Craig J. Clark — Apr. 10th 2017
Having run the Howling series for The A.V. Club last year, I have witnessed the depths to which a werewolf movie can sink — namely, to the gaping abyss that is 1995’s The Howling: New Moon Rising. This is why I can be inclined to go easier on an aggressively mediocre one like 2010’s Neowolf than I previously would have. Made by French director Yvan Gauthier, who was so proud of the finished product he chose to be credited as Alan Smythe (not Smithee as the IMDb incorrectly states), and based on an original story by producer Alessandro Di Gaetano (of Project: Metalbeast infamy), Neowolf is the kind of film that opens with an anonymous couple leaving a club to have sex in the parking lot only for them to be interrupted by a very hairy creature (guess what) which slaughters them both. Then, and only then, do Di Gaetano and co-writer Michael January bother to introduce their protagonist.
That would be Tony (Michael Frascino), an aspiring rock singer/songwriter driving cross-country to get back together with his girlfriend Rosemary (Heidi Johanningmeier), a college student whose studies in Gothic literature and botany come in handy when she begins to suspect her wayward boy with the wandering eye has fallen in with the titular band of ravenous werewolves. Of course, it takes a while for this to happen because it takes a while for anything to happen in Neowolf with the notable exception of Gauthier’s (or his editor’s) rush to get to the sex scenes, of which there are three within the first half hour.
It’s during the third one that Tony is bitten by Neowolf groupie Paula (Megan Pepin) because if Eurotrash bandleader Vince (Agim Kaba) had done it that would have been a little too gay, and when he comes to the next morning in his motel room with an enormous hickey on his neck and evidence of their tryst on his phone, Rosemary springs into action, Googling Neowolf because “something weird’s going on” and “the energy wasn’t normal.” Her best friend Kevin (weak comic relief Ryan Ross) is skeptical, but she hits the jackpot when she finds What Neowolf Doesn’t Want You to Know.com, a website put up by Romanians for Truth which asks, “Is it a coincidence that the band’s tour has been followed by a long line of mysterious killings or something more heinous?” Also, Vince apparently “only looks Pretty on the outside,” which is funny because I think he looks much hotter after he wolfs out (as far as anybody does in this movie, which isn’t very).
Coming to the only logical conclusion — that her strung-out-looking boyfriend is in danger of becoming a creature of the night — Rosemary consults with her literature professor (Sevy Di Cione), whose accent is such that he referred to “Dr. Jakyll and Mr. Hyde” in his first lecture, and nursery owner and self-proclaimed “crazy old loon” Mrs. Belakov (a slumming Veronica Cartwright), who conveniently grows wolfsbane (referenced in every story Rosemary can find about “werewolfs,” as she calls them) and resolves to help save her boyfriend. Kevin, alas, isn’t able to pitch in because he becomes werewolf chow when Vince gets a little bite-y while going down on him, a cringe-worthy moment that simultaneously brings to mind Wes Craven’s The Last House on the Left and Lowell Dean’s WolfCop. And it all wraps up with an unearned tragic ending stolen wholesale from David Cronenberg’s The Fly. Okay, I’ve convinced myself. Neowolf is beyond mediocre. It’s actively terrible.
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 11th 2017
It’s a tale as old as time: One studio announces a project based on a well-known (and preferably public domain) property and others pile on, jockeying for a piece of the action. So it is that Disney’s highly anticipated live-action Beauty and the Beast, due out this week, has been beaten to the punch by a French version of the same Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont story, albeit one that came out three years ago. It just landed on video here, though — courtesy of the good folks at Shout! Factory — so clearly the thinking is that some viewers either won’t know the difference or won’t care that there aren’t any singing teapots.
