Clap For the Wolfman: Celebrating the Lupine Beast That Took a Big Bite Out of Horror

THE WOLF MAN, Lon Chaney, Jr., 1941
Everett Collection

When it comes to the horror genre, one of the most significant and iconic characters who has made a big impact onscreen is the Wolfman. 

The first mainstream movie that featured this legendary werewolf was the 1935 horror flick called Werewolf of London, which featured Henry Hull in the key role. But the true trailblazer of this supernatural creature belongs to legendary actor Lon Chaney Jr. He delivered his first rendition of this now-popular predatory screen presence through a character named Lawrence “Larry” Talbot in director George Waggner’s 1941 horror classic The Wolf Man. Still widely praised today, the venerable film set a clear and distinct template for all the depictions of Wolfman characters that would follow. The movie is also a benchmark by which all other werewolf movies still tend to be judged.

THE WOLF MAN, from left: Lon Chaney Jr., makeup artist Jack Pierce, on set, 1941

Courtesy of Everett Collection

The Wolf Man sent Chaney’s stardom skyrocketing to historic heights as well. He went on to reprise the role of Talbot and his hairy alter ego in four other movie classics: Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man (1943), House of Frankenstein (1944), House of Dracula (1945) and even Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948). 

The Wolfman character has emerged in various forms in countless other films, videos and TV shows over the years. A 1961 British production called The Curse of the Werewolf featured Oliver Reed in one of his first major screen appearances, delivering a memorable rendition of a Wolfman role. A couple of decades later, a handful of movies put the Wolfman character back in the forefront again. 

THE HOWLING, Christopher Stone, 1981, (c)

Avco Embassy/Courtesy Everett Collection

A couple of films led that wolf pack. Director Joe Dante’s 1981 thriller The Howling (pictured) was a monster hit that delivered a salute to werewolf movies of the past. Meanwhile, director John Landis brought a different twist to the Wolfman character in his 1981 classic An American Werewolf in London, which featured David Naughton in the central role and was highlighted by a particularly memorable transformation scene. Landis also directed a short-film/music-video rendition of Michael Jackson’s famous 1983 hit “Thriller,” which featured Jackson going through a clever Wolfman transition as well.

TEEN WOLF, Lorie Griffin, Michael J. Fox, 1985,

MGM/courtesy Everett Collection

Many other actors have delivered distinct Wolfman depictions on the big screen. Michael J. Fox as the original Teen Wolf in 1985, Jack Nicholson offered up a captivating rendition in Wolf, a 1994 romantic horror thriller from director Mike Nichols. And, more recently, Benicio del Toro kept things going by reviving the role of Lawrence Talbot in The Wolfman, a 2010 remake of the 1941 classic that got the werewolf ball rolling. 


THE WOLFMAN, Benicio Del Toro, 2010.

Universal Pictures/Courtesy Everett Collection

Television has jumped on the Wolfman bandwagon many times and in various ways as well. In fact, a series called Werewolf even helped launch the FOX television network back in 1987. Since then, lupine characters have infiltrated shows ranging from Syfy’s Bitten to Showtime’s Penny Dreadful and MTV’s Teen Wolf. Various iterations of werewolves still exist today on the small screen. Sarah Michelle Gellar, who played the titular character on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, which also included werewolves, recently returned to the paranormal world in the Paramount+ teen werewolf series Wolf Pack.

During the 1970s, even NBC’s Friday late-night music fixture The Midnight Special jumped into the wolf pack by calling on the talents of radio DJ Robert Weston Smith — better known as Wolfman Jack — to serve as the show’s announcer and frequent guest host. Wolfman Jack even ended up making a distinct contribution to a memorable 1974 music hit by the Guess Who. 

And that gave everyone even more reason to “Clap for the Wolfman.” 

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October 2023

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