Written by Carsten Oblaender

The History Channel/New Video

What was the beast of Gevaudan? That is the question American cryptozoologist Ken Gerhardt and criminal profiler George “Duke” Deuchar attempt to answer in the History Television documentary The Real Wolfman. It’s too bad that the answer they come up with is as hard to swallow as the legend of the beast itself.

Back in the 18th century, the residents of the French village of Gevaudan were assailed by some sort of creature over a three-year period. The so-called beast mutilated and killed 102 victims, mostly women and children. The town’s notoriety prompted the king to send his best hunter to Gevaudan in a bid to kill the thing responsible for the massacre, but his killing of a large wolf only temporarily stopped the slaughter. Finally, a reclusive farmer named Chastel is said to have killed the beast with a silver bullet blessed by a priest. Legend says it was a werewolf, but the carcass was lost and the events, which are well documented, have drifted into the mists of legend.

Gerhardt and Deuchar fly to France in an attempt to separate fact from fiction. They visit Gevaudan, meet locals, go over accounts of the deaths, and even meet with a distant relative of Chastel, who is considered a hero locally. With their differing approaches (Gerhardt believes an animal was responsible for the killings, Deuchar credits a serial killer), the duo conduct experiments to test the various theories and wind up at Paris’s Natural History Museum to investigate what could be the Beast’s actual carcass. Their investigations lead them to a conclusion which incorporates both of their ideas, and left this viewer wondering whether one can actually combat superstition with ballistics.

The legend of the Beast of Gevauadan helped form modern notions of werewolves, and served as the basis of director Christophe Gans’ entertaining film Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). The Real Wolfman is more amusing than entertaining, with the producers setting up a mildly adversarial relationship between Gerhardt and Deuchar which rings about as true as most reality TV shows, ie. Not much. The pair’s endless speculation – was the beast a man, a dog, a wolf or a hyaena? Can a dog decapitate a human? Was Chastel actually the killer instead of a hero? Can a silver bullet kill a wolf? – is both frustrating and interesting. It’s obvious that Gerhardt and Deuchar are on a fool’s errand – explaining away the legend of the beast is impossible, no matter how plausible they feel their theory is – and, really, who wants it explained? The pair come up with a working theory of the crimes, as implausible as it sounds, but isn’t it more entertaining to think a werewolf stalked the hills of France nearly 300 years go?

For fans of horror, The Real Wolfman is a mildly interesting dissection of what might have happened. Gerhardt and Deuchar are amiable hosts and their enthusiasm for the questions they have set out to answer is engaging. Don’t take it too seriously and The Real Wolfman has just enough bite to make it worth watching.

Rating: 3.5/5

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