More than puppies: Shape shifters that don’t howl

“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers by night….” you know the rest.

There are things out there other than wolves that are scary and mean. Maybe some ain’t that scary but the theory was good. What am i talking about? I am talking about the menagerie of shape shifters that have appeared at one time or another in world folklore. Wherever there is an animal that could beat us in a fair fight there have been legends of men and women changing into that beasty. Not to mention the animals given human attributes when we realized they are not so dumb an animal as we would like them to be. But that is a bit for another post and for a nice scholarly paper I am working on, along with five others.

Surprisingly, at least in western cinema, these creatures have not made it to the silver screen all that often. We tend to stick with the monsters that are close to home and what is the western world most afraid of? The big, bad wolf that’s what! But for now lets give some props to the filmmakers who took the chance and went for something out of the norm. Did these risks lead to financial success and critical acclaim? Eh, pretty much no with a few exceptions but we love em for trying anyway. Let us take a look at some of these critters and find some flicks that we may have missed.

The snake woman. Actually a whole bunch of films have been made about this variation and this little nightmare shows up in films where it ain’t the central character. Reptile in general scare us. May be biblical, maybe the whole poison bit thing, could just be the idea of cold blood. But everything from Conan to the Tony Randall flick 7 faces of Dr. Lao have had some dealings with snakes. Probably my favorite is Lair of the White Worm with sensuous pagan snake gods, Ken Russel directing so everyone in the audience is constantly confused and Hugh Grant as the heroic local aristocrat. Just a fun ride all around and a cautionary warning to all boy scouts about taking baths in strange rich women’s houses. That sentence makes sense in context. Actually it doesn’t, its a Ken Russel movie.

The Beast Within– now for something off the beaten path. How bout a were-cicada. You know, those really loud bugs that show up every 17 years. Just hear me out this film is actually pretty cool. Got a woman who was violated. Got a small town with a bunch of secrets. Got bugs hanging out in the trees doing their cicada thing. Above all you got one of the coolest transformations scenes in all of movies. (see pic below). Actually has some cool atmosphere to boot. Not many more films about bug people. Wasp Woman, the Fly but he is not really a were creature. Other than Kafka not many people go for the person into bug thing.

Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde (and other even more embarrassing variations), are you ready for something different?!? How bout something slightly different that should have been thought over more? Here is a variation on a theme that probably seemed like a great idea at the time. Dr. Jekyll, who is also a Jack the Ripper cover artist, turns into a female Hyde who happens to be a crazy, oversexed affront to Victorian values. You may want to read that sentence again All the swinging 60’s could muster on this one. (okay, it came out in 1971 but it reeks of the 60’s) Now through in some evil elixir made from female hormones supplied by Burke and Hare and you got yourself a fun film. There are other variations on this. One of my favorites is “Dr. Black, Mr, Hyde”, the 70’s blaxsploitation film about the good Dr. who turns into a murderous white man. All still variations on the werewolf theme. Could even get into the Incredible Hulk but that is to big a subject for one little post.

The She creature

Suggestions being through over my shoulder by colleges and friends. Teach me to type in the staff lab. how bout a werewolf where they did not have enough money for a transformation or may have simply forgotten it. This monster, see above, is the classic reversion to primal state werecreature idea but this time it is an evil hypnotist turning his unwilling female subject into the primal monster to commit murders for him. Sort of a Svengali-werewolf hybrid. Now why the creature emerges from the ocean is never explained and no reason for committing the murders is given. Still this low budget AFI effort (does AFI do any other budget efforts) has those who love it and the idea is kinda cool. Even the costume which looks like a they sewed together parts of whatever they good find int he prop room, is kinda neat. Actually, given it is AFI that may be exactly how they made the creature.

Monster on Campus

Now here is a bit of info they don’t give you at the natural history museums. Apparently, if you touch the blood of an ancient fish you turn into whatever your prehistoric ancestor was. Who knew!!! If you a brilliant student you turn into a murderous caveman. Okay this is pretty dumb but they have a primal dog and a cool interlude with a prehistoric dragonfly. It is low budget, cheesy, and made with an abundance of enthusiasm. I have said it before to multiple people but I really wish films quality would increase based on the enthusiasm of the filmmakers. But, as this film proves, they don’t. Oh well, still kinda fun.

Cat People

From the ridiculous to the sublime. Cannot leave without mentioning the Val Lewton classic. This is the proof that all the above films, no mater how low the budget, could have been great. Okay, maybe not Monster on Campus but still could have been better. The eye catching title brings you a tale of sexual repression, jealousy and the least ethical psychiatrist in film history and I am including Harley Quinn on that one. Combine this with direction and design that influenced countless artists from that point on and you have a genuine landmark in cinema. If you only see one film on this list see this one, then see Lair of the White Worm…lot more sex in that one.

Lets see, what have I left off. We have spider creatures, I remember one TV film in the 70s about a woman who transforms into a spider and eats horny men. Hammer films brought us The Gorgon, with its female lead turning into the mythological creature. Lot of low budget stuff. Could even get into psychological rather than physical transformation but that is a tad academic for me right now. Lets just say TTFN and move on to my next post. TTFN!

Which of the above films is your favorite, (everyone would say Cat People so I am leaving it off the list)0 Votes


An academic lover of all things horror and folklore posting my thoughts and observations