Category: Full Moon Features
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.
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.
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.
Craig J. Clark — Oct. 26th 2015
For the first time in recent memory, werewolf aficionados have two films featuring our favorite furry monsters to choose from in theaters this Halloween. True, they’re both more family-friendly than some might like, but PG werewolves are better than no werewolves.
First up, there’s Hotel Transylvania 2, the sequel to the hit animated film from 2012. I haven’t seen either, but Steve Buscemi does return to voice Wayne, the harried family wolf who has his paws full keeping his rambunctious pups in line. And since Hotel Transylvania 2 has continued to pack ’em in a month after its release, there’s every reason to believe we’ll be getting a Hotel Transylvania 3 in short order.
Less assured of a follow-up is Goosebumps, which brings to life all of the creepy crawlies cooked up by R.L. Stine in his book series of the same name. I had aged out of the target audience long before Stine’s books first came out in the early ’90s, so I’ve never read any of them, nor have I seen the television shows, specials, and videos they spawned. (Nope, not even The Werewolf of Fever Swamp.) That didn’t prevent me from enjoying the film, though, especially since said werewolf gets a fair bit of play. True, he’s a purely CGI creation (as are most of the monsters in the film), but he has a good design going for him and he’s party to some of the film’s most suspenseful sequences.
In addition to the werewolf, which gets about five minutes of featured screen time (not that I was keeping track or anything), Goosebumps also unleashes an abominable snowman (the first of Stine’s creations to escape from his manuscripts), a vindictive ventriloquist’s dummy named Slappy, an army of garden gnomes, the Invisible Boy, a giant praying mantis, a squad of space aliens with freeze rays, a gaggle of ghouls, some scarecrows, a mummy, a scary clown (is there any other kind?), and many others. That should be enough to satisfy just about any monster fan.
On the opposite end of the spectrum in that regard is the horror anthology Tales of Halloween, which received a limited release in conjunction with its bow on VOD. The main draw for me was the participation of Dog Soldiers director Neil Marshall, who contributes the best segment (“Bad Seed,” about a killer jack-o-lantern), but the IMDb keywords page also promised a werewolf that the film failed to deliver, so I have submitted a request to the site to have it removed. And I’m using this space to let potential viewers know there are no werewolves in Tales of Halloween. Maybe if there were, it would have actually gotten a wide release.
Craig J. Clark — Sep. 27th 2015
With the super blood moon upon us — for the last time until 2033 — it’s fortuitous that there’s a new werewolf movie out called Blood Moon. What’s unfortunate is that it’s not a very good one. Set in Colorado in the year 1887, but filmed in the South of England for reasons known only to its financiers, Blood Moon is about a Native American Skinwalker — a warrior who’s able to take the form of a bipedal wolf creature and is at his strongest during the blood moon according to the film’s resident half-breed font of Navajo legends and dream visions — who has chosen to bedevil the abandoned mining town of Pine Flats and all who pass through it.
Taking its cues from classic Hollywood westerns like John Ford’s Stagecoach as much as modern revisionist ones like Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, Blood Moon is populated by all the expected character types. There’s Calhoun (Shaun Dooley), the mysterious gunslinger about whose past there is much speculation, who stops a stagecoach on the road to Pine Flats and talks his way onto it. His fellow passengers are deputy marshal Jake Norman (George Blagden), his blushing bride Sarah (Amber Jean Rowan), saucy saloon owner Marie (Anna Skellern), baby-faced London Times reporter Henry Lester (George Webster), and requisite priest Father Dominic (Kerry Shale), who’s the first to get plugged when the travelers are ambushed by outlaw half-brothers Hank and Jeb Norton (Corey Johnson and Raffaello Degruttola), who are on the run after a bank robbery gone bad. In addition to the repeated references to their deplorable personal hygiene, both are repugnant in their own unique ways. While Jeb has an eye for the ladies and makes plain that he plans to rape Sarah before they move on, Hank can’t go five minutes without spitting and sounds so much like Yosemite Sam that it: a) must have been a deliberate choice, and b) is incredibly distracting.
