Yeah, this post is inspired by the previews for New Moon, but when I got to thinking about it, it really goes much deeper, and much further back than the latest boy jailbait flick based on Stephanie Meyer’s books. The question is this: Should the transformation from human to wolf be painful?
Going back to Universal’s first werewolf movie, Werewolf of London (1935), the transformation was not a painful process. In fact, Dr. Glendon didn’t even seem to notice it. He walked behind one pillar as a man and emerged a little hairier, and continued that way until he was a man-wolf. Six years later, in Universal’s much more successful film The Wolf-Man, Larry Talbot did have to remain still for the transformation, but it didn’t cause him any pain.
It really wasn’t until An American Werewolf in London and The Howling (both from 1981) that we see the transformation as something painful. Is it just because special effects finally allowed filmmakers to show the stretching flesh and bone contortions? Maybe. But I think there’s something more to it.
I think we began coming to terms with the werewolf as a metaphor. Going all the way back to Little Red Riding Hood, the werewolf stood in for a lecherous man who would lead innocent young girls astray. In the 1980s I think we moved away from the idea of the werewolf as a creature made by Satan and looked at him as something within ourselves, as with Robert Louis Stephenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The werewolf became an externalization of our repressed primal instincts and desires, namely rage and lust. This was especially true in The Howling, where the werewolves loved being lycanthropes. They relished having sex and killing as animals.
After the two films from 1981, most werewolf movies eshewed plot and focused on the transformation and killing for a long time. The best exception (prior to Ginger Snaps) being Neil Jordan’s 1984 The Company of Wolves, which is all about the werewolf as metaphor for our own dark side. Ginger Snaps (2000) did get back to plot and the werewolf as metaphor, but the metaphor in this case was the transformation caused by puberty, and Ginger’s transformation happened slowly and didn’t seem to cause her much (if any) physical pain … if you don’t count where the tried to cut off her tail.
So, should the transformation cause pain? If you’ve read my books, you know my answer is definitely Yes. The werewolf is opening an internal doorway, shedding the trappings of centuries of civilization to become something that is absolutely UNcivilized. He is becoming something wild and deadly. Sloughing off thousands of years of humanity should hurt, just as it should hurt to put them back on. Not to mention the logical implications of physically changing from a human shape to a wolf as we’ve been seeing from 1981 on.
Which, of course, brings us back to New Moon and Meyer doing to werewolves what the did to vampires in Twilight. Do the characters feel pain when they transform? Nope. In fact, thanks to CGI, they’re changing shape in mid-air in fractions of a second. There’s no payment for what they become, no dark side. Well, nothing darker than the brooding of a James Dean-esque bad guy (and forgive me, but I always saw Dean as just a crybaby). As with the “vegetarian” vampires, Meyer wants to turn monsters into misunderstood outcasts who don’t really want to hurt anyone, and that just isn’t what the werewolf (or vampire) is all about.
The technology to show the werewolf transformation as the painful release of our internal animal is ours. The question now is whether or not we’ve become so politically correct that we can no longer acknowledge that we have this monster living inside of us.