Full Moon Features: Monsterwolf (2010)
I know not to expect great things from Syfy Original Movies, but even by their low, low standards, Monsterwolf (which premiered ten years ago this month) is aggressively mediocre and dramatically inert. The main conflict stems from whether Louisiana girl-turned-wannabe high-powered New York lawyer Maria Bennett (Leonor Varela, who was Arrested Development‘s first Marta) will help the nakedly evil Holter Oil Company and its sleazy CEO Stark (Robert Picardo, a long way from The Howling) rape her people’s land. Yes, you guessed it. It’s the old “oil company surveying team accidentally releases the animal spirit of a long-vanished Native American tribe which proceeds to eliminate them and anybody foolish enough to sell out to them” plot we’ve all seen a hundred times before. Only this time it features Jason London (following in his twin’s footsteps one year after Jeremy starred in the execrable Wolvesbayne) as Maria’s redneck ex-boyfriend Yale, who comes complete with a runner about how he has an outstanding warrant for his arrest because he ducked out of jury duty. That’s what passes for comic relief to screenwriter Charles Bolon, who figured he would conserve characters by making Maria’s father the local sheriff (Marc Macaulay) who’s investigating the wolf attacks that have targeted Holter’s employees, especially when it catches them littering or driving drunk.
In the role of the Native American Who Knows What’s Going On, Man, Monsterwolf gives us Chief Turner (Steve Reevis, Fargo‘s Shep Proudfoot), whose stories about the brave warrior who turned himself into a spirit wolf to protect his tribe and the other warrior who had to sacrifice himself to lay the wolf to rest are rendered in adorably simplistic animation. And in the role of Yale’s annoying best friend we’ve got full-on redneck stereotype Chase, who’s played by Wolvesbayne director Griff Furst, who also served as this film’s co-producer and second unit director. I haven’t even mentioned Coughlin (Jon Eyez), the cigar-chomping, pretentious, knotted-beard-having mercenary called in by Stark to take out the wolf and, failing that, Chief Turner. At least while he’s around, director Todor Chapkanov appears to be marginally engaged in the action, but the combination of practical wolf effects (for the extreme closeups) and CGI (for the medium and long shots) only serves to highlight the artificiality of both.
Full Moon Features: Night Wolf (2010)
When I first heard about this month’s Full Moon Feature, it was called 13Hrs, a reference to how long its protagonists have to hold out (until dawn, essentially) when they’re beset by an unknown (and barely seen) creature. When it finally came out on DVD — two years after its UK release in September 2010 — it was renamed Night Wolf, presumably so Lionsgate could have a much easier time selling it as a werewolf movie. Set in and around, but mostly in the spacious attic of, a remote English country house, Night Wolf devotes the first quarter of its scant 85-minute running time to introducing us to the characters who will spend the majority of their time in between monster attacks sniping at each other unpleasantly.
First up, there’s Los Angeles transplant Sarah (Isabella Calthorpe), who’s back home for a few weeks but hasn’t been for eight months, which is the first thing she’s ribbed about by her three brothers (some of whom are half-brothers, although the dialogue doesn’t make plain which are which). The most dickish of them is Stephen (Peter Gadiot), who has started sleeping with Sarah’s best friend Emily (Gemma Atkinson) in the interim to get back at her for some unspoken transgression. Charlie (Gabriel Thomson) and Luke (Antony De Liseo) are less-defined, which is understandable in the latter’s case since he spends most of the film sleeping off his first high out in the barn while they others are trapped in the attic, having retreated there after discovering the boys’ father eviscerated in his bed. Rounding out the main cast are their stoner friend Gary (Tom Felton, a.k.a. Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), who is the beast’s second victim (well, third if you count the dog), and Doug (Joshua Bowman), who’s nursing an unmistakable crush on Sarah.
