Craig J. Clark — Sep. 24th 2018
Much like a fairy tale, 2018’s Wildling opens with a man (played by reliable genre stalwart Brad Dourif) telling a little girl about the title creature — which has long, sharp teeth and nails, and long, black hair all over its body — as a way of explaining why he has to keep her locked in a room with bars on the window and an electrified doorknob. “Do you want to hear more?” he asks and she shakes her head, but it won’t take long for the astute viewer to catch on to the fact that these precautions aren’t in place to keep the wildling out, but rather to keep the girl, whose name is Anna, in. (Some other clues that she’s far from ordinary: her incredibly acute hearing and the all-vegetable diet the man has her on, as if he’s afraid what would happen if she ever ate meat.)
Thankfully, director Fritz Böhm (making his feature debut) doesn’t make the viewer wait long for their first glimpse of a wildling, even if it’s only in Anna’s dream. While it’s debatable whether it qualifies as a werewolf, it lives up to its billing, ravenously devouring its victim while Anna watches, at once repelled and attracted by the bloody sight. This confusion carries over to the next morning when it’s revealed that Anna has had her first period, prompting Dourif’s conflicted Gabriel to start injecting her with “medicine” to halt her development. By the time Anna has reached her 16th birthday (and is played by Bel Powley from The Diary of a Teenage Girl), the “medicine” has taken its toll on her health in general, but instead of putting her out of her misery like she asks, he attempts to put himself out of his, a desperate act that lands them both in the hospital.
Suffice it to say, this is an extremely disorienting place for Anna to wake up since she’s spent her whole life in a single room with a bed frame made out of tree branches. Instead of being packed off to the sinister-sounding Bellington House, though, she goes home with kindly sheriff Ellen Cooper (Liv Tyler, also one of the film’s producers) and makes the acquaintance of her jerky younger brother Ray (Collin Kelly-Sordelet), who’s a pussycat compared to the real bullies at the high school where she’s enrolled, the payoff for all those years of home-schooling. From there, Böhm and co-writer Florian Eder trace Anna’s integration into society as she eats her first hamburger, is given her first feminine hygiene product, and (continuing the Carrie parallels) spends an awful lot of time in the library researching predator behavior and the Aurora Borealis, which she’s mysteriously drawn to. She also attends her first party where she has her first taste of alcohol and her first close encounter with a would-be rapist, who doesn’t get to live long enough to truly regret his choice of target.
After that, things start moving pretty fast, which is a good thing because Anna’s started losing her human teeth (shades of Cronenberg’s The Fly) and growing the clawed hands and feet that have been her birthright all along. Speaking of which, she finally learns some things about her real parents from a fur-clad hunter (James Le Gros, listed in the credits as “Wolfman”), who tells her he hasn’t seen one of her kind in “16 years, since the last purge.” Seems these things have a way of going in cycles.
Craig J. Clark — Aug. 25th 2018
Were one to stop watching the Korean drama A Werewolf Boy at the 58-minute mark, it would be easy to come away with the impression that it’s been mistitled for the English-language market. Sure, there’s a kid in it who’s pretty feral, but a werewolf? Pull the other one. A funny thing happens 58:45 in, though. The kid actually turns into a werewolf, growing hair all over his body, his bones shifting to increase his size. (He also gets a fright wig in place of his regular hairdo.) The thing is, writer/director Jo Sung-hee plays coy for so long that it’s possible to imagine a version of this film where this transformation doesn’t occur and he’s just a super-strong teenager that was apparently raised by wolves, hence the lousy table manners.
Made in 2012, the box-office smash (it was South Korea’s third-highest-grossing domestic release that year) opens with retired grandmother Sun-yi (Lee Young-lan) returning to the dilapidated country house where she spent a few formative months in her late teens. “It was like that even back then,” she tells her distracted granddaughter, Eun-joo (Park Bo-young). “It seemed like a monster would appear at any second.” Naturally, this triggers a 100-minute flashback to when Sun-yi (now played by Park) moved there 47 years earlier for her health — as her mother (Jang Young-nam) reveals to their new neighbors, she has lung problems — and befriended an orphan boy (Song Joong-ki) who is eventually given the name Chul-soo because the family has to call him something.
