The cult of Werewolf movies: from John Landis making An American Werewolf in London (1981) to Kliminsky’s La Noche de Walpurgis aka The Werewolf vs. The Vampire Woman (1970), or the best soundtracked, Werewolves on Wheels (1971), there’s some new dawgs in cinema this week, and on demand from 4 October. Simply called Werewolf, it takes us to eastern Europe for a particularly apt horror show. Cold Lips’ author, Richard Cabut went to review it (you can buy his new ‘most notorious book in London’ Dark Entries in our shop here, or at Rough Trade, Shakespeare and Co, and a few other select suppliers):
In February 1940, both my mother and father’s families were ethnically cleansed from their farms in, what was then, Eastern Poland (now Ukraine) and sent to slave labour camps in Siberia. There, my paternal grandfather died. The other members of both families survived by doing what they needed to do in order to survive. Meanwhile, some of their friends and associates from different parts of the country were sent to Nazi concentration camps – including Gross-Rosen, where this award-winning Polish film, written and directed by Adrian Panek, begins.
In 1945, the war is ending, and a group of young survivors, make their way out of the liberated camp. On their way to God only knows where, they hole up in an abandoned orphanage. But this is no sanctuary. Packs of vicious camp guard dogs, which have also been set loose, circle, and starvation and madness loom.
It would have been easy to make a stupid and simplistic film that could have insulted the memories of those who had been through the concentration or slave labour camp system. Instead, this coming-of-age horror fable transcends reductionism, and presents a rich narrative, unpacking subtlety and context, that raises pertinent questions about the human condition, and the nature of oppression and survival.
The orphanage very quickly becomes an extension of the camp as the kids experience similar betrayals, machinations and acts of subjugation, dehumanisation and resistance to those in Gross-Rosen.
At the heart of the film is the battle to keep alive. The film understands that in the terrible struggle for survival people may put aside their human dignity and become, in some sense, primordial. It also asks: is what really matters whether you live or die, or how you live or die?
Without being judgemental, the film clarifies rather than occludes how atrocity grows, and how the oppressed, in some situations, may themselves become oppressors. It commemorates an imperative story of barbarity in a way that carries wider meaning and points towards an expressive good.