Whether you’re Team Vampire or Team Werewolf, you have to admit: on-screen werewolf transformations can make or break a scene. And because writers feel free to cherry-pick from werewolf mythology to their heart’s content, these transformations can look and feel very different from one another. You’ve got classic skin-shedding moments from movies like Van Helsing and hairy-faced half-wolf high schoolers from Teen Wolf. You’ve got morphing werewolves like Remus Lupin in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. You’ve also got the quick skin-bursting werewolves from Twilight, which… eh, let’s give those guys a break for now.
We’re here to talk about a favorite on-screen werewolf transformation, and one of the best I’ve personally seen in my more than two decades on this planet. Everybody, we’re talking about Peter Rumancek from Hemlock Grove.
Hemlock Grove (executive produced by horror guru Eli Roth) was what I wanted from a horror show: creepy atmosphere, exaggerated drama, luxuriously macabre visuals, and, of course, monsters. Admittedly the final season is a bit of a train wreck, but that first season was lush and full of rich mythology about the upir (the show’s equivalent of a vampire) and the werewolf. Nowhere is this mythology more visually fleshed out (no pun intended) than in the scene where Peter Rumancek, a newcomer to the town of Hemlock Grove, transforms into a werewolf on the full moon.
Reader, beware: this gets graphic. But that’s what makes this transformation stand out as a champion among others.
The night of the full moon, Peter stands naked in a clearing, and the first thing that happens is his bones start cracking: his spine, his shoulders, his legs. The noise alone makes you cringe, and with Peter hissing and spitting in pain, it looks even more agonizing.
Not as agonizing as the next moment, in which Peter’s human eyes are pressed and squeezed out of their sockets before dropping to the ground to make way for his wolf eyes, but, y’know. Baby steps.
Next are his claws. In most other transformations, the fingernails either elongate to become claws, or they fall off to make way for the claws themselves. Hemlock Grove decided “no thanks” and Peter’s claws begin to slice through the skin and pierce through his bent knuckles; his fingers, now useless, are limp as they flop forward. It’s gruesome. I warned you earlier.
After that, Peter must shed his skin, which rips open around his wrists and across his back in red, bloody stripes, revealing the fur underneath. A wolf is literally hiding inside of him, and amidst all the bone-breaking and skin-shredding, it needs to free itself. His human teeth fall out one by one to make way for fangs; slowly but surely, the iconic Hemlock Grove image of a wolf snout protruding from a human mouth becomes reality as the wolf emerges, forcing its way out with every bloody chunk of flesh as Peter rips off his own face.
At the end of it all, when the wolf is finally free, it finishes its transformation by shaking off the leftover bits of blood and gore and eating the pieces of human flesh that it left behind.
This transformation in Hemlock Grove was like nothing I’ve seen before – and I’ve seen a lot of horror movies. That said, most horror movies tend to aim for a PG-13 rating to widen their audience net and avoid shutting out younger teens with a hard R rating, so for the most part they avoid graphic content that could be deemed too extreme.
Thanks to Netflix and the cold art of not giving a damn, Hemlock Grove pulls no punches. It’s one thing for a character to say out loud that turning into a werewolf hurts, but it’s another thing to see it so explicitly. Becoming a werewolf finally looks as painful and undesirable as countless stories have made it sound. It’s not sexy or effortless: it’s dirty, bloody, and unrestrained. It also helps the audience understand Peter’s character better as the series progresses; he becomes both intimidating and sympathetic in this context. That’s why, at the end of the day, this is our favorite werewolf transformation.
All in all, the total process takes about 2 and a half minutes – and it’s the best 2 and a half minutes of werewolfiness out there. You can watch the transformation here: