Can 'Wolfman' Destroy Vampire Fever?

CNN News Wire | 2/16/2010, 9:17 p.m.
Until Taylor Lautner beefed up and began walking around shirtless in "New Moon," there wasn't a chance in the underworld ...

Until Taylor Lautner beefed up and began walking around shirtless in "New Moon," there wasn't a chance in the underworld that werewolves could steal pop culture's rabid affection for vampires.

But now that moviegoers' appetites have been whetted for this particularly hairy breed of supernatural beast, perhaps the new horror movie "The Wolfman," starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, can help the myth finally step out from the, er, non-shadow of vampires after all.

In the past 30 years, there have been a number of films dedicated to the frightening -- and sometimes hilarious -- things that can happen when under the werewolf curse, yet the genre has never soared into popularity.

We're officially past "New Moon" frenzy, and werewolves haven't exactly shown up in TV series, novels and other movies the same way vampirism has since "Twilight" and its cohorts left their mark.

"Vampires have always been more popular because there's a romantic element," Slantmagazine.com film critic Nick Schager said. "They're striking, dashing, and there are sexual components to the legend."

The werewolf, on the other hand, is not only plagued by a "cheesiness" factor that happens when the special effects are poor, Schager said, the myth itself is also decidedly less romantic.

Even Lautner's character, whose houndish transformation does retain some elements of the werewolf myth, turns into a wolf only when the undead come around, making him a somewhat safer choice for his love interest.

On top of that, the "New Moon" wolf men seem to become more attractive once their supernatural gene kicks in, and in typical werewolf genre films, "you don't get to be the good-looking, debonair hunk from 'True Blood,' " Schager said. "It's all about losing control and turning into a beast."

The genre has also suffered from less-than-scary films, Yahoo! movie critic Sean Phillips said.

"I think for a long time, werewolves were feared, but in the silly '80s, we had to bring the werewolf down," he said.

John Landis' 1981 film "An American Werewolf in London" is perhaps one of the most iconic in the genre, but it fits squarely into the "comedy-horror" category. There's also nothing horrific about a barely post-pubescent Michael J. Fox using his newfound canine aggression to ask for a keg in 1985's "Teen Wolf."

The ensuing years weren't much better, with such tales as 1994's "Wolf" using the legend as the basis of satire.

"The classic monsters have been softened and commercialized; they're almost comical now," Phillips said. "They're lighter, gentler versions of the beasts they used to be."

Since Del Toro's film is rated R, Phillips believes that "The Wolfman" will attract an audience that's into horror, even if they're not into werewolves.

Indeed, "Wolfman" producer and actor Del Toro hasn't been quiet about his intent on keeping the film in line with its terrifying inspiration, the original 1941 "The Wolf Man," starring Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi.