Category: Full Moon Features

Full Moon Features: I Was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I Was a Teenage Werebear (2011)

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.

Full Moon Features: The Werewolf (1956) and The Feeding (2006)

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.

The Feeding

Full Moon Features: Uncaged (2016)

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.

Full Moon Features: Crying Wolf (2015)

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.

Full Moon Features: Howl (2015)

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.

Full Moon Features: Werewolf Woman (1976)

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.

Full Moon Features: Red Riding Hood (2011)

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.

Full Moon Features: President Wolfman (2012)

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.

Full Moon Features: Wolf Blood (1925)

Craig J. Clark — Dec. 24th 2015

This month marks a major milestone for werewolf movie fans since December 16th was the 90th anniversary of the release of the 1925 silent Wolf Blood, which is the earliest extant werewolf-related feature on record. This is, of course, not to say it’s been given the deluxe restoration treatment. To date, its only DVD release has been through the budget label Alpha Video, which included it as a bonus feature on its release of F.W. Murnau’s The Haunted Castle in 2008. Within a year, Kino came to The Haunted Castle’s rescue with a restored authorized edition, but Wolf Blood still languishes and, like a lot of films in the public domain, can be viewed in its entirety on YouTube.

Subtitled “A tale of the forest” (because evidently the filmmakers didn’t want to go for the “tail” pun), Wolf Blood is set deep in the Canadian wilderness where a bitter rivalry between competing logging companies has fatal consequences. Caught up in the conflict is the Ford Logging Company’s new field boss Dick Bannister (George Chesebro, co-director with Bruce Mitchell), who quickly gets fed up with his men getting shot at per the orders of Consolidated Lumber’s underhanded owner Jules Deveroux (Roy Watson), who hires half-breed bootlegger Jacques Lebeq (Milburn Morante) to do the job. Dick calls in the boss, society dame Edith Ford (Marguerite Clayton), and she brings along her fiancé Eugene Horton (Ray Hanford), a doctor whose surgical skills come in handy when Dick has a run-in with Deveroux and requires a blood transfusion.

It’s a while before it comes to that, though, and in fact on the day Edith arrives at the camp Dick is felled by a tree but somehow suffers no ill effects, which already makes him out to be some kind of a superman. Even a superman can be overpowered when outnumbered, though, and after one of Deveroux’s men brains him with a rock he’s left to die in the woods, where he’s menaced by some of the least threatening wolves ever put on the screen. (I suppose they’re distant cousins of the lone hyena masquerading as a werewolf in Murnau’s Nosferatu.) Luckily, Eugene happens upon him and is able to keep him alive with the blood of a she-wolf, but there are complications when Lebeq starts spreading the rumor that he’s now half wolf and the superstitious lumberjacks start to shun him.

Even Eugene follows suit, telling Edith, who has since become smitten with him, that “the blood through his brain will change his whole character — his mentality — his desires — his whole life!” This, coupled with Dick’s vague memories of the “weird tales of the Loup Garou of the Far North,” makes him suspect himself when Deveroux turns up dead one morning with his throat torn out. He then heeds the call of the “phantom pack,” following their photo-negatives to the edge of Wolfs Head Rock, but Edith pulls him back at the last minute. Seems there’s a non-supernatural explanation after all, which is mildly disappointing, but it’s still preferable to, say, She-Wolf of London, the 70th anniversary of which no one will be celebrating next year.

Full Moon Features: When Animals Dream

Craig J. Clark — Nov. 24th 2015

Strictly speaking, 2014’s When Animals Dream isn’t a werewolf film, but since it’s a coming of age story about a young woman who, like her mother, is genetically disposed to grow thick hair all over her body — and become short-tempered and aggressive to boot — it’s close enough to count for this month’s Full Moon Feature. Set in a provincial fishing village in Denmark, When Animals Dream opens with 16-year-old protagonist Marie (Sonia Suhl, making an assured screen debut) seeing the doctor about a small rash on her chest. This concerns him enough that he submits her to a full examination of her fingernails, gums, and back, along with a barrage of questions about any other symptoms she may be experiencing. What these may be isn’t clear at first, just as there’s some mystery about what condition Marie’s invalid mother (Sonja Richter) suffers from, but it does require her to be given shots by Marie’s rock-steady father (Lars Mikkelsen), who’s also seen shaving her back. Then Marie starts having disturbing dreams in which she’s transforming into some kind of bestial creature and, well, do the math.

Even if they had eschewed the supernatural angle, director Jonas Alexander Arnby and screenwriter Rasmus Birch would have been on to something since they paint a compelling portrait of a withdrawn young woman struggling to fit in. New to her job working on a fish disassembly line, Marie has the expected locker-room confrontations with the factory’s alpha-male bully and undergoes a humiliating initiation where she’s pushed headlong into a tank filled with fish heads. (Paging Carrie White.) On the other hand, she also catches the eyes of friendly fisherman Daniel (Jakob Oftebro), whose interest is reciprocated. Heck, he doesn’t even bat an eye when she tells him, “I’m transforming into a monster and I really need to get laid before.” That’s what I call a keeper.

If When Animals Dream has a fault, it’s that once all its cards are on the table, the back half of the film is far too predictable. Still, it’s worth sticking with it to see how Marie is emboldened by the changes she’s going through, not just physically, but mentally and emotionally. When she’s leaving home for good and her father’s parting words to her are “Don’t take any crap,” viewers can feel confident she won’t.