Most of us don’t wear our evil on our faces. We put on a smile, and hide our sins from the world, but what if one day, we woke to discover the evil in our nature bleeding onto our face? What would we do to hide it? Would we give in, or resist it?
This concept was explored in The Wolfman, an early “classic” from Hammer Horror. A young man is bitten by a werewolf and begins his slow but dark transformation into a beast that awakens each day covered in blood, much to his horror, with few memories of his sins. The character went through many incarnations over the years, but was revived in a stunning big-screen gore-fest that paid homage in every way possible to the original while also exploring its themes of hidden evil.
The Talbot household has a secret hidden away from the world. The shadow of a former suicide hangs over it, his mother’s death leaving many scars on Lawrence’s mind. He escapes the ghosts of his past by pursuing a career on the stage, but is brought home again when his brother’s fiancée, Gwen, begs him to help her discover what truly happened to his brother, who has disappeared. So, back Lawrence goes to a house full of shadows… to a sinister, cruel, emotionally restrained father… to corridors full of spider webs and dried leaves… to a moor hidden in mist and full of gypsy caravans… to unearth a tragic tale that will change his life forever.
Even though the violence is over the top and frankly, diminishes the underlining messages, what I find most entrancing about The Wolfman is the subtleties at work under the surface, and its total abandonment of a typical “happy ending” for a much more realistic, bittersweet conclusion. It explores the concept that we must all pay for our sins but that it is love that sets us free.
Lawrence is an innocent man who can’t atone for his crimes; he can’t control his brutality or prevent it from destroying all he holds dear. He can but try to warn others, mourn when they don’t heed him, and face the consequences. Unlike the original Wolfman who bit Lawrence, embraces the curse, uses it to his evil advantage, and takes joy in “embracing the beast,” Lawrence tries to restrain his crimes and prevent himself from harming others. Sadly, in the end, he cannot free himself from this curse. Gwen must do it for him by loving him enough to put a silver bullet into his heart. In the few seconds before his death, he turns human again… long enough to thank her and fulfill the gypsy’s prediction that, having been slain by someone who loves him, he will find peace in the afterlife.
Unlike the famous monsters in Victorian literature, Lawrence doesn’t set out to misbehave, nor invite evil to take him over; it creeps into his blood through a savage bite, which then begins to subtly alter his behavior. Over time, he becomes the beast and while in his state of savagery, he can’t recognize friend from foe.
Even though I watch the film for fun, I also like to ponder what this means for my own life. I did not invite sin into my life. I was born with a tendency toward it, and much like Lawrence, as I get older, I continually try to restrain it, take responsibility for my actions, and seek the forgiveness of those I wrong through my selfish, sinful behavior. The more I let the beast (selfishness and sin) take over, the further I am from recognizing the things that are important and godly in my life. If left unchecked, in time my selfishness would be so complete as to render me incapable of seeing grace even when it stands before me.
Like Lawrence, I can’t save myself but must turn to a being who loves me enough to save me. In a sense, by recognizing true love for what it is and in turning my life over to God, I “die” to self, for it begins my transformation… not into a hideous beast, but into the being I am meant to be, who will indeed find peace in the afterlife, because I will no longer bear the scars of the beast within.