Quoted: Elizabeth M. Clark On Racial Politics and Werewolf Transformations

Patrick Gonder’s work on “the primitive” in 1950s horror films is useful here. Gonder discusses the ‘devolved’ monsters of 50s horror cinema, such as Mr. Hyde and the cavemen-primitives, in terms of race, class, and notions of civilization. He writes that the “hybrid nature of the [devolved monster] asserts white masculinity against and through the fantasy of a primal, animalistic black sexuality.” The beast within (excessive, uncontrollable masculinity run amok) that the werewolf represents for (white) men is always coded in terms of a non-white ethnicity and/or the working class. Cinematic werewolves are almost always associated with non-white ethnicities, from the gypsies in The Wolf Man (1944) to the Indian mystic/scholar in Wolf. […]

A third text that breaks the pattern of ‘unintegrated heroine = less grotesque body’ is Dark Wolf (2003).  However, this film’s portrayal of the grotesque hybrid body is perhaps the most racialized representation of the female werewolf. The film centers on Josie, a petite blonde played by Samaire Armstrong (Figures 11 and 12) who is being hunted by Dark Wolf, a kind of uber-werewolf; she must avoid mating with him in order to remain human. The film is a fairly straightforward straight-to- DVD release:  monster hunts girl, kills many of her friends, cop protects girl, good triumphs over evil. However, in the last half-hour there is a jarring scene of Josie transforming halfway into werewolf form. In the film’s mythology, Josie is destined to change into a “limbo between human and werewolf form,” and unless she is brought into the light of the full moon when this happens, she will remain in this state permanently. The film’s heroic cop/protector watches in horror as Josie’s short blonde hair and naked, pale body darkens. Her face becomes grotesque and her hair changes first to a spiky fur-like consistency and then darkens to black and grows all down her back. When the transition is finished, Josie crouches and snuffles, with claws and a grotesque snout-like face, naked with dark, hairless skin and black, coarse hair down to her knees (Figures 13 and 14).

She has lost the power of speech, and growls, whines, and sniffs the cop as he tries to help her without hurting her. Eventually, he grabs her and carries her, still naked, kicking and growling, to the fire escape where she writhes under the bright white light of the full moon, which transforms her back to her petite, blonde self. The cop covers her with a sheet and carries her back inside. […]

The contrast, the in-between hybridity of two oppositions, the becoming of the Other is what horrifies: the white male becomes more primitive and bestial, darker (for men of color, this contrast is not seen as such a huge difference). Woman of-color-as-werewolf is almost inconceivable: if the horror of the female werewolf is the shock of female moving from sexual object spectacle to grotesque/ambigendered spectacle, then the biggest contrast is a move from the most feminine woman (slender, blonde, white) to dark, hairy, muscular wolf.  White women represent the feminine ideal in this culture, and this is what we see in Dark Wolf: it would be impossible for a woman of color to play Josie, since during her
transformation the contrast shown would be minimal.

— Elizabeth M. Clark, “Hairy Thuggish Women”: Female Werewolves, Gender, and the Hoped-for Monsters (PDF)

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