The Werewolf’s Jewish Roots

By Nathan Burstein

Published February 10, 2010, issue of February 19, 2010.
  • Print
  • Share Share

The man credited with creating the modern werewolf sometimes thought of the monster as a Jew.

VASSIL

“It reminds me a bit of myself,” Jewish screenwriter Curt Siodmak once said of the beast in his 1941 horror classic, “The Wolf Man,” which returns to the big screen February 12 in a remake.

A refugee to Hollywood from Nazi Germany, Siodmak did not invent the werewolf, but concocted many of the most popular elements of werewolf lore — such as the monster’s origin story and the beast’s monthly emergence during a full moon. In contrast to other movie monsters of the 1930s and ’40s, particularly Frankenstein and Dracula, the Wolf Man struggled quite consciously with his identity, a curse that caused others to view him as a threat.

“Here is a man that hasn’t sinned, and is bitten by a wolf and has a horrible fate, and wants to escape that fate,” Siodmak said in an archival interview, released February 2 on a new DVD edition of the film.

Some critics have interpreted Siodmak’s Wolf Man, with his wild urges and uncontrollable body hair, as a parable of puberty or, more broadly, of human sexuality. But others have noted plot points with a more specific historical resonance, such as the pentagram that appears on the beast’s future victims.

Siodmak “knew full well the real-world significance of people marked for death with the sign of a star,” filmmaker John Landis said, speaking in a second documentary in the film’s new special edition.

Starring Lon Chaney Jr. as the title character, and also starring Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains, the 1941 version also drew on the talents of Jewish composer Hans Salter, a refugee from Austria whose film scores would eventually be nominated for six Oscars.

The new movie, starring Academy Award winners Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, resurrects Siodmak’s characters — as well as some of the screenwriter’s existential concerns. “Never look back,” the Hopkins character says at one point. “The past is a wilderness of horrors.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • Is boredom un-Jewish?
  • Let's face it: there's really only one Katz's Delicatessen.
  • "Dear Diaspora Jews, I’m sorry to break it to you, but you can’t have it both ways. You can’t insist that every Jew is intrinsically part of the Israeli state and that Jews are also intrinsically separate from, and therefore not responsible for, the actions of the Israeli state." Do you agree?
  • Are Michelangelo's paintings anti-Semitic? Meet the Jews of the Sistine Chapel: http://jd.fo/i4UDl
  • What does the Israel-Hamas war look like through Haredi eyes?
  • Was Israel really shocked to find there are networks of tunnels under Gaza?
  • “Going to Berlin, I had a sense of something waiting there for me. I was searching for something and felt I could unlock it by walking the streets where my grandfather walked and where my father grew up.”
  • How can 3 contradictory theories of Yiddish co-exist? Share this with Yiddish lovers!
  • "We must answer truthfully: Has a drop of all this bloodshed really helped bring us to a better place?”
  • "There are two roads. We have repeatedly taken the one more traveled, and that has made all the difference." Dahlia Scheindlin looks at the roots of Israel's conflict with Gaza.
  • Shalom, Cooperstown! Cooperstown Jewish mayor Jeff Katz and Jeff Idelson, director of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, work together to oversee induction weekend.
  • A boost for morale, if not morals.
  • Mixed marriages in Israel are tough in times of peace. So, how do you maintain a family bubble in the midst of war? http://jd.fo/f4VeG
  • Despite the escalating violence in Israel, more and more Jews are leaving their homes in Alaska to make aliyah: http://jd.fo/g4SIa
  • The Workmen's Circle is hosting New York’s first Jewish street fair on Sunday. Bring on the nouveau deli!
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.