Co-written and directed by Christophe Gans, whose Brotherhood of the Wolf left me dissatisfied when it showed up Stateside in 2002 (mostly because it was not, as I had hoped, about werewolves), this Beauty and the Beast is closer in spirit to Jean Cocteau’s 1946 fantasy than it is to Disney’s animated musical, a comparison driven home by the framing device of a mother reading it as a bedtime story for her children. They must be especially patient children, though, because a full 26 minutes elapses before André Dussollier’s down-on-his-luck merchant, having lost his fortune and his way in a blizzard, plucks the fateful rose that invokes the wrath of Vincent Cassel’s Beast, who demands that the merchant return the next day to forfeit his life. In the merchant’s place, though, comes his daughter Belle (Léa Seydoux), who slowly comes to learn there’s more to the melancholy monster holding her prisoner than meets the eye.
Now, strictly speaking, Beauty and the Beast isn’t a genuine werewolf narrative since the Beast isn’t capable of changing back and forth between his two forms — although he technically does thanks to Belle’s nightly dreams which double as flashbacks to how Cassel’s Prince came to be cursed — but there’s no denying that it plays on some of the same themes of duality. (That these are mirrored in the Prince’s tragic backstory is no accident.) And it’s not a horror film, but Gans takes pains to keep the Beast hidden from view initially, enshrouding him in shadows, keeping him out of focus, or only showing his paws or a close-up of his mouth. That all changes, though, once Belle gets her first clear look at his face when she awakens to find him watching over her (not at all creepy, dude). From then on, despite his repeated demands that she not look at him, Belle (and, by extension, the viewer) gets an eyeful of the leonine Beast. (When a peripheral character encounters the Beast, he asks point blank, “What are you, anyway? A lion? A big cat?”) And while he tries to keep his savage side from her, it has a way of asserting itself at inopportune moments.
As lavish as the production is (it’s not for nothing that it was nominated for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design at the César Awards, where it won Best Production Design), it’s unlikely that this telling of Beauty and the Beast will stand as the definitive one. For one thing, the CGI employed for the Beast’s furry visage and his overly cute canine helpers (which turn into ordinary puppies when their master transforms back into a man) will probably age about as well as digital effects tend to (i.e. not at all). For another, Gans and co-writer Sandra Vo-Anh add some wholly unnecessary elements to the story’s climax, which could have stood to be less bombastic. Mostly, though, it has to contend with Cocteau’s wondrous vision, which has been enchanting audiences for seven decades and remains as beguiling as it ever was.
A. Quinton — Mar. 7th 2017
There are werewolves at Woodberry University. Specifically, there are two werewolves – neophyte Renee, and the nameless lady who bit her outside a Delta Omega Epsilon house party. To help track down “her werewolf”, ostensibly to find a cure (or get an apology), Renee enlists the Moonlighters: Filipe, Meg and Sue, a trio of supernatural jacks of all trades whose familiarity with the world of monsters comes from very personal experience.
Moonlighters is a new comic from Space Goat Productions, written by Katie Schenkel, illustrated by Cal Moray and lettered by Tom Napolitano. It stars were-creatures, a witch, and a dour girl on a moped who’s either a vampire or a real monster hunter, but it’s not a horror story. It’s a lighthearted, kid-friendly comic that asks “what if the Scooby-Doo team were vaguely competent supernatural college kids who lived in off-campus housing?”
Heads-up to dogmatic (pun intended) werewolf fans: the three Moonlighters are actually were-dogs, not werewolves, a distinction not addressed directly in the comic (although it’s evident in the art and mentioned in the comic’s promo text). However, Renee’s shadow on the cover and the depiction of her Delta Omega Epsilon assailant hint at some potentially monstrous differences between wolf and dog variants. I’ll be interested to see how that plays out – again, this is an all-ages comic, but surely it’s not all cute corgi ears and instantaneous sparkle-transformations.