Sun-yi’s first nocturnal encounter with the boy spooks her something fierce, but in the light of day he’s not nearly as scary, even with his ragged clothes and gnarled fingernails. Besides, he cleans up nice and responds well when she consults a dog-training manual to curb his more anti-social tendencies. What Chul-soo doesn’t take kindly to is her late father’s business partner’s rich asshole son Ji-tae (Yoo Yeon-seok), who treats it as a foregone conclusion that Sun-yi will be his wife someday. That’s enough to inspire some growling, but it isn’t until Ji-tae physically threatens Sun-yi that Chul-soo’s bestial nature asserts itself in a big way. Since this development requires an explanation, Ji-tae tracks down a scientist who reveals that Chul-soo was part of an experiment to create a super-soldier by combining the traits of man and wolf. (Hey, just like Project: Metalbeast!) Normally, I would call that a bad idea (after all, I’ve seen Project: Metalbeast), but all the military had to do was hire Sun-yi to train their wolfman army and they would have been in the pink. Too bad they’re so intent on putting their lone werewolf boy down.
Craig J. Clark — Jul. 26th 2018
Just as the 1987 Richard Dreyfuss/Emilio Estevez buddy-cop comedy Stakeout begat Another Stakeout in 1993, adding Rosie O’Donnell to the mix for some reason, lowbrow Canadian horror-comedy WolfCop has sired Another WolfCop, which premiered as a work-in-progress at Austin’s Fantastic Fest in 2016 before making its proper debut one year ago at the Fantasia International Film Festival in Montreal. To make up for its Rosie O’Donnell deficit, returning writer/director Lowell Dean cast an uncredited Kevin Smith in a glorified cameo as Bubba Rich, the interim mayor of Woodhaven, which is still reeling from the severe power vacuum it suffered following the events of the first film. Dean even contrives to let Smith perform his scenes in a hockey jersey since the supernatural threat facing Woodhaven in the sequel is personified by transparently evil tycoon Sydney Swallows (Yannick Bisson), whose plan to reopen the town’s long-defunct brewery (the ominously named Darkstar) and hockey arena smacks of Brewmeister Smith’s world-domination scheme in the 1983 Bob and Doug McKenzie vehicle Strange Brew.
Unlike that film, Another WolfCop skips the Hamlet allusions, and even eschews the fairy-tale references that littered the first film. It does, however, appear to take a page out of the Bubba the Redneck Werewolf playbook by having Leo Fafard’s Lou Garou hole up at the town animal shelter on the nights of the full moon. Even so, his hairy alter ego (which has become the “official” mascot of Liquor Donuts, naturally) is in the habit of defying recently installed police chief Tina (Amy Matysio) by going out on patrol whenever the mood strikes him. As a matter of fact, WolfCop is introduced in hot pursuit of four miscreants in a truck (three of them played by members of Canadian film collective Astron-6) making a special delivery to Swallows that turns out to be Lou’s buddy Willie (Jonathan Cherry), who was merely being impersonated by one of the Shifters in the first film. Willie’s return to the fold is not without complications, though, as he has been seeded with an alien that spends a good part of the film sticking out of his torso like Kuato from Total Recall.
In addition to the alien-impregnation plot, which is reminiscent of the Roger Corman-produced Carnosaur from 1993, Swallows throws in a cyborg named Frank (Alden Adair) for good measure and sends it on a killing spree at the local strip club to draw WolfCop out. Frank’s defeat comes at a cost, though, prompting Willie to drive the injured Lou all the way to Regina so he can get patched up by Willie’s estranged sister Kat (Serena Miller), who has just the thing for him: a piece of moon rock from one of the Apollo missions. This not only does the trick, it leads to Another WolfCop’s requisite bestial sex scene, in which the roles are reversed this time. The moon dust also comes in handy since Lou needs all the help he can get for his showdown with Swallows at the Darkstar Arena, where the whole shebang comes to a head — and the film ends with a bang.
This probably goes without saying, but fans of the first WolfCop will find plenty to like in Another WolfCop, from the hard-rocking score by Shooting Guns to Emerson Ziffle’s gruseome makeup effects to the committed performances by Fafard, Matysio, Cherry, et al. And they will likely greet the closing promise of WolfCop’s return with a cheer. If I may, I humbly suggest Dean and company consider sending Lou Garou (and whoever wants to tag along with him) overseas next time. How does A Canadian WolfCop in London sound?
Craig J. Clark — Jun. 27th 2018
After its twin successes with 1957’s I Was a Teenage Werewolf and I Was a Teenage Frankenstein, it’s only natural that AIP would want to pair up its two monstrous creations, Universal-style. And it did so the following year in How to Make a Monster, released 60 years ago on July 1, 1958. The form that monster summit took, though, was the fictional (and generically titled) Werewolf Meets Frankenstein being produced (in self-reflexive fashion) by American International Studios, which not only has its own lot, but also a proud history going back 25 years.
Much of the credit for American International’s longevity is due to the work of its tireless makeup man Pete Dumond (Robert H. Harris), but when he’s given the shove by the new regime that has taken over the studio, he fights back by adding a special ingredient to his foundation cream that gives him influence over Larry Drake and Tony Mantell, the young actors playing the Teenage Werewolf (Gary Clarke, taking over for Michael Landon) and Teenage Frankenstein (Gary Conway, reprising his role from the earlier film). They are then dispatched to murder the new studio heads, who only want to make (ick) musicals. Naturally, this attracts the attention of the police, who turn the heat up on Harris’s nervous assistant, Rivero (Paul Brinegar), after the monstrously made-up Tony is spotted running from the scene of one of the crimes.
The funny thing about the film, which was shepherded by Teenage Frankenstein director Herbert L. Strock, is while Pete starts out extremely mild-mannered, over time he becomes more and more of a raving lunatic, taking on the mad scientist role previously played by Whit Bissell in the earlier films. And things take a definite turn for the macabre when he creepily invites Larry and Tony over to his house (where the film abruptly switches from black and white to color) so he can immortalize them as he’s done with his other creations, which are displayed in a room populated by props from previous AIP films. Suffice it to say, whatever his actual plans are (the dialogue is vague on that point, but I think it’s something along the lines of what Vincent Price does to his victims in House of Wax), the boys are right not to want any part of them.
Craig J. Clark — May. 28th 2018
By the time the ’70s rolled around, the biker movie explosion that followed Roger Corman’s The Wild Angels had just about fizzled out. There was still time, however, to squeeze in a few outliers, like 1972’s Pink Angels, about a group of gay bikers riding to Los Angeles for a drag ball, or 1971’s Werewolves on Wheels. Co-written and directed by Michel Levesque, who directed one more feature before becoming the art director for Paul Bartel’s Cannonball! and a number of Russ Meyer films, Werewolves on Wheels is about a motorcycle gang called the Devil’s Advocates (meaning, I suppose, they’re in favor of him), which is made up of a dozen or so interchangeable hairy, bearded savages (who, let’s face it, are halfway to being werewolves before the story even begins) who decide they want to meet the big man himself and go on a field trip to the local Satanic monastery.
Turns out this is a bad idea because soon after their arrival some hooded monks surround them and offer them an unholy communion of drugged wine and bread, which the gang readily partakes of. Once they’ve all conked out, high priest One (Severn Darden, late of The President’s Analyst and Vanishing Point) invokes his master with the sacrifice of a black cat and calls the leader’s old lady Helen (D.J. Anderson) to be the Bride of Satan, which apparently involves her seductively wrapping a snake around her naked body and playing with a skull while One gestures lewdly with a phallic statue. Just in time her man Adam (Stephen Oliver) comes out of his drugged stupor, rouses a few of his fellow bikers and they interrupt the ceremony and bust some heads, but not before having their faces marked by the falling monks.
With a stark naked Helen in tow the gang hightails it out of there, but soon enough their resident mystic Tarot (Duece Berry), whose name gets pronounced every which way but the right one, realizes something is amiss with their vibes or something. This is confirmed over the next couple nights as various gang members (and their old ladies) start getting picked off one by one by vicious killers with hairy paws and a penchant for hiding in the shadows until the final reel. When they finally do show themselves it’s no surprise who they turn out to be (after all, this isn’t a film about lycanthropic unicyclists) and the remaining human members of the gang decide fire is the best weapon available to them. This provides an important lesson to all would-be werewolves: if you’re ever set on fire, “Stop, Drop and Roll” doesn’t really work if you insist on rolling over a roaring campfire while trying to put yourself out.
Their furry former compatriots dispatched, Tarot leads the surviving Devil’s Advocates back to the monastery to get their revenge, but in an incredible twist it turns out they’re the monks they were planning on attacking! Or something! I don’t know exactly, the ending is all kinds of confusing. All I know is the gang rolls on under the closing credits and maybe the rest of them have been turned into werewolves and maybe they haven’t. That’s something that may have been cleared up in the sequel had there been one. As it is, Werewolves on Wheels exists in exploitation isolation.
