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!
5-minute werewolf short film “Morbach Monster Terror”
Dominik Starck – the actor who starred in and also co-produced this month’s Full Moon Feature, Iron Wolf – reached out on Twitter in response to Craig’s frank assessment of the film, and he was very cool! He also let us know about another, shorter werewolf film he helped produce: Morbach Monster Terror, based on an urban legend about an American military base in Germany with a lycanthrope problem. You can watch it for free on YouTube right now!
I agree with Craig’s review on Letterboxd – this one works because it’s short and to the point. The werewolf effects are better than serviceable for an ultra-low-budget affair, and I really wasn’t anticipating the final scene. This was all done on a single night, and Starck has offered to share some stories about that night. I for one would love to hear them!
Full Moon Features: Iron Wolf (2013)
I’ve seen it reported that this month’s Super Pink Moon is going to be the biggest full moon of 2020. In keeping with that, I wish I had a good werewolf movie to write about, but instead I’ve got 2013’s Iron Wolf. Following in the paw prints of Project: Metalbeast, the German-made Iron Wolf also followed closely on the heels of the previous year’s Iron Sky, which was about Nazis biding their time on the dark side of the moon following the defeat of the Third Reich. Iron Wolf stays decidedly earthbound, however, opening with a 15-minute pre-title sequence set in Germany in 1945 as the Russian army (i.e. kids playing dress-up) is bearing down on a Nazi research facility (guarded by some other kids playing dress-up) where the obligatory mad scientist Dr. Müller (Urs Remond) is hard at work on “the most powerful weapon in the entire war” — a werewolf that has been trained not to attack soldiers in German uniforms. “All right, gentlemen,” says Major Schilling (producer/executive producer Nico Sentner), the officer in charge of the program. “Create a whole army of these… creatures. We have a war to win.” Within minutes, however, the compound is overrun, everyone who knows what’s what is shot, and Müller’s sole success (a gypsy werewolf that has had its genes spliced with a German shepherd) is locked away for 65 years.
There follows a five-minute title sequence during which a homeless man (played by screenwriter Marco Theiss) tools around the facility with his shopping cart and decides to hunker down in front of the room where the werewolf has been locked away and is somehow still alive and kicking after six and a half decades without a meal. That presents itself when the story jumps ahead to the present day (i.e. three years later), when famous punk rocker Spike Jones (producer/co-executive producer Dominik Starck) arrives with his entourage to convert the building into the venue for a punk show to be headlined by his band, Scum of the Streets. Spike’s hangers-on — none of whom are bothered by the fact that he’s nicked his stage name from a famous bandleader — include his girlfriend Jersey (top-billed Carolina Rath), brother Leon (Roland Freitag), and upstart Trigger (Hannes Sell), who appears not to mind being named after Roy Rogers’s horse. He does mind Leon’s neo-Nazi past, however, and is at loggerheads with him right from the start, while his bandmate Todd (Michael Krug) is much more easy-going as long as the beer doesn’t run out. Also in the bargain is Todd’s girlfriend Lynn (Caterina Döhring), Trigger’s girlfriend Kate (Ildiko Preszly), and Sandy (Annegret Thalwitzer), a random girl Kate met at a club and brought along so the werewolf would have one more victim when Spike stupidly releases the monster from its prison.
It’s at this point that co-producer/co-editor/cinematographer/director David Brückner begins giving the viewer fleeting glimpses of his werewolf (which is played by producer/production manager/stunt choreographer/co-editor/co-director Jens Nier, who also cooked up the story with Sentner), which is eventually revealed to be a guy wearing a largely immobile werewolf mask in a tattered Nazi uniform. “You gotta give that to the Nazis,” says one of the characters. “When they did something inhuman, they did it thoroughly.” The same, however, cannot be said for Brückner and Nier, in spite of the copious blood and gore they throw into the mix (and all over some of the supporting players). They do make sure viewers know how many jobs they and their friends did on the film, though, by repeating most of the credits twice during the eleven-minute closing crawl. All the better to make sure you can avoid anything else they’ve work on.
28 were-creature tales in short fiction anthology “Mark of the Beast”
Can a book that was published five years ago be “news”? It can be if it’s news to me! Chaosium Inc.’s “Mark of the Beast” is a collection of 28 were-beast short stories edited by Scott David Aniolowski. It’s got good reviews on Goodreads, and Paul Mudie‘s cover art is the sort of gnarly lycanthrope I want on my bookshelf, digital or not.
Every civilization has some story or legend of creatures half man and half beast. Indigenous native peoples around the world held beliefs about shamans and witch doctors who could transform themselves into animals. The ancient Egyptians worshiped a whole pantheon of animal-headed gods. The superstitious folk of medieval Europe believed that a witch or a gypsy could curse a man to become a werewolf by night. Pacific islanders told tales of men changing into sharks. Certain African peoples feared leopard men.
Herein are gathered a number of tales portraying the glorious and bestial nature of the werewolf. There are horror, sci-fi, Gothic, cyber, fairy tale and fantasy stories and poems that embrace the essence of the beast, told by an assortment of scribes with diverse styles and voices.