Category: Full Moon Features
Craig J. Clark — Oct. 15th 2016
Faithful readers of this blog are well aware that 2006 was not a stellar year for werewolf films. Between the turgid Underworld: Evolution, the substandard The Feeding, and the abysmal Curse of the Wolf, it has a lot to overcome. Which is why it’s such a surprise that Big Bad Wolf, which came out ten years ago this month, kinda works. I know I wouldn’t have expected too much from a movie about a group of college kids who drive up to a cabin in the woods to party and fall victim to, as Netflix describes it, “a vicious werewolf that rapes, murders and cracks bad jokes.”
For one thing, it helps that writer/director Lance W. Dreesen dispenses with the “teens partying in the woods” angle after the first 30 minutes and concentrates on the cat and mouse between the two survivors — timid Derek (Trevor Duke) and tough girl Sam (Kimberly J. Brown) — and the man they suspect of being the werewolf, namely Derek’s stepfather Mitchell (Richard Tyson), whose last name is Toblat because Dreesen apparently didn’t feel like being too subtle about it. As it turns out, Derek’s estranged uncle Charlie (Christopher Shyer) has also had his suspicions about Mitchell ever since Derek’s father died from an animal attack while on a hunting expedition in Cameroon, but getting the proof they need is harder than it looks, especially since the wolf has a way of coming out whenever Mitchell is roused to anger or just plain aroused. This leads to some pretty awkward scenes for all concerned (and a bit more hand-wringing than is absolutely necessary when Sam has to resort to drastic measures to get the DNA sample they need), but all roads lead back to the cabin on Bear Mountain for the final showdown between man and beast.
Genre fans looking for some creative bloodletting won’t walk away from Big Bad Wolf disappointed (although there is one scene that may cause those of the male persuasion to cross their legs in discomfort). And there are a couple of nice cameos from Clint Howard (as the requisite local who warns the kids away from the cabin) and a noticeably paunchy David Naughton (as the sheriff who believes Derek and Sam are holding back, but doesn’t feel obligated to press them on the matter). If only Dreesen had resisted the temptation to have his furry villain quote from a certain story about a wolf and some little pigs…
Craig J. Clark — Sep. 15th 2016
In all the years I’ve been watching werewolf movies, I don’t think I’ve ever come across a sorrier example of the genre than the 2006 schlocker Curse of the Wolf, which went direct to video ten years ago this month. In fact, it may very well be the worst werewolf film I’ve ever seen, eclipsing even the amateur-hour likes of Night Shadow and Werewolf: The Devil’s Hound, which I didn’t think was possible. Like the latter, Curse of the Wolf was shot on cruddy-looking video and used cheap-ass werewolf makeup, and like the former, it was built around the skills of a martial artist. In this case, though, there are multiple martial artists in the cast, and one of them was also the writer, director, and fight choreographer, which explains the preponderance of hand-to-claw combat scenes.
When it isn’t focused on the fisticuffs, the action revolves around Dakota (Renee Porada), the most reluctant member of a sad little five-person wolf pack who breaks away when she figures out how to medically suppress her transformation. This doesn’t sit well with her would-be mate James (Alex Bolla, who wears shiny shirts so he can be readily identified even in wolf form), but pack leader Michael (Todd Humes, who overacts something fierce) decides to let her go for the time being. And offered up as a study in contrasts are the other two members of the pack: sexpot Harley (Katie Russell, who owns the film’s first gratuitous nude scene) and repulsive, blue-haired fat slob Franklin (Brian “Blue Meanie” Heffron, who spends an entire scene clad only in a pair of pee-stained and skidmarked briefs, which makes the fart sounds laid over top of it superfluous).
Jumping forward six months, the story finds Dakota working at a veterinary clinic, which gives her access to the drugs she needs, and palling around with co-worker Sam (Kylie Deneen), whom she rescues from a gang of would-be rapists who are subsequently slaughtered by Franklin while he’s out following Dakota’s scent. Per the homicide detective interviewed on the news about it the next day, “One victim suffered gash wounds over 50% of his body. Looks like he was mauled by a bear, for God sakes. There were chunks of these potato heads all over the place, and drugs everywhere. What could have done that in this area? No idea, but one thing’s for sure: We’ll get the bastards.” This turns out to be a load of hot air, though, since we never see this cop again, or any other police officer for that matter.