Nearly every one of director Jonathan Glendening’s aesthetic decisions appears to have been economically motivated, from the limited cast to the isolated location (translation: no extras) to the fact that it’s nearly over before we’re allowed to get a decent look at its monster. When we do, it’s decidedly not hairy, which leads to a curious morning-after scene when it’s human again and is revealed to be completely hairless. Actually, that should be “when they’re human again,” because this is the sort of werewolf film where one of the characters gets bitten early on and later discovers the wound isn’t as bad as they originally thought, which can only mean one thing, etc. It’s also the sort of film where two sets of characters at two different times start inexplicably making out right in the middle of the crisis, which is precisely the sort of thing that makes me throw up my hands in frustration. I had a different reaction, though, when one of them gets hold of a shotgun and accidentally blows their own head off with it. That I actually applauded.
By the way, the trailer for Night Wolf/13Hrs heralds the fact that it’s from the producers of Dog Soldiers, a comparison that does it no favors. As for Glendening, his follow-up to this was 2012’s Strippers vs Werewolves, a film I have not seen and have no desire to see. Even I have my limits.
Full Moon Features: Fright Night (1985)
This may seem counter-intuitive, but the best werewolf in a film released in 1985 is the one in Fright Night, which came out 35 years ago today. Written and directed by Tom Holland (making his directorial debut after scripting the likes of The Beast Within and Psycho II), the film stars Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige, the handsome vampire who moves in next door to teenage horror fan Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who sees some strange things out his bedroom window and finds it impossible to get anybody to believe his wild stories. Amanda Bearse co-stars as his girlfriend Amy, who gets upset when he gets distracted by what his neighbor is up to, with Stephen Geoffreys as his nerdy friend Ed, who has a homoerotically charged encounter with Jerry and goes over to the dark side. (Of course, since everyone calls him by nickname “Evil” throughout, that’s not much of a stretch for him.)
And it is Evil Ed who, having received Jerry’s bite, transforms into a wolf (with red, glowing eyes) to protect him when Charley recruits down-on-his-luck horror show host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) to help him with his vampire problem. In fact, the scene where Peter confronts the lupine Evil Ed and stakes him is one of the film’s highlights, featuring some effective puppetry and transformation effects as the injured wolf becomes a wolf-boy and painfully reverts to his human form before expiring. As anybody who’s seen Fright Night knows, though, Evil Ed is the one who gets the last word, leaving open the possibility that he wasn’t entirely finished off. The makers of 1988’s Fright Night Part 2 declined to bring the character back, though, and the werewolf aspect was removed entirely from the official 2011 remake, which is just as well considering how poorly the unofficial one handled it.
I’m speaking, of course, of 2008’s direct-to-video trifle Never Cry Werewolf, which I covered a ways back. While the parallels between the two films are numerous and unmistakable, though, there are a number of crucial differences. For example, while Jerry has a human protector named Billy (Jonathan Stark), the later film’s werewolf next door has to make do with a big, black dog, which isn’t as useful for disposing of victims’ bodies. Also, McDowall may play his part with self-deprecating humor, but he never sinks to the level of jokey parody Kevin Sorbo does in Never Cry Werewolf. There’s nothing in that film, however, that comes close to the scene in Fright Night where Jerry seduces Amy in the middle of a crowded dance floor. And does Never Cry Werewolf have a soundtrack featuring songs by J. Geils Band, Sparks, Autograph, and Devo? I don’t think so.
Full Moon Features: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)
In Danse Macabre, his 1981 survey of the horror field, Stephen King describes the three major archetypes of horror — the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Thing Without a Name — in terms of a Tarot deck. When it comes time to turn over the Werewolf card, the novel he discusses in detail is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he mounts a persuasive argument since it is about a man who periodically descends into a bestial state. True, Jekyll’s transformation is brought about by chemical means as opposed to the influence of the moon or anything else generally associated with lycanthropy, but that in itself isn’t so unusual. Screen adaptations of Stevenson’s novel have generally shied away from calling Edward Hyde an actual werewolf, though.