Craig J. Clark — Apr. 28th 2018
Over the course of its initial, decade-long run on cable, Mystery Science Theater 3000 tackled werewolves exactly twice. The first time was in the show’s third episode for the Comedy Channel (later renamed Comedy Central) when Joel Robinson, Crow T. Robot, and Tom Servo riffed on 1942’s Poverty Row Wolf Man knock-off The Mad Monster, which starred George Zucco as the requisite mad scientist who tampers in God’s domain by injecting wolf blood into a farm hand with predictably hair-raising results. After that, they waited until they were deep into both the Mike and Sci-Fi Channel eras to take down 1995’s Werewolf, one of the freshest examples of cinematic roadkill they ever sank their teeth into since its comedic evisceration premiered on April 18, 1998, in the midst of the show’s ninth season.
By that time, the folks at Best Brains had settled into a definite groove and, after much flitting about in time and space the previous season, the show’s trio of villains — Pearl Forrester, Observer, and Professor Bobo — had settled into Castle Forrester for the long haul, or at least until the plug got pulled the following year. Suffice it to say, compared to their first such effort, made while the writers were still finding their feet, the crew of the Satellite of Love was a well-oiled joke-delivery machine when Mike Nelson and his robot pals gave Werewolf the business. Then again, Werewolf offered up plenty of material for them to work with, alongside the ability to make then-contemporary references to the band Hanson, Janet Reno, rejected Supreme Court Justice Robert Bork, and Eddie Vedder.
Your standard cheapjack lycanthropic doggerel, Werewolf (also known as Arizona Werewolf) is comparable in quality to one of the later Howling sequels. Its Flagstaff setting even recalls the same year’s New Moon Rising, but thankfully this one features less line dancing. In its place, co-writer/producer/director Tony Zarindast presents the unwary viewer with a borderline nonsensical plot about a werewolf skeleton unearthed during an archaeological dig and the trouble this causes various actors for whom English is clearly not their first language.
Chief among them is top-billed George (actually Jorge) Rivero, a Mexican actor whose career stretched back to the mid-’60s, when he divvied up his time between westerns and wrestling pictures in which he was often teamed with legendary luchador Santo. Here he’s Yuri, an opportunistic foreman who uses the werewolf skull to infect multiple people with lycanthropy, including one of the dig’s Native American workmen (who’s subsequently shot and killed by two of his buddies), an unsuspecting security guard (who transforms while behind the wheel of a car, a true recipe for disaster), and a self-proclaimed “struggling young writer” who moves to Flagstaff following the death of his mother and takes up residence in her attic. This is Paul Niles, who’s played by Fred (actually Federico) Cavalli, starring in his one and only feature film. Similarly inexperienced is Adrianna Miles, who plays his love interest Natalie and whose pronunciations of the word “werewolf” are a wonder to behold. (Weirdly, whenever Mike imitates her, he sounds like Tommy Wiseau.)
Rounding out the cast are Joe Estevez (“one of the lesser Estevezes,” per Crow) as Joe, one of the skinwalker-averse workmen, and Richard Lynch (a genre veteran with credits going back to the late ’60s) as lead archaeologist Professor Noel, who absents himself from the plot partway through the MST3K edit, leading me to believe he may have more scenes in the uncut version, which runs a full 22 minutes longer. I’m not about to seek it out to test that theory, though.
Besides, anything that fell by the wayside was for a good cause since it made room for host segments like the one where Mike, having tripped and cut himself on Crow while leaving the theater, abruptly turns into a were-Crow, a two-step process that mirrors the discrete stages of lycanthropy Paul and his fellow werewolves pass through in the film. At first they merely have extra hair plastered to their faces. Then the actors are given a heavy makeup job that makes them look more ape-like than wolfish. The final stage, though, is a barely articulated wolf head puppet, which is seen in extreme close-ups, along with fleeting glimpses of a stuntman in a gorilla suit with a wolf’s head for the long and medium shots, none of which are remotely convincing. Late in the film, at a point where Paul is in the second stage, Tom Servo quips, “Oh, that fiend Rick Baker tackled him and did this to him.” He wishes.