Instead, we’re plunged into a lopsided conflict between Michael’s pack and magnanimous club owner Logan (top-billed Lanny Poffo), who offers Dakota his protection. This extends to the services of his long-haired right-hand man Stick (writer/director Len Kabasinski, credited as Leon South) and clothing-averse weapons experts Ivy (Darian Caine) and Star (Pamela Sutch), who go with Dakota to stake out the house where the pack is holding Dan (Dennis Carver), whose relationship to her is rather nebulous. Even so, it’s more explicable than the scene where Ivy takes a bath while listening to a song called “Teetah the Cat Lady” which I swear I’m not making up. I’m also not lying when I say this film has one of the most deliriously incoherent final melees ever committed to magnetic tape, which is topped only by the credits for Kabasinski’s “spiritual advisor” and “snack guru,” who shockingly enough aren’t one and the same person.
Editor’s note: the cover art for Curse of the Wolf is so discomfitingly gross / bad / that I’m too embarrassed to display it directly on the site. You can see it here if you think you want to, but you don’t want to.
Craig J. Clark — Aug. 17th 2016
Of all the werewolf movies that have yet to come out on DVD — and at this late date, there aren’t too many that haven’t — the most bewildering case has to be AIP’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf, a slavering beast that was first unleashed in 1957. It’s the kind of film where even if you haven’t seen it, you at least know of it, and there are many people who, almost six decades after its release, continue to seek it out. Amazon has multiple listings for the 1993 VHS release, which can be bought new in the original shrink wrap for the low, low price of $75, but on DVD it is decidedly M.I.A. Heck, even the 1997 Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode in which Mike and the Bots savaged it has yet to surface on home video, a sure sign that someone, somewhere is sitting on the property, hoping for a huge payday that has thus far been far from forthcoming.
Anyway, I Was a Teenage Werewolf is a typical AIP quickie, perfunctorily directed by Gene Fowler, Jr., but when it proved to be wildly profitable they rushed several follow-ups — including I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, which was released less than five months later — into production. Even Roger Corman’s Teenage Cave Man from 1958 could be said to be one of its progeny since it was shot as Prehistoric World before AIP changed the title. As for the film itself, it probably would have faded into obscurity if not for Michael Landon’s subsequent fame and his feral performance as tortured teen Tony Rivers (with more than a little James Dean in his DNA) who becomes the title character under the questionable care of hypnotherapist Dr. Alfred Brandon (Whit Bissell), who somehow believes that regressing mankind to a bestial state is preferable to having angry young men pick fights without provocation and throw milk bottles around.
As the film opens, Landon is involved in just such a tussle with a fellow student (Tony Marshall) who merely slapped him in the shoulder. This is enough to get the attention of kindly police detective Donovan (Barney Phillips) who recommends he see a psychiatrist about his anger management problem, but Tony isn’t having any part of it. Even Arlene, the nice girl he’s going with (Yvonne Lime), can’t convince him that he needs help, but after one too many blow-ups he’s placed in the care of Dr. Brandon, who injects him with an experimental serum and, using hypnosis, regresses him back to a time when all people were werewolves or something. (You remember that from your history books, right?) Brandon’s assistant (Joseph Mell) is skeptical about what this will accomplish (“You call it progress to hurl back the human race to its savage beginnings?” he quite reasonably asks), but the proof of the pudding’s in the eating, and soon enough Tony is sprouting fur and fangs and chowing down on his classmates.
Something similar occurs in “I Was a Teenage Werebear,” Tim Sullivan’s contribution to the 2011 horror/comedy anthology Chillerama. In it, closeted gay teen Ricky (Sean Paul Lockhart) finds out why he isn’t interested in his hot girlfriend Peggy Lou (Gabby West) when he’s bitten in the rear by leather-jacketed tough Talon (Anton Troy), forever dooming him to become a fur-faced leather bear whenever his libido rises. (Doesn’t sound so bad to me.) It takes a while for Ricky to come to terms with his new sexual identity, though, even after Nurse Maleva (Lin Shaye, channeling Maria Ouspenskaya) helpfully clues him in by reciting “Even a boy who thinks he’s straight, yet shaves his balls by night, may become a werebear when the hormones rage and the latent ways take flight.” Oh, and did I mention the whole thing takes the form of a beach musical set in Malibu, circa 1962? (Sample song titles: “Love Bit Me on the Ass” and “Do the Werebear (And Let the Werebear Do You.”) What’s most refreshing about it is that Sullivan ends on a note of tolerance and acceptance, which is in sharp contrast to Tony Rivers’s ultimate fate.