One exception to this is the 1957 cheapie Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, which opens with narration describing Jekyll as “a human werewolf” — and the hairy-faced gentleman who appears in its bizarre introduction certainly looks the part. What’s especially odd about him, though, is his response to the narrator’s assertion that “a nationwide sigh of relief” followed the news of the monster’s death. “No longer would the sound of every strange footstep mean terror,” the narrator intones. “The evil thing would never prowl the dark again.” Upon hearing this, the fiend looks straight into the camera and cackles, “Are you sure?” The effect is probably meant to be chilling, but it falls short of that mark.
So it goes with the film proper, in which 21-year-old Janet Smith (Gloria Talbott) drags her smug fiancé George Hastings (John Agar) along with her to the house she’s inherited from her deceased father, not realizing he’s the infamous Dr. Henry Jekyll. (“Not the Dr. Jekyll?” George asks, as if there’s more than one.) This they learn from her guardian, the kindly Dr. Lomas (Arthur Shields), who comes equipped with an Irish accent and an endless supply of warm milk, brandy, and other sedatives for Janet since she soon starts having disturbing dreams.
Of course, it doesn’t help that the villagers are a superstitious lot, to the point where they drove a stake through Hyde’s heart, as this is said to be “the only safeguard, according to ancient tales of witchcraft, that keeps a werewolf from rising out of the grave when the moon is full to hunt for human blood.” So yes, writer/producer Jack Pollexfen threw werewolf, vampire, and witch lore into a blender, hit purée, and this script was the result. That it works even a little bit has to be put down to the professionalism of director Edgar G. Ulmer, a low-budget specialist who previously worked with Pollexfen on 1951’s The Man from Planet X, but he could only do so much.
In many ways, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a replay of Universal’s She-Wolf of London from the previous decade since that, too, revolved around a young heiress who’s made to believe she becomes a monster and commits ghastly murders every night. True, Janet wakes up two days running with blood on her hands and nightgown and mud on her shoes, but it’s not hard to guess what’s really going on since Dr. Lomas uses a candle to hypnotize her the first night of the full moon. Meanwhile, arch-skeptic George bones up on the arcane beliefs he’s up against by paging through a handy copy of Witch, Warlock and Werewolf, which has the most adorable illustrations.
Wouldn’t you buy a copy for your bookshelf?
Full Moon Features: One Wolf’s Family (1990)
It’s only natural that the syndicated horror anthology series Monsters would tackle werewolves at some point during its run. What’s surprising is it waited until most of the way through season two to do so. (Then again, its predecessor, Tales from the Darkside, waited until season-three opener “The Circus” to unleash its first werewolf, and followed it with the Tom Savini-directed “Family Reunion” in its fourth and final season.)
Aired on February 11, 1990, “One Wolf’s Family” is notable for starring husband-and-wife team Jerry Stiller (who died last month at the age of 92) and Anne Meara as two werewolves from “the old country” who have come to America to make a better life for themselves and their daughter. As the leader of their close-knit pack, Stiller’s Victor is a good provider, which is why he’s beside himself when he finds out his daughter Anya (Amy Stiller) is in love with a werehyena. That leaves his peacekeeper wife Greta (Meara) to browbeat him into accepting Anya’s choice of fiancé, even he is a lowly scavenger.
Writer Paul Dini (who still had Batman: The Animated Series in his future) and director Alex Zamm keep things light by having Victor and Greta playfully nip at each other when he comes home from work and casually talk about the jogger they’re having for dinner (whose freshly killed corpse is sharing fridge space with various other body parts). In addition to Anya’s engagement, Dini tosses another threat to their happy home life into the mix in the form of nosy neighbor Mrs. Peabody (Darkside vet Karen Shallo), who’s entirely too suspicious — and xenophobic — for her own good. (Who drops by to borrow a cup of cheese?)
