Search: Full Moon Features (119)
Craig J. Clark — Apr. 28th 2018
Over the course of its initial, decade-long run on cable, Mystery Science Theater 3000 tackled werewolves exactly twice. The first time was in the show’s third episode for the Comedy Channel (later renamed Comedy Central) when Joel Robinson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo riffed on 1942’s Poverty Row Wolf Man knock-off The Mad Monster, which starred George Zucco as the requisite mad scientist who tampers in God’s domain by injecting wolf blood into a farm hand with predictably hair-raising results. After that, they waited until they were deep into both the Mike and Sci-Fi Channel eras to take down 1995’s Werewolf, one of the freshest examples of cinematic roadkill they ever sank their teeth into since its comedic evisceration premiered on April 18, 1998, in the midst of the show’s ninth season.
By that time, the folks at Best Brains had settled into a definite groove and, after much flitting about in time and space the previous season, the show’s trio of villains — Pearl Forrester, Observer, and Professor Bobo — had settled into Castle Forrester for the long haul, or at least until the plug got pulled the following year. Suffice it to say, compared to their first such effort, made while the writers were still finding their feet, the crew of the Satellite of Love was a well-oiled joke-delivery machine when Mike Nelson and his robot pals gave Werewolf the business. Then again, Werewolf offered up plenty of material for them to work with, alongside the ability to make then-contemporary references to the band Hanson, Janet Reno, rejected Supreme Court Justice Robert Bork, and Eddie Vedder.
Your standard cheapjack lycanthropic doggerel, Werewolf (also known as Arizona Werewolf) is comparable in quality to one of the later Howling sequels. Its Flagstaff setting even recalls the same year’s New Moon Rising, but thankfully this one features less line dancing. In its place, co-writer/producer/director Tony Zarindast presents the unwary viewer with a borderline nonsensical plot about a werewolf skeleton unearthed during an archaeological dig and the trouble this causes various actors for whom English is clearly not their first language.
Chief among them is top-billed George (actually Jorge) Rivero, a Mexican actor whose career stretched back to the mid-’60s, when he divvied up his time between westerns and wrestling pictures in which he was often teamed with legendary luchador Santo. Here he’s Yuri, an opportunistic foreman who uses the werewolf skull to infect multiple people with lycanthropy, including one of the dig’s Native American workmen (who’s subsequently shot and killed by two of his buddies), an unsuspecting security guard (who transforms while behind the wheel of a car, a true recipe for disaster), and a self-proclaimed “struggling young writer” who moves to Flagstaff following the death of his mother and takes up residence in her attic. This is Paul Niles, who’s played by Fred (actually Federico) Cavalli, starring in his one and only feature film. Similarly inexperienced is Adrianna Miles, who plays his love interest Natalie and whose pronunciations of the word “werewolf” are a wonder to behold. (Weirdly, whenever Mike imitates her, he sounds like Tommy Wiseau.)
Rounding out the cast are Joe Estevez (“one of the lesser Estevezes,” per Crow) as Joe, one of the skinwalker-averse workmen, and Richard Lynch (a genre veteran with credits going back to the late ’60s) as lead archaeologist Professor Noel, who absents himself from the plot partway through the MST3K edit, leading me to believe he may have more scenes in the uncut version, which runs a full 22 minutes longer. I’m not about to seek it out to test that theory, though.
Besides, anything that fell by the wayside was for a good cause since it made room for host segments like the one where Mike, having tripped and cut himself on Crow while leaving the theater, abruptly turns into a were-Crow, a two-step process that mirrors the discrete stages of lycanthropy Paul and his fellow werewolves pass through in the film. At first they merely have extra hair plastered to their faces. Then the actors are given a heavy makeup job that makes them look more ape-like than wolfish. The final stage, though, is a barely articulated wolf head puppet, which is seen in extreme close-ups, along with fleeting glimpses of a stuntman in a gorilla suit with a wolf’s head for the long and medium shots, none of which are remotely convincing. Late in the film, at a point where Paul is in the second stage, Tom Servo quips, “Oh, that fiend Rick Baker tackled him and did this to him.” He wishes.
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 30th 2018
Over the course of his five-decade screen career, Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy appeared as just about every monster imaginable — at least, those that walked on two feet — but the one he returned to time and again was the werewolf. Most often it was because he was reprising his most famous creation, Waldemar Daninsky, but he occasionally donned the fangs, claws, and fur for films unrelated to that long-running series. The first time was for 1982’s Buenas noches, señor monstruo, a family comedy in which he was El Hombre Lobo alongside other actors playing Count Dracula, Quasimodo, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Considerably less family-friendly is A Werewolf in the Amazon, which Naschy made for Brazilian director Ivan Cardoso in 2005.
In addition to playing the title character, Naschy also shoulders the responsibility of embodying one created by H.G. Wells a century earlier since A Werewolf in the Amazon serves as a belated sequel to The Island of Dr. Moreau, which Naschy’s Moreau directly refers to with his talk of once owning an island and a “legion of mutant creatures” before he was betrayed. As for how he came to be cursed with lycanthropy, this is thanks to an “incident in the Carpathian Mountains,” so his experiments in gene-splicing are as much about finding a cure for his own condition as they are about creating human/animal hybrids like his right-hand beast-man Zoltan (Guará Rodrigues), who yearns to be fully human, yet unmistakably likes it when his master scratches him behind the ears.
If Moreau kept his activities confined to making beast-men, that would be one thing (and if Cardoso could afford to show more than a handful of them, that would be another), but he has also hooked up with a bevy of buxom, bloodthirsty Amazon warriors who protect his secret jungle laboratory. In addition, Moreau has a sexual relationship with their queen, Pentesiléia (Joana Medeiros), which the 70-year-old Naschy can do little to make palatable considering he was twice the age of his co-star at the time of filming. Still, that’s no more gratuitous than, say, the shower scene at the top of the film in which female lead Natasha (Danielle Winits) is spooked by her roommate Samantha (Karina Bacchi), whose dialogue referencing Psycho is redundant since the soundtrack has already aped Bernard Herrmann’s score. Cardoso goes Hitchcock one further, though, by having Samantha disrobe and step into the shower with Natasha because clearly that’s what people want to see when they pop in a movie called A Werewolf in the Amazon. (For the record, close to half the film’s 77-minute running time elapses before the viewer gets a decent look at Naschy’s Moreauwolf, and even then he’s mostly in shadow.)
How Natasha and Samantha fit into the plot is barely worth getting into since they and their friends — who head into the Amazonian jungle in search of hallucinogenic herbs — are there to be little more than werewolf bait. (Well, Natasha is a bit more than that since she’s revealed to be a reincarnated Amazon warrior by a ghostly Incan priest who delivers the news in song, but still.) Also not worth spilling much digital ink over are the American zoologist and no-nonsense policeman assigned to accompany him while he investigates the bizarre murders that have been occurring the area. (And yes, the zoologist does get to say the deathless line, “These wounds were made by some large animal.”) Not only are they almost exclusively used for labored comic relief (including a Re-Animator-style gag where a corpse in the morgue briefly comes to life before being smacked down again), but they’re nowhere near as funny as the moment where Moreau dresses one of them down, saying, “I guess you don’t deserve the privilege of being turned into an animal.”
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 1st 2018
I’m hopping a bit off the beaten path with this month’s Full Moon Feature, but with Early Man now in theaters, I can’t think of a better time to watch a cheese-loving inventor and his long-suffering pooch grapple with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Made in 2005, it was the second feature for Aardman Animations after 2000’s Chicken Run and the first big-screen adventure for their signature characters, Wallace and Gromit. Directed by their creator Nick Park and Steve Box, the film amply illustrates the dangers of hooking yourself up to a Mind Manipulator-omatic and then plugging it into a BunVac filled with pesky rabbits and trying to brainwash them into not liking vegetables under the light of the full moon. There’s just so many ways something like that can go so, so wrong, as man and his best friend alike soon learn.
How it comes to that is simple: In the lead-up to their town’s annual Giant Vegetable Competition, everyone has signed up with Anti-Pesto, Wallace (voiced as always by Peter Sallis) and Gromit’s high-tech “Humane Pest Control” service. Their non-lethal methods especially impress animal lover Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), who has to fend off aggressive blueblood Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who resents the competition. However, after Wallace’s attempt at bunny brainwashing backfires, he literally creates a monster that is identified by Reverend Hedges (Nicholas Smith, Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served?) as the titular beast, carrotus apetitus giganticus. No points for guessing who it turns out to be.