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.
Craig J. Clark — Jun. 19th 2016
Tonally, the horror-comedy is one of the trickiest hybrid genres to successfully pull off. Lean too heavily on the comedy — as last month’s Full Moon Feature Crying Wolf did — and the horror won’t register. Go too far in the other direction and the comedy will feel awkwardly shoehorned in. The third option arises when neither half of the equation works all that well, leading the whole to be a wash, which is the unfortunate situation with the new werewolf film Uncaged by writer/director Daniel Robbins and co-writer Mark Rapaport. What’s especially sad is they started with a not-terrible concept and proceeded to spoil it with sloppy execution, illogical plotting, and the most egregious comic-relief character this side of Franklin in the woeful Curse of the Wolf. (Stay tuned for that direct-to-video gem.)
See, there’s this boy named Jack (Ben Getz) who, upon turning 18, inexplicably starts waking up outdoors, completely naked and with no memory of how he got that way. Since he’s spending winter break at his uncle’s cabin with his college buds Turner (Kyle Kirkpatrick) and Brandon (Zachary Weiner) — the latter his geeky horndog cousin — after it happens a second time he borrows the former’s GoPro camera and straps it to his forehead to see what he gets up to when he gets up in the middle of the night. This sets up the moment the next morning when he uploads the video to his laptop and watches himself (or, rather, his hairy, flailing arms) kill a man and chase down a woman who manages to get away. That’s when he realizes what he is and retroactively figures out what happened when he was six and his mother slaughtered his father one night while he cowered in his bedroom. (They really should have been more strict about who tucked him in when it was mommy’s time of the month.)
So far, not so bad, even if Brandon’s obsession with sex is more off-putting than endearing. (After Jack comes home one morning clad only in a plastic garbage bag, Brandon confides, “You know, if it’s something weird, like some fetish thing, I get it, all right? Let’s just say I get it.” Enough said, young man.) Then Robbins and Rapaport start introducing extraneous characters like Rose (Paulina Singer), whose suspicious-minded drug dealer husband Gonzo (Garrett Lee Hendricks) is anxious to know what she was doing on a train platform with Jack’s victim. (When she’s interviewed about it on TV, it’s called a “bear attack,” but when she tells Jack the creature looked like “a big gorilla,” that’s a bit closer to the mark.) And the less said about Turner’s online hookup Crystal (Michelle Cameron) the better since her only function is to be his victim when he’s bitten by Jack and subsequently turns into a werewolf himself. Which, incidentally, is where Robbins and Rapaport directly contradict themselves since every discussion between Jack’s mother (Angela Atwood), who’s kept her distance from him for the past twelve years, and his uncle Mike (Alex Emanuel) makes plain that their shared condition is genetic, so it shouldn’t be able to be transmitted via bites or scratches.
Speaking of Jack’s mother, she jumps through a lot of unnecessary hoops to get a heavy-duty metal cage to him, dropping it off at a second-hand store and having its owner leave a cryptic message on Jack’s voicemail. If she had truly wanted him to be prepared for his first (and his second and his third and his fourth) change, she would have been up front with him instead of sneaking into the cabin at night to secretly tranquilize him. And having Uncle Mike send a letter inviting Jack to his empty cabin while he’s out on the road for some damned reason is just plain illogical. Then again, a dearth of logic is endemic to most of these characters. As suspicious as Turner is about what’s going on, why would he go out of his way to prevent Jack from locking himself in his cage? And when Brandon turns up with his throat torn out the next morning, why doesn’t Turner blame himself since it’s totally his fault? And why does he keep inviting Crystal out to the cabin if he truly believes this will put her in harm’s way? When you get right down to it, the only halfway reasonable character in the whole bunch is Wade (Gene Jones, also the only halfway recognizable actor in the cast), the second-hand store owner, and he has next to nothing to do with the plot. That says something, and what it says is not good at all. Woof.