Things get hairy — as does Victor — when Anya’s beau Stanley (Robert Clohessy) turns out to be every bit the bottom feeder he feared. Unlike a lot of Monsters episodes, where the make-up effects are used sparingly, once Victor wolfs out and scares Stanley off, he stays wolfed out, giving Mrs. Peabody the chance to get photographic proof of just what her neighbors are. “They’re werewolves!” she cries. “As if their being foreigners wasn’t enough.” Before she can gather the torch-bearing mob, though, Stanley proves himself useful — and worthy of joining the family.
Incidentally, exactly one year after “One Wolf’s Family” aired, Monsters returned to the well with “Werewolf of Hollywood,” but that’s a story for another day.
Shudder’s “Scare Package” anthology film: 7 horror shorts, 1 werewolf
In “Scare Package” seven directors each showcase a different sub-genre of horror, all set in a world where “cell phones magically stop working and help is always a minute too late.”
Chad Buckley is a horror aficionado [who] spends his days at his struggling genre video store arguing with his only regular customer, Sam. When an unsuspecting applicant shows up, Chad begins to teach him about the rules of horror and his video store at large, much to the chagrin of Sam. During Chad’s on-boarding process, we weave in and out of different hilarious horror shorts, each one geared at a different set of horror tropes. As this new applicant learns the ropes, he begins to suspect Chad of something sinister, but we quickly learn that he may have a secret of his own.
Is Chad the werewolf, or the applicant? Or does he appear in one of the seven shorts, as listed on the VHS cassettes in the poster?
There’s no way to know without watching, since the official website follows Horror Movie Promotion Protocol 4: “only post promo photos of your human actors looking scared or vaguely spooky”. Nevertheless, this looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun!
If you have access to Shudder, you can watch Scare Package beginning June 18th.
Blu-ray Review: The Beast and the Magic Sword (Mondo Macabro)
When I reviewed Paul Naschy’s 1983 film The Beast and the Magic Sword in 2018, I wrote that it was “only a matter of time before a company like Mondo Macabro or Scream Factory” got around to giving the film its first release in the States. As it turned out, Mondo Macabro was the one that stepped up, putting it out on Blu-ray in February in an edition that includes a variety of special features to please just about any Naschy fan.
In brief, The Beast and the Magic Sword finds Naschy’s signature werewolf character, Polish count Waldemar Daninsky, traveling to 16th-century Japan in search of a cure for his lycanthropy, which is the result of a curse placed on one of his ancestors by a witch. As Naschy points out in the 13-minute introduction included on the disc, this was his second Spanish/Japanese co-production following 1980’s Human Beasts and the one where he was given the largest canvas on which to paint Waldemar’s story. Calling it “a truly unique experience,” he relates how the Japanese crew went the extra mile for him, building sets and making props and costumes to match the era the story was set in (despite the fact that all of their standing sets, which he was perfectly willing to use, were from the following century) and even having a sword made with silver because that’s what the script specified. As a result, the attention to detail makes The Beast the most handsomely mounted entry in the series and the one Naschy was justifiably most proud of.
With a running time close to two hours, it’s also Waldemar’s longest screen adventure, giving NaschyCast hosts Rod Barrett and Troy Guinn ample time to provide a comprehensive commentary. After ten years of doing a podcast devoted to all things Naschy, they really know their stuff, and the enthusiasm they share for the man and his work comes through loud and clear. The same goes for Gavin Baddeley, author of the FrightFest Guide to Werewolf Movies, who contributes a 32-minute interview that puts Naschy’s entire career in perspective. Illustrated with clips from nearly all of Naschy’s werewolf films and trailers, this is an excellent primer for anyone who’s never seen one and is curious about where to start.
The last bonus feature on the disc is The Smile of the Wolf. Directed by Javier Perea, who was able to interview Naschy before his death in 2009, the 46-minute documentary covers his career, decade by decade, from the 1960s to the 2000s. If anybody can speak authoritatively about his work, it’s the man himself. This alone makes Mondo Macabro’s release worth a look, as is the fact that the remastered print looks amazing. Besides, where else are you going see a werewolf fight a Bengal tiger?