Park and Box and their co-writers Mark Burton and Bob Baker pack as many vegetable puns as they can into the proceedings (under the headline “Night of Vegetable Carnage!” there’s the delicious subhead “Anti-Pesto Fail to Turnip in Time”), and they also managed to smuggle a few naughty jokes past the MPAA. (“Beware the moon,” indeed.) Even better, they work in numerous allusions to classic horror films, with my favorite being when the beast is vanquished and it returns to human form with the aid of a series of lap dissolves, just like in the old Lon Chaney, Jr. movies. I know that’s hardly extraordinary considering the entire film is stop-motion animated, but the gesture is appreciated.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 30th 2018
Further proof that the most creative and inventive werewolf movies are being made outside the U.S. right now, Brazil’s Good Manners isn’t the first werewolf film to come out of that country — 1972’s O Homem Lobo has it beat by 45 years — but it’s the first one I’ve seen. (The second will be coming to Full Moon Features in the not-too-distant future.) Written and directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, Good Manners (original title: As Boas Maneiras) is a bit of a shapeshifter itself since its story cycles through a number of different genres, beginning with a social-realist drama about a financially strapped woman with no references and no work experience who gets hired as a live-in nanny for a single mother-to-be who’s still months away from giving birth. She just needs somebody to help with the cooking and cleaning and shopping and everything else she’s never had to do for herself.
The novice nanny, who trained as a nurse but had to abandon her studies to take care of an ailing grandmother, is Clara (Isabél Zuaa), and her employer, who moved into a spacious condo in downtown Säo Paulo after being cut off by her family and dumped by her fiancé, is Ana (Marjorie Estiano). At first, things are a bit bumpy between then, but Clara puts up with Ana’s spoiled and sometimes erratic behavior because, well, she needs the job. Then she figures out (which the help of a nifty lunar-themed calendar) that Ana’s behavior becomes especially erratic around the full moon, culminating in the scene where Ana goes out sleepwalking one night and eats a stray cat. (This is after her doctor has told her to cut out meat, a directive the baby growing inside her is clearly not on board with.)
Slowly but surely, Good Manners edges into horror territory (while also taking detours into lesbian romance and, strangely enough, the musical) in scenes like this and the one where Ana comes on to Clara, only to bite her lip and leave deep scratches in her shoulder. As for the identity of the baby’s father, which presumably would explain a lot, this is revealed through a series of drawings as Ana recounts the night she was seduced by a stranger who subsequently turned into a beast and fled when she shot it with her gun. His progeny, meanwhile, prematurely claws its way out of Ana’s belly one full moon and is, I must confess, cute as the dickens. The newborn pup is brought to life by a sophisticated puppet, but when the story jumps forward seven years, the transformed Joel (Miguel Lobo — yes, that’s the kid’s name) is entirely a CGI creation. Rojas and Dutra withhold his feral form until the film’s final act, but before that they do show the aftermaths of his nights in the “little bedroom” adjoining his own where Clara chains him to the wall. (Instead of reverting completely to human form, he still retains a coat of thick hairs that have to be shaved off and sharp fingernails that must be trimmed before he can return to school.) And it’s not until after Joel has killed one of his classmates (and makes the news) that the word “werewolf” is even spoken, but there’s never any doubt about what he is — or his father was.
The thing is, it ultimately doesn’t matter who Joel’s father is because he was never in the picture to begin with — much like Rojas and Dutra radically frame their story’s first half so no men are ever seen (although some are heard, chiefly Ana’s doctor). This way, the first clear sighting of one — the father of one of Joel’s classmates — is as much a shock to the viewer as it is to the young boy who has more questions about his parentage than Clara is prepared to answer. This is why it’s so easy to believe her when she tells him, “Everything I do, I do it to protect you.” Right or wrong, she’s only doing what she thinks is best for him, but let’s be honest. Keeping the kid on a strict vegetarian diet was always destined to fail.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 1st 2018
This holiday season, Netflix subscribers received a lump of coal in their stocking in the form of Bright, a movie with more than a passing resemblance to 1988’s Alien Nation since it’s about a human cop reluctantly partnered up with an orc. Coming on the heels of 2015’s poorly received Victor Frankenstein, screenwriter Max Landis’s last high-concept genre effort, this doesn’t exactly bode well for his plans to retool the story of his forthcoming American Werewolf in London remake, but if one looks back about a decade in his CV, it’s possible to have a glimmer of hope for what might be.