Craig J. Clark — May. 20th 2016
A British horror-comedy that succeeds at being neither horrific nor funny, Crying Wolf fails on the former front because it’s too incompetently made for any of its intended shocks to register. And it fails on the latter front because its humor is far too broad and its cast of characters stocked with insufferable caricatures given naught but inane dialogue to recite. The only thing remotely “funny” about it is the fact that its top-billed “star” — horror vet Caroline Munro — appears in one scene only at the very beginning of the film, never to return. I hope she made a point of cashing her check as soon as it arrived in the post.
Set in the quaint country village of Deddington (are we laughing yet?), Crying Wolf comes burdened with a cumbersome framing story about a private detective (second-billed Gary Martin, whose character is never given a name) who buys a book of that title from an antiques dealer (Munro) which he proceeds to peruse at the local pub. Instead of being an ancient tome, though, it rather improbably tells the tale of a modern-day pack of werewolves which fell prey to a pair of paranormal pest controllers in the none-too-distant past. These events are so recent, in fact, that the reason the detective is nosing around town is because he’s looking into the death of a newspaper reporter who was looking into the mysterious death of a local girl, both of which are recounted in flashbacks that are not to be confused with the stories told by the pack to pass the time while they’re out on a camping holiday-cum-hunting expedition together or when they were bullshitting the soon-to-be-dead reporter. Yep, totally straightforward, movie. Not unnecessarily convoluted at all.
At the center of the drama, such as it is, are alpha Milly (Gabriela Hersham) and her recently turned lover Andy (Kristofer Dayne). In fact, everyone else in the pack has been recently turned as well since Andy put the bite on them within minutes of being infected by Milly at the same time she eliminated the aforementioned local girl. (Seems she’s not fond of competition.) The others are a varied lot, each with a single defining trait — one’s a toothless old codger, another smokes a pipe, etc. — but they all turn into the same exact black-furred, rubber-faced creature when they transform, and the only way to tell which one is which is when they’re killed and revert back to human form. They’re also subject to the same cheap-ass digital effects when they let their wolfish side out, which doesn’t happen en masse until the end of the film, when director Tony Jopia lingers on the worst CGI transformations I’ve ever had the misfortune to see.
Not content merely to half-ass their way through a werewolf film, Jopia and his co-writers, screenwriter Andy Davie and story collaborator Michael Dale, periodically digress into other genres, including gangster films (pointlessly referencing the Coen Brothers’ Miller’s Crossing and Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction), slasher movies (in the scene where one topless sunbather tells her impressionable friend about all the bad things that could happen to them out in the woods, including being stalked by a hooded killer), and action films. The latter come into play during the climactic showdown between the pack and the well-armed hunters that have led them down the garden path, and frankly, by the time they started getting shot to pieces and otherwise dismembered, I was more than ready to see their ranks thinned out. There’s even a dollop of torture porn courtesy of the scene where one of the hunters chains up one of the werewolves and pulls out a chainsaw, prompting the wolf to say, “Oh, great. A fucking chainsaw. What are you going to do with that?” “Funny you might ask that,” the hunter replies. No, it is not, Crying Wolf. It’s lousy screenwriting and you should be ashamed of it.
Craig J. Clark — Apr. 21st 2016
When we first meet Joe Griffin (Ed Speleers), the protagonist of the British werewolf film Howl, things aren’t going so hot for him. Not only has he been passed over for a promotion at Alpha Trax, the rail company he works for, but the guy who got the job in his stead is a real jerk who makes him take a double shift and he’s shot down by a co-worker (Holly Weston) when he asks her out. Then, to top things off, the dreaded Eastborough red eye (which they’re both on) suffers a breakdown in the middle of a forest infested with werewolves. Talk about your hairy situations.
Writers Mark Huckerby and Nick Ostler were on the ball when they named the company Alpha since much of the drama arises out of who takes the lead when things go pear-shaped and the train’s driver (played ever so briefly by Dog Soldiers vet Sean Pertwee) goes missing. Try as he might to maintain his authority, Joe is swiftly undermined by a entitled first-class passenger (Elliot Cowan) who’s accustomed to taking charge and an uptight businesswoman (Shauna Macdonald). Just about everybody takes a turn putting him in his place, though, including a narcissistic teenager (Rosie Day) and the elderly couple (Duncan Preston and Ania Marson) who share her compartment and have to put up with her inconsiderate behavior.
