Wolf-shaped heads in werewolf movies?

One thing that always bothered me about the “classic” old black-and-white Werewolf movies from the 1940s and 1950s – The creature does not really look like a wolf! It looks like a guy with a bad case of hypertrichosis (I think I spelled that right!). He may look fearsome, but nothing about his face really sceams “Wolf!” to me!

So – what was the first werewolf movie that actually featured a “wolf-like” head? What was it about special effects technology in the 1940s that prevented them from depicting werewolves in this manner?

Another related question : what werewolf movies have actually portrayed werewolves as men fully capable of transforming themselves into the quadrupedal canid carnivore known affectionately as Canis Lupus? An actual wolf? The first that comes to mind is “American Werewolf in London”, but I am sure there were others!

I wasn’t sure if it was Wolfen, The Howling, or American Werewolf in London – I checked the IMDB to see which came first, and oddly enough, they all came out in 1981. But I’m pretty sure the answer to your question is: one of those 3.

I think it was just cheaper & quicker to paste hair & a nose on the actor, rather than going through the full Rick Baker.

jsc1953 already got my response, although IIRC there are earlier movies in which it is suggested that people became true wolves. Certainly the idea of wolf-shaped werewolves was more common in literature than in the movies. See Jack Williamson’s Darker Than You Think, for instance. As far as I can tell, nobody had legends of people becoming half wolf/half human creatures – werewolf stories suggested that people became actual wolves. The reason that movies depicted such cross-species hybrids, I’m convinced, is that you wanted to convey that this was a petrson inside that, you wanted them to perform certain actions (that it would be hard to train a wolf to do), and, above all, you wanted to deopict emotions. We react to human faces, especially human eyes. This is why all those Star Trek aliens have basically human faces with weird bumps and excresences, but yiou rarely get fly eyes, or totally inhuman faces.

I wrote about this in one of my Teemings pieces. I suspect that the inspiration for the Hollywood “werewolves” first played by Henry Hull and Lon Chaney, Jr. (and Warner Oland) came from those “Dog-Faced Boy” sideshow freaks, suffering from excess hair.
Now that we have CGI, we can depict dogs and wolves with expressions in their faces, and get them to do whatever we want. Hence An American Werewolf in Paris.

And The Shaggy Dog.

It wouldn’t be The Wolfen. The gimmick of that movie was that the werewolves were a seperate species of intelligent wolf-like critters - no shape-shifting involved. But I think it might be one of the other two.

Well, not just cheaper; there were a couple other factors. First, the creature being portrayed was supposed to be half-man/half-wolf. Later werewolf movies, the beast is pretty much all wolf. So, working from the very real condition of hypertrichosis as a starting point, they were trying to find a halfway creature. Since there’s no such thing, the original Universal makeup artists’ guess as to what that would look like was as good as anyone else’s.

Second, once the Universal Wolf Man became an icon, that imagery became a tradition. Like Universal’s Frankenstein monster. Does that plateau skull make any real sense? Of course not (yes I know how it was arrived at), but it became a tradition.

Third, the point of the original Universal Wolf Man movie was the anti-hero’s struggle to remain human, so the underlying humanity of the makeup choices were driven by that.

let’s not forget how difficult in the 30’s and 40’s it would have been to have a wolf-shapped head on an actor that wasn’t static. The ability to have articulations in early make-up/prosthetics was just not there yet. So if you didn’t want your werewolf/wolfman just looking like he was wearing a paper-mache head piece, you got for something that still shows the actors abilities to grimmace, sneer, and howl.

Actually, having seen that film, it was wholly and completely unclear as to what was going on.

I think I understand this, having read the novel way before the movie.

Perhaps you did, also?

The novel had the Wolfen as a completely separate race/species with pretty good intelligence, while the movie portrayed them as basically wolves.

As I recollect (please don’t make me watch it again), the Bela Lugosi character in the 1941 Universal The Wolf Man looked like a wolf when he transformed and bit Lon Chaney, Jr. He was only shown in a murky silhouette, though.

Lon the Lycanthrope later transformed into JoJo the Dog-Faced Boy, until his Poppa (Claude Raines) smacked him in the head with his silver-topped cane.

Yup. So I don’t think the producers were making consistent statements about the nature of lycanthropy; I think they were driven entirely by the limits of makeup and technology. If they could get away with using a real dog (ie, no acting was required) – as with the werewolf that bites Lon Chaney – they did. If they needed the werewolf to be onscreen a lot, then they used the dogface makeup.

That oughta learn him for making the mess on parlor rug.!

(Still, he could’ve also used a rolled up newspaper.)

There was also a scene in which Lon starts transforming, and runs offscreen. The camera follows his trail of footprints, which gradually change from man to wolf. I think the filmmakers wanted to suggest that, as time went on, he would get more and more wolflike. However, they were hampered by technological and financial limits.