I had more to say about this comic than I thought I would, which only seems to happen with things I like! The art and the lettering are clean and expressive, evoking an early-90’s Saturday morning cartoon, and the story is light but covers a lot of ground, setting up the characters and their world without over-explaining anything. Despite finding everyone in the cast except Renee (clever, friendly) and Ms. Pleasant (loses her cat a lot, stylish) a teensy bit irritating – seriously, Sue, put down your DS – I’m definitely coming back for the next issue. There’s something about that snarly silhouette on the cover… and the fact that in her human form, Meg looks exactly like a good friend of mine.
Moonlighters #1 is available on comiXology starting March 8th.
Craig J. Clark — Feb. 10th 2017
The list of period werewolf films is pretty short to begin with. Due to the compound challenges of producing a period film and adding werewolves to it, the list of successful ones is even shorter. For every Curse of the Werewolf, there’s a Van Helsing. For every Company of Wolves, there’s a Werewolf: The Beast Among Us. Try as they might, the makers of 2004’s Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning also fall short of the mark, but at least they’re able to rise above the level of, say, 1979’s Wolfman (admittedly, not the most difficult bar to clear and a film I intend to cover in this space in the near future).
Co-produced and directed by Grant Harvey, who previously served as second unit director on Ginger Snaps and also co-produced its sequel, Snaps Back is set in the winter of 1815 in the Canadian wilderness, in which sisters Ginger and Brigitte (Katharine Isabelle and Emily Perkins) are discovered wandering on horseback. How they came to be there is never adequately explained, but after they come across a ravaged Indian camp and meet an old seer who cryptically warns them to “kill the boy or one sister kills the other,” their horse gets spooked and gallops off, leaving them in a spot that is exacerbated when Brigitte steps in a trap meant for some other kind of animal. She’s helped out of it by an Indian named Hunter (Nathaniel Arcand) who tends to her wound and accompanies the sisters to a nearby fort — a remote outpost of the Northern Legion Trading Company — where they are a less-than-welcome presence because of the shortage of supplies (seems the crew that set out the previous spring never returned) and the supernatural threat from without that no one is eager to give a name to.
Inside the fort, the sisters are under the protection of Wallace (Tom McCamus), the man nominally in charge, but his second-in-command (JR Bourne) would just as soon throw them to the (were-)wolves, and the resident fire-and-brimstone preacher (Hugh Dillon) likewise urges Wallace to cast them out. That seems harsh, but if they had been, Ginger wouldn’t have been bitten by the deformed creature kept locked up in the basement (the aforementioned boy) and the fort’s dwindling population wouldn’t have fallen to her furry friends quite so speedily. It also would have prevented Harvey from displaying his fondness for time-lapse effects, which lose their novelty the more he uses them. Thankfully, the full-on werewolf attack that arrives at the film’s climax is worth sticking around for, but it does strike me as a case of too little, too late.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 11th 2017
It’s increasingly rare for a werewolf film to actually be out in theaters when the moon is full, but as the one that’s currently playing on 3070 screens across this great nation is Underworld: Blood Wars — and I gave myself permission to skip any further films in that dreary franchise after the last one — I have chosen to devote this month’s column to another, decidedly more worthy, werewolf movie sequel.
Released in 2004, Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed came along four years after its Scream Factory-approved predecessor and found editor Brett Sullivan stepping into the director’s chair. It also sees surviving Fitzgerald sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) barely keeping her nascent lycanthropy at bay while staying two steps ahead of a persistent male werewolf (dubbed The Beast in the closing credits) that’s looking to answer the call of the wild. On top of that, she’s periodically visited by the ghost of her dead sister Ginger (Katharine Isabelle), who may in fact only be a figment of her imagination. Either way, Ginger’s appearance generally signals that things are going south for Brigitte in one way or another, as they do early on when she winds up in a rehab facility and is denied the monkshood extract she’s been using to keep the beast within her in check.