A funny thing happens, though, as the situation grows more dire and everyone comes around to the realization that the threat they’re facing is supernatural in origin: Joe becomes more confident and decisive, and he even gains some allies (starting with the similarly marginalized Sam Gittins and Amit Shah). That this coincides with director Paul Hyett’s decision to show off his creatures more is surely coincidental. After teasing the viewer with fleeting shots of digitigrade legs and twisted claws, once Hyett does the full reveal he keeps his monsters out in the open, while being mindful that the worst villains in these films are often the ones still standing on human feet.
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 22nd 2016
Forty years ago this month, a film called La lupa mannara was released in Italy. When it made it to the English-speaking world, it went out under such titles as Werewolf Woman, The Legend of the Wolf Woman, and Naked Werewolf Woman, but whichever one distributors picked, it was bound to be somewhat misleading. True, the film does open with a naked woman (played by Annik Borel) performing a ritual dance and sprouting fur over every inch of her body (except for her face, which has a bit on the bridge of the nose but that’s it) and then tearing the throat out of a guy who looks kinda like Cameron Mitchell, but the film is not about her exploits. Rather, when the werewolf woman is captured by a mob of torch-wielding villagers and tied up, presumably so she can be burned alive, that’s the cue for her modern-day descendant, Daniela Neseri (also Borel), to wake up out of a nightmare. (This is also the point where booing writer/director Rino Di Silvestro would be entirely appropriate.)
Thanks to the undisguised exposition that follows, we find out all we need to know about the unfortunate Daniela. Seems she was raped at the tender age of 13 and has been repelled by men ever since. Furthermore, she lives in the country with her father, a count (Tino Carraro), and has a sister (Dagmar Lassander) who went to America for some reason or another, got married, and has returned to Italy with her husband, who’s supposed to be the spitting image of the Cameron Mitchell-looking guy from the prologue but now he’s got some Harvey Keitel going on. Under the influence of the full moon, Daniela lures her brother-in-law outside, quickly seduces him and then tears his throat out. Next time we see her, she’s been committed to a mental institution, where she’s given shock treatments and confined to her bed as a matter of course, but she escapes when she’s untied by a nympho (who is stabbed with a pair of scissors for her troubles) and hitches a ride with a doctor (who gets her face bashed into a steering wheel, but she survives). Meanwhile, there’s an ineffectual police inspector (Frederick Stafford) wandering about being ineffective and listening to coroners say things like “The lacerations and deep wounds around her throat are almost of an animalistic origin, but it’s uncertain.” Say, does that mean it might be a lycanthrope, doc?
Anyway, Daniela’s killing spree continues when she spies on a couple making love in a barn and then, after the man has gone, kills the woman who is apparently cheating on her husband. (So now she’s making moral judgments?) Then she hitches a ride with an old lecher who tries to charm his way into her pants and when that doesn’t work announces that he’s going to rape her. Frankly, I was not sad when she tore his throat out and then bashed his head in. Then she’s picked up by movie stuntman Luca Mondini (Howard Ross, whose “special participation” credit is an eyebrow-raiser), who announces that he doesn’t plan on forcing his way into her pants and they have a whirlwind romance complete with a montage. She even calls her father the count and announces she’s completely cured, but then three rapists show up at her door and, after they’ve had their way with her and killed Luca, she goes all I Spit on Your Grave on them. When the police finally catch up with her (the inspector has been nothing if not dogged in his pursuit), she’s been living in the woods fending for herself for about a month — but she’s still no werewolf woman. I tell you, I haven’t been so dismayed by a false werewolf movie since She-Wolf of London.
