is the ones who subvert their nature the most that are seen as ‘sane’. Denying all monstrous tendencies and adopting those of a race you feed off, or are entirely separate from, seems rather…crazy, if you think about it. Those who don’t conform to the social norms are doomed to live in the shadows, forever on the outside peering in. It’d be like humans acting like monkeys in order to fit in – why would we do it?! But because this is fantasy, of course it doesn’t matter. Except, when the monstrous is used to denote madness, shouldn’t we look at what the representation of insanity tells us? All people lacking sanity are not monsters. And not all monsters are insane.


Preacher: Rednecks and Religion


I’m almost lost for words. Having read 5 volumes of the Preacher comic lately, I’m currently a jumble of thought. A combination of sex, religion, backwards rednecks and vampires, the comic ticks all the boxes. Oh, and then there’s the biting cynicism and wit. Deliriously good. Anyway, it’s rare to find a gem that encompasses many of my research topics pre-9/11 and delivers it in the same manner as some of the more recent material such as True Blood (which y’all should watch if you’re into corrupt religion and morally ambiguous monsters). I’ll give a quick outline of the story of Preacher. Reverend Jesse Custer (note the initials) is a small town preacher, until a burning meteor of holy matter (named Genesis – the product of an illicit tryst between an angel and a devil) possesses him. It gives him powers – not the comparatively tame powers of the X-Men, but the ‘word of god’ which compels the listener to do whatever he says. There’s a particularly memorable scene where he tells a guy to ‘go fuck himself’….I think you can imagine the rest. On the run from a number of authorities, he encounters his ex girlfriend Tulip and an Irish vampire named Cassidy.

Obviously Cassidy was an interesting character given what I spend my time studying and I was pleased to see he eschewed the traditional vampire traits (moodiness, aversion to the cross, only being able to survive on blood, etc). There’s a brilliant issue where he meets a fellow vampire – the criticisms of novels such as Interview with  the Vampire being painfully obvious – and tells him quite bluntly to ‘stop being a wanker.’ Instead of poetry reading, dark and moody meetings in caves, he should be out having fun. Being immortal doesn’t mean giving up a sense of fun, apparently, and being tortured by your nature. For Cassidy, it’s an extreme, a get-out-of-jail-free card for any misdemeanours or offences. Because he can’t die. No amount of mutilation will kill him. Only sunlight. The combination of an alcoholic vampire and the interesting take on religion (God is very much real – although he quit, because ya know, why should he be bothered?) provides a cynical view of modern culture on the whole, but overall, a very refreshing one. Surprisingly, it seems more in tune with the current round of vampire related material – by that I mean the violence of vampire characters like Russell Edgington in True Blood who is exceedingly good at both turning a phrase and remorseless killing and an attitude towards religion which condemns the fundamental and fanatical, something which has increased dramatically since 9/11. It’s also interesting to note that they were written by Ennis and Dillon, who come from the other side of the Atlantic. Maybe the corrosive attitudes of the bible belt and the pretentious presentation of the vampire were all too clear to see…considering Preacher first appeared in 1995, perhaps it’s just taken a long time for the US to catch up and begin to feel able to critique these traits and re-evaluate aspects of identity.

True Blood: undead religion and the politics of fear


Post-series finale is usually about the time, for some odd reason, that online media becomes crowded with speculation. About the next series. But what about the one we’ve just seen? There’s a weird trend that involves discussing how events could or should happen. What we should be doing is looking at what we’ve just seen.

So, I haven’t done this before, but I’m going to look at some of the key things in Season 5 of True Blood. Mainly because it was awesome, and for those of you who haven’t watched it, you really need to. It’s not just some airy undead romance. This season, more so than the past few, have been riddled with religious, political and downright confusing themes.

For those uninitiated, a bit of backstory. Sookie is a waitress/faerie who can read minds – she met a vampire and became embroiled in the world post True Blood – that is, after the vampires had ‘come out of the coffin’ and were able to subsist on a synthetic blood substitute named Tru Blood (and yes, a multitude of articles have been written about the writer Ball’s allusion to gay rights). There is a vampire authority, and the whole thing is set in the Southern town of Bon Temps, so we have backwards views to help illuminate the fucked-up-ness of everything that’s going on.

Season 5 began with Sookie saving her friend Tara by turning her into a vampire. The whole show is a confusion of werewolves, faeries, shape shifters, but unquestionably, vampires are the main storyline. And vampires aren’t particularly nice. Here, we see Bill and Eric, vampires with a position of authority, being kidnapped and taken to the secret underground lair of the Vampire Authority. They’re wanted because they didn’t kill off a vampire who went against their ‘values’ – ie, wanting to eat everyone, killing people on live TV, etc. (There’s a great video clip here)

They turn up, and they’re greeted by being closely guarded, and given iStakes to wear (even vampires need apps, apparently…):


Anyway….the whole story arc of the series revolves around the goings on at the Vampire Authority, which, surprise surprise, turns out be corrupt. They all get high on the blood of the original vampire, Lilith, and believe they’re ‘god’s children’, with the God in this case being Lilith – she apparently put humans on earth for vampires to eat. Of course. The series is basically showing us a reversal of roles from Season 2 where the Fellowship of the Sun had the humans as the corrupt, violent, religious authority. This time it’s the vamps that are the bad guys. Well, they do find some way of shoeing in the hypocrisy of the fundamentalism human religions too in the form of Reverend Steve Newlin. In Season 2, he was the leader of the Fellowship, and they tortured vampires in the name of God, as well as committing terrorist acts. Wonderful. Well, come season 5, he’s now gay and a vampire.

Ain’t that just peachy?

It’s interesting to see where the series has gone and it’s commendable. The writers have shied away from maintaining Bill as the romantic lead, and focusing the story around a relationship between a human and a vampire. Perhaps it’s because of the negativity surrounding Twilight and its reception. Whatever, well done. Political and religious corruption never goes amiss.

Here, the religious group the vampires have formed is fraught and tense. Members of the authority spend the majority of the time making sure they look behind them in case a member decides to go rogue, believing they are truly the ‘chosen one’. As for how it has affected the humans – well, they blew up the factories of Tru Blood and set the blame elsewhere. A snide comment on political actions being disguised if there ever was one.

The other storylines in season 5 – faeries and werewolves – were eclipsed by the brilliant political mastery of the Vampire Authority possessed by religion. The Authority began the show admitting that the religion of Lilith that they supposedly adhered to was for ‘tradition’ and ended with half of them dead in the name of God. It seems we’ve turned a corner. Vampires are now the bad guys again; perhaps shown best by the transformation of Bill from humane, loving partner of Sookie from season 2 (when all the vampires were being persecuted) to batshit mental/power crazy blood god:



Vampires clearly have a place in popular culture. The precise need, as always, will evolve and change over time. I think we’re beginning to see a change from the saccharine portrayals of late to a more monstrous version imbued with the evils of power, religiosity and wielding the politics of fear.