It’s hard to imagine now, but long before he had any features to his name, Landis was just an up-and-comer whose sole writing credit was on the Masters of Horror episode Deer Woman, on which he collaborated with its director, who just so happened to be his father. When Showtime decided two Masters of Horror seasons were enough, creator Mick Garris sold NBC on a similar anthology called Fear Itself and brought the younger Landis on board to pen one of its episodes. The result was the scrappy werewolf tale Something with Bite, which never aired on the network because it pulled the plug on the ratings-challenged series after eight episodes in favor of airing the 2008 Summer Olympics. Talk about shortsighted.
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson — another Masters of Horror veteran — Something with Bite stars Wendell Pierce as tubby, lethargic veterinarian Wilbur Orwell, who’s good with animals but whose home life isn’t all it could be. (His wife and son both feel neglected, and with good reason.) Then he gets bitten by an injured werewolf that’s brought to his clinic when it’s hit by a truck and, well, things start turning around for our man Wilbur. Not only does he develop a heightened sense of smell (along with the ability to transform into a large, hairy, ravenous beast at will), but he also becomes more assertive with his employees and attentive to his family. The only hitch is the series of apparent animal attacks that has been plaguing the city. The police detective on the case believes they’re the work of a man (“A disturbed man, but still a man.”) and somehow comes to suspect Wilbur, which puts him on the spot. After all, if he doesn’t remember everything he does when he’s a wolf, how does he know for sure that he didn’t do them?
Maybe I’m biased, but when I eventually caught up with Something with Bite on DVD, I found it to be one of Fear Itself‘s better episodes. Its take on werewolf lore is interesting (for instance, did you know there are vegan werewolves?) and Landis leavens the script with enough humor to keep it from getting too dark. I also like the design of the beast, which Dickerson is able to give a fair amount of screen time at the climax. Even in extreme closeup it manages to be convincing, which is quite an achievement given the budget constraints. Should Landis’s American Werewolf redo see the light of day, I hope to be able to say the same thing about the creature his special effects team conjures up.
Craig J. Clark — Dec. 2nd 2017
In a just world, you would be reading my review of Another WolfCop right now, but as this world is not just, the closest the sequel to 2014’s premiere Canadian werewolf film is playing to me is a four-hour drive away. Plus, it’s only being screened at midnight, making it especially inconvenient for out-of-towners (and out-of-staters) such as myself. So, in its stead, my final Full Moon Feature of the year is dubious also-ran Werewolf: The Devil’s Hound, which went straight to video ten years ago this month.
Right off the bat, The Devil’s Hound puts the wrong furry foot forward by claiming that “The events that follow take place in the near future,” which doesn’t seem all that necessary since there’s nothing in it that’s even vaguely futuristic. (And considering it was released in 2007, the odds are good that its “near future” has already come to pass.) It also doesn’t waste any time in revealing its poorly designed title creature, which looks like a white, long-haired yeti. After mauling a couple of unnamed Germans, it gets tranqued and packed in a crate so it can be shipped to some guy named Kwan, but instead it gets delivered to a small special-effects company in Connecticut owned by portly Phil Madden (co-producer Phil Gauvin), who runs it with his son Kevin (Michael Dionne) and daughter-in-law Char (Tamara Malawitz). His wife, meanwhile, is local vet Elizabeth (Jennifer Marsella), but the cutaways to her office reveal she’s more than that.
Since Dionne is top-billed, naturally it falls to Kevin to be the one who gets scratched when the werewolf decides it’s spent enough time in the box, and before long he starts exhibiting all the signs of the newly bitten: increased sex drive, heightened senses, voracious appetite, fast healing, and yes, all of a sudden he doesn’t need his glasses anymore. He also starts running into pale-skinned, leather-clad goth chick Christine (Christy Cianci), whose identity isn’t much of a mystery, especially after she eviscerates a homeless guy right in front of him. (What is a mystery, though, is what becomes of her black leather ensemble when she changes into the Abominable Snowman, or why Kevin does little more than grow fangs, sprout sideburns, and develop slightly hairier arms when he wolfs out.)