Craig J. Clark — Feb. 21st 2016
Five years ago, I partook of the one werewolf movie that was in theaters, Catherine Hardwicke’s Red Riding Hood. Written by David Leslie Johnson, who also gave the world Orphan and the Clash of the Titans sequel Wrath of the Titans, it takes place in an isolated village surrounded by a foggy, sun-dappled forest sheltering a hungry beast that’s only placated by an animal sacrifice every full moon. Then comes the dreaded “blood moon,” which lasts a whole week and is the only time a werewolf bite can turn somebody into one. Sounds intriguing enough, right? Too bad Johnson chooses to yoke that story to a tedious love triangle centered around vapid, virginal Valerie (Amanda Seyfried), who spends her week of wonders torn between the husky woodcutter’s son she’s loved since they were children (Shiloh Fernandez) and the soulful blacksmith’s son she’s engaged to (Max Irons, son of Jeremy). Any resemblance to the adolescent romance in the Twilight series (the first entry of which Hardwicke directed) is entirely intentional.
Stranded on the sidelines is a host of slumming actors, including Virginia Madsen as Seyfried’s mother, who’s pushing her to marry for money instead of love; Billy Burke as her frequently drunk father; Julie Christie as her grandmother, she of the house whereto the one in the titular riding outfit goes; and Lukas Haas as the petrified local priest who sends for help when the werewolf breaks its pact with the village and kills Seyfried’s older sister. (How this pact was made in the first place never comes up.) Help arrives in the form of fundamentalist werewolf hunter Gary Oldman, who comes complete with a full entourage and an odd little voice that mostly goes away when he gets all shouty (which is often). He even has silver fingernails, which doesn’t seem too practical (for one thing, how do they stay in?), but that’s pretty much par for the course with this film.
In the end, the plot boils down to a medieval Murder, She Wrote with Seyfried trying to suss out who the werewolf is between largely bloodless attacks (the number of times Christie is dangled in front of us as a potential culprit borders on the ludicrous). This wouldn’t be so egregious if everybody weren’t so bloody solemn the whole way through — the notable exception being the furry-themed party they throw when they think they’ve killed the monster. Probably not the best idea with Reverend Killjoy hanging about, but whatever. After the creature has thinned out the cast and had a couple telepathic conversations with Seyfried, the whole shebang leads up to a classic Bond-style “talking villain” scene that couldn’t help but remind me of the one at the end of Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow. Note to screenwriters: If your bad guy has to sit the main character down and explain the whole plot to them, then what you’re writing is a piece of trash, so at least have some fun with it. If you don’t, Red Riding Hood is what you’ll wind up with.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 22nd 2016
Looking over this year’s crop of presidential hopefuls, I can’t help but think our nation would be much better off with a werewolf in the Oval Office than any of the candidates currently on the campaign trail. Sure, the White House would have to go on lock-down every 28 days or so, but electing a lycanthrope would send a clear message to other nations and extremist organizations across the globe: Don’t mess with us. Our president is literally a lunatic.
Until the day that comes to pass, the next best thing is 2012’s President Wolfman, which came to my attention via Noel Murray’s “After Midnight” column at The Dissolve (R.I.P.). It’s the brainchild of writer/director Mike Davis, whose day job as a stock footage coordinator served him in good stead since President Wolfman is almost entirely cobbled together from public domain material, the lion’s share of which hails from the 1973 feature The Werewolf of Washington, which I covered in its own right some years back. As it’s been re-dubbed by Davis and his voice cast (à la Woody Allen’s What’s Up, Tiger Lily? or the serial spoof J-Men Forever), Dean Stockwell’s junior White House press secretary has now become embattled President John Wolfman, who’s up for reelection and faces some stiff challenges — including being a single father to his son Bobby (a subplot drawn from an entirely different film) and the threatened takeover of the country by the Chinese — even before he’s bitten by a supernatural coyote and cursed with lycanthropy.
Over the course of the 80-minute film, Davis casts his net wide, having a go at the Miss America Junior Miss pageant, hippies, stoners, and Smokey the Bear, and periodically indulging in “ironic” racism directed at Native Americans, African Americans, and Chinese Chinese. At least President Wolfman’s struggle to prevent the United States from falling into the hands of the latter (and being renamed “Chimerica”) gives Davis the ability to incorporate all of his source film’s werewolf attacks, recasting the victims as the duplicitous Speaker of the House, powerful lobbyist Maude Atkins, who sold Congress on the deal, and the aptly named Vice President Mangle, who intends to sign the bill that the President doggedly refuses to once Wolfman is out of the picture. None of them are a match for a Commander in Chief whose bite is worse than his bark, though.