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 30th 2018
Over the course of his five-decade screen career, Spanish horror icon Paul Naschy appeared as just about every monster imaginable — at least, those that walked on two feet — but the one he returned to time and again was the werewolf. Most often it was because he was reprising his most famous creation, Waldemar Daninsky, but he occasionally donned the fangs, claws, and fur for films unrelated to that long-running series. The first time was for 1982’s Buenas noches, señor monstruo, a family comedy in which he was El Hombre Lobo alongside other actors playing Count Dracula, Quasimodo, and Frankenstein’s Monster. Considerably less family-friendly is A Werewolf in the Amazon, which Naschy made for Brazilian director Ivan Cardoso in 2005.
In addition to playing the title character, Naschy also shoulders the responsibility of embodying one created by H.G. Wells a century earlier since A Werewolf in the Amazon serves as a belated sequel to The Island of Dr. Moreau, which Naschy’s Moreau directly refers to with his talk of once owning an island and a “legion of mutant creatures” before he was betrayed. As for how he came to be cursed with lycanthropy, this is thanks to an “incident in the Carpathian Mountains,” so his experiments in gene-splicing are as much about finding a cure for his own condition as they are about creating human/animal hybrids like his right-hand beast-man Zoltan (Guará Rodrigues), who yearns to be fully human, yet unmistakably likes it when his master scratches him behind the ears.
If Moreau kept his activities confined to making beast-men, that would be one thing (and if Cardoso could afford to show more than a handful of them, that would be another), but he has also hooked up with a bevy of buxom, bloodthirsty Amazon warriors who protect his secret jungle laboratory. In addition, Moreau has a sexual relationship with their queen, Pentesiléia (Joana Medeiros), which the 70-year-old Naschy can do little to make palatable considering he was twice the age of his co-star at the time of filming. Still, that’s no more gratuitous than, say, the shower scene at the top of the film in which female lead Natasha (Danielle Winits) is spooked by her roommate Samantha (Karina Bacchi), whose dialogue referencing Psycho is redundant since the soundtrack has already aped Bernard Herrmann’s score. Cardoso goes Hitchcock one further, though, by having Samantha disrobe and step into the shower with Natasha because clearly that’s what people want to see when they pop in a movie called A Werewolf in the Amazon. (For the record, close to half the film’s 77-minute running time elapses before the viewer gets a decent look at Naschy’s Moreauwolf, and even then he’s mostly in shadow.)
How Natasha and Samantha fit into the plot is barely worth getting into since they and their friends — who head into the Amazonian jungle in search of hallucinogenic herbs — are there to be little more than werewolf bait. (Well, Natasha is a bit more than that since she’s revealed to be a reincarnated Amazon warrior by a ghostly Incan priest who delivers the news in song, but still.) Also not worth spilling much digital ink over are the American zoologist and no-nonsense policeman assigned to accompany him while he investigates the bizarre murders that have been occurring the area. (And yes, the zoologist does get to say the deathless line, “These wounds were made by some large animal.”) Not only are they almost exclusively used for labored comic relief (including a Re-Animator-style gag where a corpse in the morgue briefly comes to life before being smacked down again), but they’re nowhere near as funny as the moment where Moreau dresses one of them down, saying, “I guess you don’t deserve the privilege of being turned into an animal.”
Craig J. Clark — Mar. 1st 2018
I’m hopping a bit off the beaten path with this month’s Full Moon Feature, but with Early Man now in theaters, I can’t think of a better time to watch a cheese-loving inventor and his long-suffering pooch grapple with The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. Made in 2005, it was the second feature for Aardman Animations after 2000’s Chicken Run and the first big-screen adventure for their signature characters, Wallace and Gromit. Directed by their creator Nick Park and Steve Box, the film amply illustrates the dangers of hooking yourself up to a Mind Manipulator-omatic and then plugging it into a BunVac filled with pesky rabbits and trying to brainwash them into not liking vegetables under the light of the full moon. There’s just so many ways something like that can go so, so wrong, as man and his best friend alike soon learn.
How it comes to that is simple: In the lead-up to their town’s annual Giant Vegetable Competition, everyone has signed up with Anti-Pesto, Wallace (voiced as always by Peter Sallis) and Gromit’s high-tech “Humane Pest Control” service. Their non-lethal methods especially impress animal lover Lady Campanula Tottington (Helena Bonham Carter), who has to fend off aggressive blueblood Victor Quartermaine (Ralph Fiennes), who resents the competition. However, after Wallace’s attempt at bunny brainwashing backfires, he literally creates a monster that is identified by Reverend Hedges (Nicholas Smith, Mr. Rumbold from Are You Being Served?) as the titular beast, carrotus apetitus giganticus. No points for guessing who it turns out to be.