Speaking of distractions, director Jeremy Wooding and screenwriter Alan Wightman include numerous cutaways to Jake’s cousin, Marshal Wade (Jack Fox), who hires the aforementioned half-breed Black Deer (Eleanor Matsuura) to track down the Nortons, hand-waving her concerns about going out during the blood moon. Once it rises, that should mean the end of the tedium (“Jesus Christ, Jeb. Pull the trigger,” Hank says, speaking for the audience. “Shoot somebody.”), but even when one of the Nortons is put out of his misery and one of the passengers is attacked off-screen by the Skinwalker, the others seem unnaturally unperturbed when it drags the victim’s legs away, leaving the head and torso on the front porch of the inn where they’re holed up. Meanwhile, Wooding reveals the creature incrementally, progressing from an over-the-hairy-shoulder shot to the hairy arm that breaks through a window and grasps at the unwary soul who had their back to it. Then there are the closeups of its hairy back as it’s repeatedly shot so Wooding can show that the bullet wounds heal instantly thanks to the magic of CGI. What’s surprising about this is he was actually given a decent-looking practical werewolf costume to work with, so waiting until the last fifteen minutes to show it off just seems like a waste.
Also puzzling are the film’s attempts to prop up Calhoun like he’s some sort of icon who should be mentioned in the same breath as Eastwood’s Man with No Name. Based on his refusal to ever say where he’s from, despite being asked repeatedly, perhaps he should be known as the Man with No Birth Certificate. Also, his reputation as a crack shot may be somewhat overstated since the Skinwalker has to wait patiently up on the roof for Calhoun to fire a shotgun shell filled with silver jewelry into its heart. Then again, it was probably still dazed after being run over by that stagecoach. Blood Moon may not be a classic, but that’s still a moment for the record books.
Craig J. Clark — Aug. 28th 2015
Fifteen years ago this month, the Canadian werewolf film Ginger Snaps had its first public screening at the München Fantasy Film Fest on the way to its North American premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The first high-profile werewolf flick of the new millennium, it’s about two teenage sisters who have enough problems even before one of them survives a werewolf attack during a full moon. Deliberately alienating themselves from their peers and their clueless parents, they amuse themselves by compiling a photographic record of creative suicides and dissing their more popular classmates. Then older sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), who’s not quite 16, gets her first period (three years late) and a werewolf bite on the same day, leading 15-year-old Brigitte (Emily Perkins) to spend the next month boning up on both lycanthrope lore and menstrual cycles.
Ginger, meanwhile, starts showing an interest in boys, which alarms Brigitte, but not as much as the other changes she starts to go through (growing hair in strange places, developing sharp nails and canines, and growing a prehensile tail, among other things). For help, Brigitte turns to friendly neighborhood drug dealer Sam (Kris Lemche), who not only takes her seriously, but also agrees to help her find a cure. Of less help is the girls’ mother (Mimi Rogers), who is so thrilled they’re finally becoming women that she doesn’t notice one of them is turning into something else entirely. Ginger Snaps may not be the first film to equate the emergence of a young woman’s untapped sexuality with turning into a monster (that would be Brian De Palma’s Carrie), but it’s probably the one that does it best.
This film, incidentally, was directed by John Fawcett from a screenplay by Karen Walton (based on a story by Walton and Fawcett) and they manage to deliver the genre goods while putting a decidedly feminist twist on the werewolf mythos. (For more on this subject, see the “women in horror” panel discussion included on Scream Factory’s recent Blu-ray/DVD.) The film also has a unique take on the werewolf itself — it’s much less hairy than its cinematic forebears (or should I say forewolves?). Thankfully, this design quirk would be jettisoned in the two follow-ups, 2004’s Ginger Snaps: Unleashed and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning, which I plan to cover in the coming months.