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!
  • Woody Allen on the situation in #Gaza: It's “a terrible, tragic thing. Innocent lives are lost left and right, and it’s a horrible situation that eventually has to right itself.”
  • "Mark your calendars: It was on Sunday, July 20, that the momentum turned against Israel." J.J. Goldberg's latest analysis on Israel's ground operation in Gaza:
  • What do you think?
  • "To everyone who is reading this article and saying, “Yes, but… Hamas,” I would ask you to just stop with the “buts.” Take a single moment and allow yourself to feel this tremendous loss. Lay down your arms and grieve for the children of Gaza."
  • Professor Dan Markel, 41 years old, was found shot and killed in his Tallahassee home on Friday. Jay Michaelson can't explain the death, just grieve for it.
  • Employees complained that the food they received to end the daily fast during the holy month of Ramadan was not enough (no non-kosher food is allowed in the plant). The next day, they were dismissed.
  • Why are peace activists getting beat up in Tel Aviv? http://jd.fo/s4YsG
  • Backstreet's...not back.
  • Before there was 'Homeland,' there was 'Prisoners of War.' And before there was Claire Danes, there was Adi Ezroni. Share this with 'Homeland' fans!
  • BREAKING: Was an Israeli soldier just kidnapped in Gaza? Hamas' military wing says yes.
  • What's a "telegenically dead" Palestinian?
  • 13 Israeli soldiers die in Gaza — the deadliest day for the IDF in decades. So much for 'precision' strikes and easy exit strategies.
  • What do a Southern staple like okra and an Israeli favorite like tahini have in common? New Orleans chef Alon Shaya brings sabra tastes to the Big Easy.
  • The Cossacks were a feature in every European Jewish kid's worst nightmare. Tuvia Tenenbom went looking for the real-life variety in Ukraine — but you won't believe what he found. http://forward.com/articles/202181/my-hunt-for-the-cossacks-in-ukraine/?
  • French Jews were stunned when an anti-Israel mob besieged a synagogue outside Paris. What happened next could be a historic turning point.
  • 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.