Do Iron Wolves Dream About Electronic Moons?
Mythological memories from shooting an ultra-low-budget werewolf movie
Editor’s note: this is a guest post from Dominik Starck, actor in and co-producer of Iron Wolf, this month’s Full Moon Feature. My thanks to Dominik for taking the time to write this, and for sharing the photos that accompany this post!
“It’s about a Nazi-werewolf”, the voice on the phone revealed to me. Pause. “I know what you’re thinking,” the voice continues. No, you don’t.
It’s early 2012 and I’m on the phone with producer Nico Sentner, whom I’ve met on the set of the German slasher SIN REAPER, starring one of my favorite genre actors, Lance Henriksen. Sentner and I got along well, ultimately bonding over our common love of Henriksen and some of the same genre movies. I mentioned to him that I’m looking into making movies, not just writing about them (I was a film critic at the time).
A couple of months later I received this fateful call. Sentner was about to make an ultra low budget movie and offered me a small part in it. I’d also be able to serve as one of the producers. But here’s the hook; I wouldn’t have any creative control over it and, well, it’s about an effing Nazi werewolf. I told Sentner I’d have to sleep on it, but I’d call him back within 24 hours.
It sounded like trash from the get-go. Should this be my glorious entry into the industry? I had doubts. Huge doubts. I didn’t even get to see a script. On the other hand, I would never have forgiven myself for not taking the chance.
A couple of weeks later I was on set, playing the character of bandleader Spike Jones and showcasing my own favorite leather jacket. My gig only lasted a couple of days, one of them including a sex scene, a fight scene and my death scene. Laying on the dirty ground in freezing temperatures on a cold March night in Eastern Germany felt fantastic.
Jens Nier (co-director, -editor and –producer as well as werewolf performer) choreographed the little brawl I had with the homeless man (played by writer Marco Theiss). Training and shooting that was intense too – even though we later learned that one of the camera operators failed to get the best angle in focus so that the scene turned out to be nobody’s favorite.
To be honest it’s also pretty intimidating to be in front of a camera for the first time performing intercourse with a woman you just met. I got the script about three days before shooting started, read it, and scene 16 simply said “Spike and Jersey have hard sex in the basement” – Wait, what? Nobody said anything about a sex scene at any point!
Sentner assured me I’d be in good hands and shouldn’t worry about anything. His amused laughter should’ve been a warning sign. When I met my co-star Carolina Rath on set we asked director David Brückner how he intended the scene to be shot. His vision was to shoot in the dirtiest room of the old slaughterhouse we were filming in. The crew would put a half-way decent couch in that room for us to perform our relationship on. Obviously that didn’t make any sense. We skipped the couch and solved the issue in a different way.
I love horror movies and I have a huge affection for werewolf movies. Aside from AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, my personal favorite might be GINGER SNAPS 2 (yes, the sequel, Elisabeth Perkins is just amazing in it). To be on a set filled with enthusiastic film students was great. It felt like summer camp (even though I never went to summer camp). I even wrote a scene because they were afraid the movie might turn out too short. It eventually got cut from the movie because it would’ve made the opening too slow.
When I was wrapped it was hard for me to leave. Fortunately, there was a chance for a surprise return. When the rough cut was done it was obvious that some things didn’t work, among them the ending. It was supposed to end on Spike’s girlfriend teaming up with his brother Leon (named after the protagonist in Hammer Film’s only werewolf movie THE CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF), defeating the beast and riding off into the sun dawn. The way it was shot and the missing romantic energy between the characters on screen made it unsatisfying and the producers thought about a way to fix this.
In low-budget filmmaking, you’re always looking for a simple way to exploit an asset one has access to and deliver on a horror cliché that’s a cliché because it works. Since Spike was the only lead character we didn’t truly see dying on screen it was fairly easy to bring me back for a cliffhanger ending. We shot these tagged on scenes months after principal photography in the director’s basement. It’s my favorite scene I did in the movie.
