Werewolves and other Eurocentric lore is all good and dandy, but there's a lot of Afrocentric lore that gets overlooked by horror movie filmmakers! If handled correctly, embracing such lore will switch things up in a major way and deliver us some unexpected thrills and chills.
Werehyenas - tricksters of the night
The sun goes down and everyone returns to their homes. Childlike voices and laughter fill the night, but parents warn their youth to ignore it. The parents remind them that hyenas are tricksters who are known to eat children in case they were thinking about sneaking out. Even worse, some are said to be something even more sinister: werehyenas.
It's first important to note that werehyena lore is expansive i.e. represented differently across many cultures. As such, some versions are rooted in antisemitism. I will be steering clear of all that, and focusing elsewhere.
Werehyena lore can mostly be found in the Horn of Africa, North Africa, some parts of Asia, and other adjacent areas. In Morocco, they transform at night and return to their true forms at dawn. In Sudan, they attack lovers after dark which appears to be the same age-old preaching of abstinence to teenagers (like with many older horror movies). But what makes them so different from werewolves?
Unlike werewolves, werehyenas can transform at will through use of special items. In a common example, a werehyena rubs a magic stick on their body to trigger a transformation.The next difference that sets them apart is even better. While werehyenas can be humans who can transform into hyenas, they can also be hyenas pretending to be human which is even more frightening. I believe this is where the biggest potential for a horror movie is.
While hyena attacks might seem outlandish to some, it is a very real risk for many cultures dating back to antiquity. Werehyenas have become one of many embodiments of humanity's fear of the unknown, and the only way to survive against them is to remain knowledgeable and vigilant. Their insatiable hunger is likened to Fenrir of Norse mythology, but they have their own tales.
One origination tale coming from the Ivory Coast depicts a hyena trying to convince the rest of the animal kingdom to kill the first man and woman of civilization. Humanity survived because a dog warned them (man's best friend for real!).
Current horror references
Wikipedia lists only 7 references of werehyenas in pop culture, which shows how underused the lore is. Hyenas (2011) is the only horror movie listed, so I watched it for this and for me, it left a lot to be desired.
The second horror-related listing is The Monsters TV show episode One Wolf's Family which wasn't terrible. The theme seemed to be a metaphor for a very racist America's fear of interracial relationships (the episode is free on YouTube if you're curious).
The third and final horror-related listing is Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV show episode The Pack which is about a bunch of teenagers becoming possessed by hyena spirits. The best part of the episode is the lore. Buffy and her friends are warned that hyenas follow humans during the day to learn their names. After learning humans' names, the hyenas call out to them at night. If you're lured off alone, the pack devours you.
Other creatures of African lore
Werehyenas are only one example of creatures from African lore that I see being great for horror movies. To hear me share which others blew my mind during my research, check out my podcast Brother Ghoulish's Tomb episode, Werehyenas and other African Lore on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, others, or below -
Thanks for reading!