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!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • 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.