IRON WOLF uses a trash premise, feeds off of the Nazi-exploiting concept behind IRON SKY and is underfinanced as hell. It basically was shot with a bag of pennies and a roll of tape. That said, it was inspiring to make the movie, and I made some friends I collaborated with on later productions (like my hitmen thriller THE HITMAN AGENCY, that’s available on Amazon and Tubi).
The producers did their best to make the movie as good as possible in the very limited time before it had to be ready for the film markets. It’s never good to work against a ticking clock. But on the other hand; I’m friends with filmmakers that had a ten times higher budget on a short film with two people talking in a room. Making a good werewolf movie demands proper planning, shooting and time for post-production to make it as effective as possible, even on a budget. Take time for prep away and cut the time on post-production and you’re set for failing.
Werewolves are cool. And the saving grace of IRON WOLF is that even cheap werewolf-movies with trash concepts behind them are still better than boring cheap vampire movies.
In the years following the production, there was actual talk about another IRON WOLF. While Sentner’s focus was on more Nazi exploitation in a prequel movie I pitched a true sequel about Spike struggling with his curse while looking for his big love Jersey. Meanwhile, she fully embraces her inner beast. Once they reunite they’d go full “Bonnie & Clyde in Furs”. We all moved on at this point. I worked a lot in action films, wrote a lot of screenplays and am in development on a completely different supernatural thriller. But there’s a part of me that still would like to make that sequel.
There are many more tales to tell and lessons learned in filmmaking, but for now, I have to finish this article. It’s already getting dark. And the moon is rising.
Big howl from Germany.
Questions? Shoutouts? Feel free to get in touch:
Rick Baker grooms his “American Werewolf” in 3D
(image: Rick Baker)
Rick Baker’s Instagram is a great place to go if you want to get a peek at his workshop and his creature experiments, but you don’t have $300 to spend on his books. Lately, he’s been posting 3D renders of creature busts and maquettes that he’s scanned with his Einscan Pro 2X scanner, and most recently he’s turned his attention to his American Werewolf in London “Kesslerwolf”.
Here’s hoping he keeps working on this and sharing his efforts! The AWIL werewolf design as seen on-screen is not in my top 5 favourite werewolf “looks”, but this update is undeniably rad.
2020-04-16 update: Baker posted one more photo with some textural tweaks, and has called it good. Yeah, man, I agree with you: it’s very good!
Round-up of 4 one-of-a-kind werewolf Etsy finds
Every now and then someone – generally my wife Tandye or my friend Viergacht – sends me an especially cool werewolf doll they find on Etsy. They’re all one-of-a-kind art objects, handcrafted by artists whose interpretations of lycanthrope aesthetics are wonderfully diverse. Enough of these links have accumulated in my open browser tabs that it’s time to share them all here. Click on any title or image below for the Etsy product page.
Considering the state of the world right now, it feels especially important to note that these are expensive luxury items on which many of us don’t have the resources to splurge. However, if you’ve got the financial stability, supporting artists is an extremely cool thing to do!
This posable friend from the bayous of Louisiana looks incredibly soft and hold-able, which is a dangerous deception because they will absolutely chomp your hand if you try to grab them.
I generally don’t go for any werewolf that reps the “shaman” look or who carries a weapon while in werewolf form, but the bared fangs, gnarly claws, and overall craftsmanship of this polymer clay & faux fur demand that I make an exception.
Listed as an “anthropomorphic furry”, this polymer clay and alpaca wool creation is indisputably a doll version of Tandye if she was a werewolf.
The four things I can tell you about this munchkin:
- she’s a collaboration of two artists, based on a Blythe fashion doll
- she has four different eye types that can be swapped out
- she’s the most costly of the four dolls in this post
- she is my daughter and I love her very much
Again, these are all one-of-a-kind, so if you see something you like, act fast!