Full Moon Features: Late Phases
by Craig J. Clark
May. 3, 2015
Having seen as many werewolf films as I have (117 and counting, baby!), it’s refreshing when I encounter one where their existence is taken as read, which cuts down on a lot of unnecessary questions about “what kind of animal could have done this?” In 2014’s Late Phases, a blind Army veteran moves into a retirement community following the death of his wife, and his first night there one of his neighbors is killed and his guide dog mortally wounded by some unidentified creature. From there, once he finds out the previous night was a full moon and that the local hospital gets calls “once a month” from his community, he knows exactly what he’s dealing with (as do we since we get a clear view of it within the first 15 minutes) and exactly how long he has to prepare for its return.
I don’t know what screenwriter Eric Stolze’s elevator pitch for Last Phases was, but I imagine “Bubba Ho-tep, only with an Army vet instead of Elvis and JFK” comes pretty close. Like Bubba’s Elvis, Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) is quite the cantankerous character, a gruff weapons expert still haunted by his tours of duty in Vietnam and insistent on being independent no matter how much his son Will (Ethan Embry) and daughter-in-law Anne (Erin Cummings) worry about him. He also makes short work of alienating Crescent Bay’s welcoming committee (Rutanya Alda, Tina Louise, and Caitlin O’Heaney), which means he has little chance of making new friends, nor does he have much interest in doing so once he decides what his mission in life is, however little of it he has left. (His own mortality is clearly on his mind even before he finds out he’s living in the same development as a werewolf since the opening of the film finds him checking out the stock of a headstone salesman played by producer Larry Fessenden.)
As Ambrose soon deduces, he only really has two suspects (especially after he eliminates the resident in the iron lung). One is Father Roger (Tom Noonan), who talks to him about transformation, and the other is James Griffin (The Last Starfighter’s Lance Guest), who organizes the weekly shuttle to his church. To their credit, Stolze and director Adrián García Bogliano (one of The ABCs of Death’s many contributors) reveal which one of them it is without a whole lot of fuss, and they play fair by letting us find out at the same moment Ambrose does. Another way they play fair is by having the metalsmith he goes to (played by Twin Peaks’s Dana Ashbrook) take his request for silver bullets seriously, which means he’s fully prepared when it’s go time.