The primary setting for the first half of the film, the hospital is where Brigitte runs afoul of administrator Alice (Janet Kidder), who works overtime to convince her charges she’s been where they are, and orderly Tyler (Eric Johnson), who takes advantage of the more vulnerable patients. It’s also where she makes the acquaintance of Ghost (future Orphan Black star Tatiana Maslany), a chirpy eight-year-old who seems to have the run of the place and arranges for the two of them to escape together. Their destination: Ghost’s grandmother’s off-the-grid cabin, where Brigitte finds out what it’s like to jump out of a frying pan and into the fire. Considering she’s gradually turning into a creature that’s covered in hair (a welcome design change from the first film), that’s obviously less than ideal.
A. Quinton — Jan. 8th 2017
Issue 3 of indie werewolf comic Howl has just come out in physical and digital formats. The creators were kind enough to send me a review copy, which I consumed like a hot dog: with relish, and disappointment that there aren’t more.
Nearly halfway into its projected seven-issue run, Howl has firmly established itself as a showcase for writers Ryan Davidson & Eastin Deverna and artist Dan Buksa. The first two issues (which I discuss over here) are driven by action and an impending full moon. This issue is more of a police procedural, as we follow the authorities who are trying to make sense of (and find the culprit responsible for) the carnage wrought by series protagonist Jack Lowe. Jack’s wife Rebecca and high school student Laura make the big decisions in this issue, setting up potential consequences that they and their families will have to pay for in future issues.
For now, there’s a lot of cop-talk in front yards, Jack himself spends most of the issue passed out, and with the full moon done for another month there’s nary a werewolf to be seen. In the hands of less efficient writers, these plot points could lead to boring exposition and frustration as the cops try to figure out what the readers already know, but the great dialogue and believable rapport between characters keeps things lively and manages some subtle world-building (the best kind, in my opinion).
Buksa’s art has gotten a little cleaner and tighter in this issue, but it still has the organic, high-contrast pen-and-ink style that made the first two issues so distinctive and fun to look at. I don’t know what his process is, but I could believe he turns each page from a blank document into a finished, inked panel layout with no in-between steps or drafts. It’s confident, charismatic work, and I couldn’t imagine this series drawn any other way.
If you want to get into Howl, head over to the Howl store to get caught up on the series. Davidson, Deverna and Buksa are doing excellent work, and I encourage you to support them and share your comments on the Howl Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Craig J. Clark — Dec. 12th 2016
As film historian Tom Weaver points out on his commentary, much of the werewolf mythology we take for granted today was codified in Curt Siodmak’s screenplay for The Wolf Man and further refined by the sequels that followed. Happily, Weaver’s informative commentary track is one of the many special features Universal ported over from its previous releases to the Complete Legacy Collection, which got a DVD release in 2014 and has been upgraded to Blu-ray just in time for the original’s 75th anniversary.
Since its general release on December 12, 1941, and home-video bow four decades later, The Wolf Man has been trotted out many times by Universal in multiple formats — VHS, laserdisc, DVD, Blu-ray. What makes the Complete Legacy Collection special is it collects the entire Lawrence Talbot saga in one set for the first time. If you bought the previous Legacy Collection released in 2004, all you got was The Wolf Man and its sequel, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, plus 1935’s unrelated Werewolf of London and 1946’s worthless She-Wolf of London. If you wanted to find out what happened to Larry after he threw down with the Monster, you also had to get the Frankenstein Legacy Collection (for House of Frankenstein, which also came as part of a double feature with Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man) and the Dracula one (for the otherwise unavailable House of Dracula). And that’s not even taking into account 1948’s Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, for which Universal brought back all its heavy hitters from the undead.
The point is, in the DVD era you had to shell out for a lot of extraneous content if all you wanted to do was follow Lon Chaney, Jr. from first bite to monster-mash finale. Now there’s no need to jump through so many hoops and, with any luck, this Blu-ray release, which also comes with the Abbott and Costello title, will be definitive. And best of all, it isn’t sullied by the behind-the-scenes featurette on Stephen Sommers’s Van Helsing, which the initial trio of Legacy Collections were put out in tandem with. As much as Universal likes to repackage its horror classics, at least it knows well enough what to excise from later editions.
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.