Clearly lacking the wherewithal to make a straight-up horror film, writer/directors Gregory C. Parker and Christian Pindar stack the deck with a surplus of comic-relief characters, including Dionne’s alien-obsessed brother Michael (Adam Loewenbaum) and his vacuous girlfriend Krystal (Kirsten Babich), Phil’s ultra geeky assistant Steve (Michael Wrann), and the aforementioned Kwan (Lance Hallowell), who turns out to be quite the pratfall-prone buffoon when he finally shows up. Parker and Pindar also photographed and edited the film, which explains why it goes a little overboard with the creative camera angles and quick cutting. This is especially apparent in the climactic battle, for which Kwan dons a set of leather armor that doesn’t do much to protect him and looks damned silly to boot. Not that I expected any different at that point.
Craig J. Clark — Nov. 3rd 2017
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Some college students head into the woods under some flimsy pretext and get picked off one by one by a POV camera that knows the terrain better than them. In the new indie Lycan, the pretext is that the six students are working on a group project where their vaguely defined assignment is to “recreate a moment of history,” and between the title and the fact that the landmark they’re looking for (on horseback, no less) is the supposed grave of the Werewolf of Talbot County (get it?), it’s reasonable to assume that whatever is stalking them is a werewolf. Then again, the opening title does specify that it’s “A FILM Based on a TRUE LEGEND,” so the chances of anybody in it actually sprouting fur and fangs before going on their co-ed killing spree land squarely between slim and none, and slim isn’t liking its chances.
Set in the year 1986 for no discernible reason (although it does allow writer/director Bev Land and co-writer Michael Mordler to shoehorn in references to Sixteen Candles and Mr. T with impunity), the film announces its intentions with two solid minutes of a naked, overweight farmer having vigorous sex with a prostitute, followed by his discovery that something has killed his chickens and his dog and is about to do the same to both of them. On the other side of the opening titles, a history prof with a prickly sense of humor (played by Vanessa Angel, previously known to me as the Soviet snow bunny Dan Aykroyd cozies up to in Spies Like Us) sets things in motion by throwing six Breakfast Club types into one group and addressing them all by name so the viewer knows which characters they’ll be following and what their defining traits are.
The one that doesn’t fit into the John Hughes mold is Kenny (Parker Croft), the Bolex camera-toting horndog pothead whose character seems modeled more on Jamie Kennedy in Wes Craven’s Scream than, say, Judd Nelson’s “criminal” Bender. As for the others, Irving (Craig Tate) is definitely the overachieving “brain” of the group, putting him in Anthony Michael Hall’s shoes. Baseball player Blake (Jake Lockett) is the Emilio Estevez “athlete” equivalent. Stuck-up rich girl Blair (Rebekah Graf) and her dutiful sorority pledge Chrissy (Kalia Prescott) have to split the Molly Ringwald “princess” role between them. (Blair even makes multiple references to the debutante party she doesn’t want to miss.) And bringing up the rear is social outcast Isabella (Dania Ramirez, also one of the film’s producers and a contributor to its story), who’s working the Ally Sheedy “basket case” angle something fierce but needs more than a simple makeover to fit in.
Unsurprisingly, Isabella is the character we learn the most about, including that she lives on a farm with an older woman she calls “mama” (Gail O’Grady, who made her screen debut as “Victim in VW” in the pilot for the ’80s Werewolf TV series) who isn’t her real mother, she takes medicine for some unspecified condition, she sleeps in the barn, and she has a fairy tramp stamp (which is tastefully revealed by Land, who incidentally is also Ramirez’s husband). Furthermore, when the group sets up camp for the night, she repurposes her own childhood trauma by relating how her actual parents were slaughtered in the very same woods when she was eleven as a campfire story, which none of the others pick up on. Soon after the party turns in (with Irving having been drugged by Kenny, who intended to roofie Chrissy), one of them is dragged out of their tent by something with enormous claws and the game is afoot (or aclaw, as it were).
Even in the light of day, the boobs falls prey to various traps, with one getting his foot caught in a coyote trap, another stepping in one that leaves him hanging upside-down from a tree, and a third falling into a pit (and pulling the fourth down into it with him). Finally, the survivors make it to Isabella’s house, where they’re greeted by a couple of not-terribly-intimidating-looking wolves and their number is further reduced by a booby-trapped piano. (Don’t ask.) There follows one of the most blatantly foreshadowed reveals ever, a poorly choreographed fight to the death, and an unnecessary flash-forward to the present day, when Kenny’s Bolex is happened upon by a little girl. Based on the footage he got and the condition it will be in after being out in the elements for three-plus decades, I don’t foresee anyone making a Blair Witch-type feature out of it.
