A naked American man stole my balloons ….

A German woodcut of werewolf from 1722, courtesy of Wikipedia Commons

I love a good old fashioned film monster, but I have an extra soft spot for the werewolf. I feel a bit sorry for them, they don’t seem to get as much glamour as other film nasties. Unlike their film cousins, the vampire, they very rarely get the girl. The poor werewolf often wakes up in compromising situations, after a night out (many of us can empathise a bit).

When I first watched An American Werewolf in London (1981) I immediately wanted to be Jenny Agutter. I enjoyed her far more as Nurse Alix Price, than I did as Bobbie in the Railway Children. I am probably not alone in this either. I’m sure many males of a certain age may agree.

The thing about werewolves, specifically the way they have been portrayed in many films, is that I find something incredibly appealing about the loneliness and isolation that appears to surround them. Even when portrayed as living in a pack, they choose to live in isolated locations. A family effort to protect civilisation from their murderous moon driven rampages. Dog Soldiers (2002) captured this perfectly for me. I won’t give any spoilers, but the remote cottage in Scotland isn’t as quaint as it looks.  Film and TV give incredible power in bringing our darkest monsters to life. The magic of the movies can define how a generation imagines the character traits of these beings for years to come. Cinema has made werewolves sad. They have been portrayed as the carnivore with a conscience.

In 2016, there was recurrence of reported werewolf sightings in the UK in the media. Angry locals were out with pitchforks at full moon, and the poor old werewolf once again found himself being hunted by the mob. A scene, sadly reminiscent of the hunt to extinction of his relative, the British Wolf.

Local papers claimed that these sightings were of beasts which wouldn’t sound out of place in a Hammer Horror movie script. The Beast of Barmston Drain and Old Stinker have, according to reports allegedly been sneaking around parts of Yorkshire and eating pet dogs at full moon.

Werewolf sightings in the UK are not limited to the Yorkshire folk, although “beware the moon” does sound better with a Yorkshire accent. One of my personal favourite werewolf encounters, comes not many miles north of my house, in the Northumberland market town of Hexham.

The story of the Hexham Heads and the strange encounters that followed is one that intrigues me to this day. Like any good story, it is surrounded in controversy. The story begins in 1971, when a pair of stone heads were dug up by children in their back garden. Following their discovery, the family and the neighbours claimed that they began to encounter unusual experiences in their neighbouring properties. These ranged from objects being moved to an encounter with a half man- half sheep like entity in the house (yes, a weresheep).

The heads were then given to academic, Dr Anne Ross who had an interest in Celtic artefacts. Dr Ross and her daughter both claimed to have witnessed a werewolf like entity on separate occasions after they took receipt of the heads. This culminated with Dr Ross refusing to have the heads in her house. The mysterious part about the heads is that no one has been able to date them, academic debate has ensued for years. Some claiming (including Dr Ross) that the heads were indeed Celtic, others claiming they were much later. However, to add another spanner into the works. A local Hexham man came forward, claiming he had made the heads in 1956 for his daughter to play with (what child doesn’t want a stone head as a toy?) The claim was disputed by some academics, and the debate rumbled on. Unfortunately, the heads have since been lost, and their origin never confirmed. However, the mystery of the Hexham heads and the shadowy werewolf/weresheep figure that was allegedly disturbed by their finding remains to this day.

The enigma of the werewolf goes on. Is it out there, living in the shadows awaiting the next full moon to terrify university lecturers and eat stray dogs. Or, is the werewolf a creation of our own folklore memory? A throwback to times gone by, when we hunted packs of wolves to extinction in fear of our livestock. Romanticised over the years by the glamour of the big screen. But one thing is certain, next time I wake up with no recollection of the night before and find a strange naked man in my bed, I’ll be sure to check for claw marks…..

References

Branagan, M. (2016). Residents trembling in terror after seeing ‘8 FOOT WEREWOLF’ in British city. Available: http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/670358/Hull-South-Yorkshire-werewolf-Old-Stinker-full-moon-Barmston-Drain. Last accessed 13th March, 2017.

Screeton, P (2010). Quest for the Hexham Heads. North Devon: CFZ Publications.

Werewolf and Vampire Reports from the UK and Ireland. Available: http://www.paranormaldatabase.com/reports/vampdata.php. Last accessed 13th March, 2017.