Craig J. Clark — Jul. 18th 2016
This month marks the anniversaries of two werewolf films made half a century apart. The first is the imaginatively titled The Werewolf, which was released in July of 1956 according to the IMDb, but the site is no more specific than that. The second is The Feeding, which had its TV premiere on July 11, 2006, before going to video just two months later. Neither is particularly good, but at least one of them is a little fun to watch. See if you can guess which one that is.
Made by producer Sam Katzman and director Fred F. Sears, who teamed up the following year for the notorious giant bird movie The Giant Claw, The Werewolf was the first wolf-man movie to come along since Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein eight years earlier and, as such, it reflected the times by having its tortured lycanthrope change into a bloodthirsty beast as a result of getting into a car accident and receiving a transfusion of irradiated wolf’s blood from two unethical doctors. (If you think that sounds pretty far-fetched, just wait until I cover I Was a Teenage Werewolf.)
The film opens with a stentorian narrator explaining what a lycanthrope is and saying that stories of men changing into wolves have been passed down through the ages because “it is a universal belief” (a sly nod to Universal Pictures, perhaps?). We’re then introduced to an amnesiac werewolf (Steven Ritch) who comes to the sleepy town of Mountaincrest and causes numerous headaches for sheriff Jack Haines (Don Megowan) and his fiancée, nurse Amy Standish (Joyce Holden). Ritch’s first victim is a belligerent drunk who corners him in an alley and immediately regrets it when he transforms (off-screen) and tears the drunk’s throat out (also off-screen). Curiously enough, Ritch keeps his shoes and socks on throughout the attack and runs around with them on for a good while before removing them in the woods — that way Jack and his men can be bewildered by the way the shoe prints they’re following abruptly change into wolf tracks.
After one of his deputies is attacked, Jack orders the town to be sealed off and a tired and bewildered Ritch arrives at the door of the doctor Amy works for looking for help but almost immediately gets scared off. Eventually we’re introduced to the reckless doctors responsible for Ritch’s sorry plight, who wish to eliminate him before he can recover his memory and point the finger (or claw, as it were) at them, and the poor man’s wife and son, who track him down to Mountancrest and just want him to come home safe. In the meantime, we see him transform in and out of his wolf-man makeup a few times with the aid of some pretty shoddy trick photography, and Amy and Jack keep up a running debate over whether he should be captured alive or not. That’s not carried over to The Feeding, though, largely because its characters are preoccupied by other concerns.
As a matter of fact, The Feeding has the makings of its own drinking game since it’s a werewolf film that goes so far out of its way to avoid having anyone say the word “werewolf,” writer/director Paul Moore seems perversely proud of himself for not using it. There are, however, many times where the characters are right on the verge of identifying the kind of creature they’re facing by name, only to walk it back at the last moment. So, should you watch The Feeding (something, incidentally, I do not recommend), every time it looks like somebody is about to say “werewolf” and stops themselves short, take a drink. That might not get you drunk, but it could help make the viewing experience somewhat tolerable.
As much as Moore ties himself into knots having his characters talk around what they’re up against, he also doesn’t do them any favors by writing lines for them like “I’m guessing that if your girlfriend were alive, she wouldn’t want you to hang around here waiting to have your throat torn out.” In a low-budget, direct-to-video film like this, it’s tempting to blame the stiff line-readings on the inexperience of the actors, but it’s the lines Moore has given them to say that are dead-on-arrival. And it doesn’t help that they’re playing such thinly conceived walking stereotypes. On the one side, there’s cocky Wildlife and Forestry special agent Jack Driscoll (Robert Pralgo), who’s been after this particular monster for a few years, and his partner, animal expert Aimee Johnston (Dione Updike), who’s keen to prove herself in the field. On the other, there’s the septet of sex-crazed stoners (three couples and one seventh wheel) who pick the wrong week to go hiking in the Appalachians.
Following the requisite shock-kill opening, in which two redneck hunters banter pointlessly for a couple of minutes before shooting a very hairy werewolf, which makes short work of them, the first half of the film is all set-up as Jack and Aimee brief the park rangers in charge of clearing the mountain of civilians and then lie in wait for their quarry, and the interchangeable seven manage to slip past them and prepare to be werewolf chow. I would identify them, but really, what’s the point? When just about everybody who appears on screen is in the opening credits — even the actors playing “Hunter #1,” “Ranger #1,” and “Hunter #2” — that makes nonentities of them all. Sure, Moore tries to inject some drama into the situation by having one of the guys be the ex-boyfriend of one of the girls, who has since paired off with another one of the guys, but this doesn’t generate any more conflict than the ill-advised game of spin the bottle they choose to play one night. (I blame the weed for the poor decision-making.) And the second half of the film, during which the bipedal human-animal hybrid stalking and killing them gets a lot of screen time, is marred by the fact that it’s always a little bit out of focus, as if Moore knew he had a lousy werewolf suit on his hands. Surprise, he was right.