Craig J. Clark — Oct. 4th 2017
As long as I’ve been a fan of John Landis’s landmark lycanthropus An American Werewolf in London (the subject of my very first Full Moon Feature six years ago), I’ve stringently avoided exposing myself to its late-arriving sequel for fear of tainting the original in my eyes. Released in Japan on October 18, 1997, and the U.K. on the 31st (fans in the States would have to wait until Christmas Day to feast their eyes on it), An American Werewolf in Paris can’t even be considered a proper sequel to London since they have no characters in common (this despite the opening title that says it’s “Based on Characters Created by John Landis”). At most, director Anthony Waller and screenwriters Tim Burns and Tom Stern (whose also co-wrote Alex Winter’s bizarro cult item Freaked) borrow some of the werewolf lore Landis invented for his film.
The main thing they play around with is the notion that a werewolf’s victims are doomed to return as the undead, but even then they muck it up (or at the very least muddy the waters) because Landis specified everyone in the werewolf’s bloodline had to die for them to stop walking the Earth. (This is why Jack is around to haunt David.) Here, only the werewolf that carried out the attack has to be destroyed, a challenging proposition since they all look exactly alike when transformed. Waller, Burns, and Stern also add a wrinkle about werewolves not being haunted if they eat their victims’ hearts. Furthermore, a werewolf can cure themselves by eating the heart of the one that bit them. Shockingly enough, with all the talk of heart-eating in this film, at no point does anybody — werewolf or otherwise — say “eat your heart out,” but then again, the script’s often ill-fitting humor runs more to physical gags than verbal jokes (one exception: the stiff in the morgue who moans, “A guy can’t rest in pieces around here”), so perhaps that’s just as well.
The trouble begins with the substitution of three college bros on a “daredevil tour” of Europe for the down-to-Earth David and Jack. Of the three, Andy (Tom Everett Scott) is the least aggravating, so naturally it falls to him to rescue distraught Parisian Sérafine (Julie Delpy) when she throws herself off the Eiffel Tower — which he was planning to do himself, only with a bungee cord attached to his feet. (This is the first of many poor special effects scenes that have failed to hold up, as if they were remotely convincing 20 years ago.) As for Andy’s buddies, Brad and Chris (Vince Vieluf and Phil Buckman), I guess he was given two so one could be werewolf chow while the other becomes a pawn of the werewolf cabal when its leader, Claude (Pierre Cosso), attempts to recruit the newly lycanthropic Andy, whose condition is poorly explained to him by Sérafine.
It turns out Claude likes to throw parties for American tourists, which he and his hand-picked goon squad proceeds to tear apart at the appointed time. Alas, these party scenes leave an opening for Waller to fill the soundtrack with ’90s alt-rock tripe by the likes of Bush, Better Than Ezra, Smash Mouth, Skinny Puppy, and Fastball. (Cake gets a pass because they’re Cake and their song is a cover of Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”) When you’re making the follow-up to a beloved film with an iconic soundtrack, the last thing you want to do is set a montage sequence to “Walkin’ on the Sun,” which goes completely against the spirit of the song choices in the original.
In spite of that lapse, Paris features a few deliberate echoes of London, including a pipe-smoking authority figure and the reality that the police are mostly clueless about the nature of the beasts they’re confronting. There’s even an homage of sorts to the Piccadilly multi-vehicle pile-up when Andy steals a car and almost immediately crashes it. One area where it doesn’t even attempt to follow in the first film’s paw prints, though, is the transformations, which are accomplished via rubbery-looking CGI. The fully transformed wolves are also digital creations, with the few practical effects reserved for extreme closeups. Instead of taking stock of this and realizing which effects were convincing and which were not, Hollywood doubled down on the ones and zeroes, believing that eventually technology would catch up to what Rick Baker accomplished with latex appliances and sheer ingenuity. Twenty years later, we’re still waiting.
Craig J. Clark — Sep. 5th 2017
Some werewolf tales are liberal enough that their lycanthropes are capable of transforming several nights in a row — as long as the moon looks full enough. Such is the case with the 1972 TV movie Moon of the Wolf, in which sheriff Aaron Whitaker (David Janssen) goes head-to-head with the uncanny when an unknown creature with superhuman strength starts chowing down on his constituents.
