In the 1981 film "An American Werewolf in London" and its 1997 sequel "An American Werewolf in Paris", the protagonist is haunted by increasingly decayed apparitions of his victims. These "ghosts" often appear at the most inopportune times, and continually urge the protagonist to end the curse by killing himself:

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I watch a lot of vampire/werewolf movies and this is the only time I've seen this approach. The only thing close is on the television show "Being Human", where the protagonist vampire is occasionally haunted by the ghosts of victims. This show was almost 30 years after the first "American Werewolf" movie, however, so obviously it doesn't count.

I realize the concept of a killer being haunted by his victims is as old as humanity, but I'm restricting this question to werewolf lore specifically. Was "An American Werewolf in London" the first story to depict a werewolf being haunted by the ghosts of his victims?

NOTE: Please keep in mind that I'm referring to actual ghosts of victims, NOT just normal guilt or remorse on the part of the werewolf.

  • 2
    some people are unable to comprehend the point of "origin of a concept" questions. Sadly, there's no way to stop them since downvotes don't have to be explained. Nov 10 '14 at 17:55
  • The Vampire Diaries features the same concept (the series is significantly younger, though), where an order of vampire hunters would haunt their murderers as ghosts and try to drive them into suicide. vampirediaries.wikia.com/wiki/Hunter%27s_Curse
    – Arne
    Mar 17 '15 at 9:03
  • If downvotes required comments, downvotes would require comments. Jun 26 '15 at 19:11

The concept of Werewolves being haunted by their actions is as old as the legends themselves. For example, Lon Chaney in the classic werewolf movie The Wolf Man, was tormented by what he did when the curse was active.

"An American Werewolf in London" takes the idea to a whole new level, but the basic concept was already there. Screenwriter John Landis was just expressing a small genius when he wrote the idea into the genre and elevated it to actual haunting.

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    "n the classic werewolf movie we all know" - it would improve the answer if you didn't assume that we all know which movie you referred to :) Nov 10 '14 at 2:39
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    @DVK: he mentions Lon Chaney, therefore the classic werewolf movie he speaks about is "The Wolf Man (1941)", see imdb.com/title/tt0034398.
    – SylvainL
    Feb 8 '15 at 20:56
  • @SylvainL of course, but he can't assume we know what film he's talking about, or in any case you shouldn't have the need to do a quick research to understand an answer. Feb 9 '15 at 22:26
  • The bigger issue is that werewolves weren't invented in 1941, they are featured in countless ancient folk tales across Europe, and for all I know, Africa and Asia as well.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jun 27 '15 at 1:02
  • It doesn't look like we'll get a more complete answer any time soon, so I'll accept this one and give it the bounty. It seems to be correct - as far as I can tell, AAWIL was the first werewolf story to include the ghosts.
    – Omegacron
    Jul 2 '15 at 13:12

While the origin of the idea of a werewolf being literally haunted by his victims is hard to pin down, the condition of werewolf-ness, or "lycanthropy", is itself a form of punishment for the afflicted individual's actions. There is an excellent description of the history of lycanthropy on the Wikipedia page for "werewolf".

The earliest stories about werewolves come from Late Antiquity, and typically explained the condition as a punishment from the gods for some heinous crime, such as murder, cannibalism, or impiety.

From the wiki page:

The curse of lycanthropy was also considered by some scholars as being a divine punishment. Werewolf literature shows many examples of God or saints allegedly cursing those who invoked their wrath with werewolfism. Such is the case of Lycaon, who was turned into a wolf by Zeus as punishment for slaughtering one of his own sons and serving his remains to the gods as a dinner. Those who were excommunicated by the Roman Catholic Church were also said to become werewolves.


According to Armenian lore, there are women who, in consequence of deadly sins, are condemned to spend seven years in wolf form. In a typical account, a condemned woman is visited by a wolfskin-toting spirit, who orders her to wear the skin, which causes her to acquire frightful cravings for human flesh soon after. With her better nature overcome, the she-wolf devours each of her own children, then her relatives' children in order of relationship, and finally the children of strangers. She wanders only at night, with doors and locks springing open at her approach. When morning arrives, she reverts to human form and removes her wolfskin. The transformation is generally said to be involuntary, but there are alternate versions involving voluntary metamorphosis, where the women can transform at will.


In Hungarian folklore, the werewolves used to live specially in the region of Transdanubia, and it was thought that the ability to change into a wolf was obtained in the infant age, after the suffering of abuse by the parents or by a curse. At the age of seven the boy or the girl leaves the house and goes hunting by night and can change to person or wolf whenever he wants. The curse can also be obtained when in the adulthood the person passed three times through an arch made of a Birch with the help of a wild rose's spine.

So in the earliest tales of werewolves, one became a werewolf because of some evil deeds one had performed in the past; this may have gradually become the more familiar concept of a werewolf being haunted by its victims. The first well known portrayal of this concept was, as Victor has noted, Lon Chaney's role in the 1941 film The Wolf Man.

A more tragic character is Lawrence Talbot, played by Lon Chaney, Jr. in 1941's The Wolf Man. With Pierce's makeup more elaborate this time, the movie catapulted the werewolf into public consciousness. Sympathetic portrayals are few but notable, such as the comedic but tortured protagonist David Naughton in An American Werewolf in London, and a less anguished and more confident and charismatic Jack Nicholson in the 1994 film Wolf. Over time, the depiction of werewolves has gone from fully malevolent to even heroic creatures, such as in the Underworld and Twilight series, as well as Dance in the Vampire Bund, Rosario+Vampire, and various other movies, anime, manga, and comic books.

Thus, we see that werewolves have always been associated with a curse or punishment from the gods, and this, in itself, is a bit like being haunted by one's victims. It is difficult to track down the first instance of a werewolf being haunted, largely because werewolf stories, until very recently, were solely oral traditions, not frequently put into writing until about 3 or 4 centuries ago. We know that people have believed in lycanthropy for at least two thousand years, but we have very few written records of what, exactly, they believed about the subject until the medieval period. At that time, the concept of lycanthropy exploded into popular consciousness, and there were even trials of alleged werewolves.

However, for stories including the idea that werewolves are haunted by their victims to appear, it would first be necessary for the werewolf to become a sympathetic character, which, for reasons which should be fairly obvious, didn't happen until people no longer saw werewolves as a real threat. If you believe that werewolves are trying to eat you, you probably won't be especially concerned about them being tormented by the other people they've killed.

  • 1
    It's a good analysis of the lore, but doesn't really answer the question.
    – Omegacron
    Jul 1 '15 at 20:24
  • @Omegacron- I know, but it's as close as I could get. I figured it was relevant enough to add here.
    – Wad Cheber
    Jul 1 '15 at 21:24

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