The Year of the Wolf – 1981 and the Hollywood Lycanthrope Boom

Sheppard, Richard (2021) The Year of the Wolf – 1981 and the Hollywood Lycanthrope Boom. Masters thesis, University of East Anglia.

[thumbnail of R Sheppard MA by Res Thesis Final.pdf]
Download (842kB) | Preview


This piece of research intends to look at five texts, all released in 1981, all which deal werewolves. The texts are Altered States, An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Wolfen and Full Moon High. Each was made by a director at a focal point in their career, being either established in the UK but venturing into Hollywood (Ken Russell), newcomers establishing reputations that would define their later career (Joe Dante, John Landis), counterculture observers bringing a ‘leftfield’ perspective to genre narrative (Michael Wadleigh) or perpetual outsiders with an independent film mentality (Larry Cohen). My research will look at the disparate careers of these directors, focusing on what drew them all to werewolf projects at the same time. I will also look at the studios that bankrolled these productions in terms of competing projects being released in competition against each other. I will also be looking at the contemporaneous critical and commercial reactions to these films, as well as their subsequent legacies through sequels, re-releases and modern-day critical reassessments.

The idea of five werewolf films being made in one year is unusual enough to invite curiosity. Such ‘bubbles’ in the horror genre aren’t unheard of, but they normally focus on more established properties like vampire or zombie films. The werewolf is always the outsider in terms of what Stephen King called ‘the big three’ in his non-fiction assessment of the twentieth century horror genre.

If it is indeed true that film reflects the culture of the time, and horror films (as a species of ‘dark mirror’) reflect the more extreme aspects of culture, then a nexus of five films with the same archetype seems to suggest something greater was being said, or trying to be said, about the state of society at the end of the 1970s (when the majority of these films entered early pre-production) and the beginning of the 1980s. My research will look into what is suggested by the werewolf in fields as diverse as Freudian psychology, classical symbolism, classical Hollywood, the growing ecological movement, criminal psychology, politics, American and Native American history as well as the clash of European ideology and folklore and America at the dawn of Reaganism and the tail-end of the cold war.

Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Faculty \ School: Faculty of Arts and Humanities > School of Art, Media and American Studies
Depositing User: Kitty Laine
Date Deposited: 15 Dec 2022 14:32
Last Modified: 15 Dec 2022 14:32

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item