Set on the Louisiana bayou in the quaintly named town of Marsh Island, which gives director Daniel Petrie a fair amount of atmosphere to work with, Moon of the Wolf provides Whitaker with any of a number of suspects. There’s backwoods hick Tom (John Davis Chandler), who is out hunting with his pa (Royal Dano) when he discovers the werewolf’s first victim. Then there’s the victim’s distraught brother Lawrence (Geoffrey Lewis), who didn’t like her messing around above her station. And Whitaker also comes to suspect the town doctor (John Beradino), who apparently got the young lady in question pregnant and was pushing her to get an abortion. Meanwhile he rekindles a long-forgotten crush on Louise Rodanthe (Barbara Rush), whose family founded the town way back when and who’s just returned from the big, bad city. This doesn’t exactly endear Whitaker to her overprotective brother Andrew (Bradford Dillman), but until he solves his mystery it’s not like he has a whole lot of time for romancing anyway.
For such a short film (it’s only 74 minutes), Moon of the Wolf sure takes its time getting to the werewolf attacks (or even hinting that the attacks are being carried out by a werewolf). Apart from an old man on his deathbed raving in French about the “loup-garou,” no one even suspects that they have a lycanthrope on their hands (except maybe for the old man’s superstitious nurse, who knows how to ward them off), which leads the gun-toting populace to organize a wild dog hunt (the results of which are kept tastefully off-screen). Of course, when the killer finally does show his hairy face (and hands, which come complete with black fingernails) it’s none too impressive, so there’s a very good reason why the filmmakers kept his identity under wraps. It’s just too bad they also kept the body count down. A couple more murders would have livened the proceedings up immensely.
Craig J. Clark — Aug. 5th 2017
The year 2007 was rather a light one for werewolf films (the only one I’ve missed the anniversary of is the YA adaptation Blood and Chocolate, which I’m not exactly heartbroken about), and it would be even lighter had the Canadian-made Skinwalkers, which premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, not taken so long to get a theatrical release. (Oddly, there’s no Canadian release date on record, but it did finally come out in the States on August 10, 2007.) Directed by the late Jim Isaac, whose previous genre effort was Jason X, Skinwalkers features decent-looking creature effects by Stan Winston Studio, but all too often they’re obscured by flash cuts and camera-speed trickery that was probably intended to make the action scenes seem more exciting, but all it really does is detract from them. Its effectiveness is also blunted by how much it was whittled down from its original 110-minute R-rated cut to the leaner (but definitely not meaner) 92-minute PG-13.
The plot is centered around a boy named Tim Talbot (I wonder which of the three credited screenwriters came up with that name) born of a human mother and a skinwalker (which is a fancy Navajo term for werewolf) father who is on the cusp of his thirteenth birthday, when legend says he will be able to break the curse of lycanthropy — that is if he lives that long. Seems one group of evil skinwalkers (led by Jason Behr’s Valek) has developed a taste for blood and wants to go on indulging their bestial natures, while another (led by Atom Egoyan regular Elias Koteas’s Jonas) seeks to protect the boy (Matthew Knight) and his skeptical mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra, who went on to play the vampire love interest in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) at all costs.
At one point they hit the road in a converted RV that is incredibly easy to spot once you know to look for it (and which reminded me a lot of the fortified vehicle in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead), and eventually wind up at an abandoned factory (that favorite locale of action directors) where the survivors of both groups duke it out and occasionally shoot at each other. (Did I mention there’s a lot of gun play in this movie? No? Well, there is.) Then comes the most unintentionally amusing moment in the whole film, when the two main werewolves square off against one another and the filmmakers quickly flash on the actors’ faces so you know which one you’re supposed to be rooting for. I guess it didn’t hit them until they were in the editing room that guys in furry werewolf makeup tend to look somewhat similar.
Anyway, in addition to the distracting editing tricks, the film also features plenty of digital effects that don’t do a whole lot to advance the story. Sure, they can make the moon look red and show extreme close-ups of animalistic yellow eyes, but are they doing anything at all to make me believe in the reality of what’s happening onscreen? (Not that realism is necessarily the first order of business when one is making a werewolf movie, but still.) One of the things that I did take away from the film that showed the filmmakers had actually put some thought into their premise, though, was the design of the restraints that the good skinwalkers voluntarily put themselves in when they know the change is coming on. Looking at them, one can imagine how they would have been handed down and modified over the centuries. Of course, with this film’s paltry box office take (just over $1 million in the few weeks it was in U.S. theaters), it’s no surprise we never got a Skinwalkers 2: Rise of the Skinwalkers.