Park and Box and their co-writers Mark Burton and Bob Baker pack as many vegetable puns as they can into the proceedings (under the headline “Night of Vegetable Carnage!” there’s the delicious subhead “Anti-Pesto Fail to Turnip in Time”), and they also managed to smuggle a few naughty jokes past the MPAA. (“Beware the moon,” indeed.) Even better, they work in numerous allusions to classic horror films, with my favorite being when the beast is vanquished and it returns to human form with the aid of a series of lap dissolves, just like in the old Lon Chaney, Jr. movies. I know that’s hardly extraordinary considering the entire film is stop-motion animated, but the gesture is appreciated.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 30th 2018
Further proof that the most creative and inventive werewolf movies are being made outside the U.S. right now, Brazil’s Good Manners isn’t the first werewolf film to come out of that country — 1972’s O Homem Lobo has it beat by 45 years — but it’s the first one I’ve seen. (The second will be coming to Full Moon Features in the not-too-distant future.) Written and directed by Juliana Rojas and Marco Dutra, Good Manners (original title: As Boas Maneiras) is a bit of a shapeshifter itself since its story cycles through a number of different genres, beginning with a social-realist drama about a financially strapped woman with no references and no work experience who gets hired as a live-in nanny for a single mother-to-be who’s still months away from giving birth. She just needs somebody to help with the cooking and cleaning and shopping and everything else she’s never had to do for herself.
The novice nanny, who trained as a nurse but had to abandon her studies to take care of an ailing grandmother, is Clara (Isabél Zuaa), and her employer, who moved into a spacious condo in downtown Säo Paulo after being cut off by her family and dumped by her fiancé, is Ana (Marjorie Estiano). At first, things are a bit bumpy between then, but Clara puts up with Ana’s spoiled and sometimes erratic behavior because, well, she needs the job. Then she figures out (which the help of a nifty lunar-themed calendar) that Ana’s behavior becomes especially erratic around the full moon, culminating in the scene where Ana goes out sleepwalking one night and eats a stray cat. (This is after her doctor has told her to cut out meat, a directive the baby growing inside her is clearly not on board with.)
Slowly but surely, Good Manners edges into horror territory (while also taking detours into lesbian romance and, strangely enough, the musical) in scenes like this and the one where Ana comes on to Clara, only to bite her lip and leave deep scratches in her shoulder. As for the identity of the baby’s father, which presumably would explain a lot, this is revealed through a series of drawings as Ana recounts the night she was seduced by a stranger who subsequently turned into a beast and fled when she shot it with her gun. His progeny, meanwhile, prematurely claws its way out of Ana’s belly one full moon and is, I must confess, cute as the dickens. The newborn pup is brought to life by a sophisticated puppet, but when the story jumps forward seven years, the transformed Joel (Miguel Lobo — yes, that’s the kid’s name) is entirely a CGI creation. Rojas and Dutra withhold his feral form until the film’s final act, but before that they do show the aftermaths of his nights in the “little bedroom” adjoining his own where Clara chains him to the wall. (Instead of reverting completely to human form, he still retains a coat of thick hairs that have to be shaved off and sharp fingernails that must be trimmed before he can return to school.) And it’s not until after Joel has killed one of his classmates (and makes the news) that the word “werewolf” is even spoken, but there’s never any doubt about what he is — or his father was.
The thing is, it ultimately doesn’t matter who Joel’s father is because he was never in the picture to begin with — much like Rojas and Dutra radically frame their story’s first half so no men are ever seen (although some are heard, chiefly Ana’s doctor). This way, the first clear sighting of one — the father of one of Joel’s classmates — is as much a shock to the viewer as it is to the young boy who has more questions about his parentage than Clara is prepared to answer. This is why it’s so easy to believe her when she tells him, “Everything I do, I do it to protect you.” Right or wrong, she’s only doing what she thinks is best for him, but let’s be honest. Keeping the kid on a strict vegetarian diet was always destined to fail.
Craig J. Clark — Jan. 1st 2018
This holiday season, Netflix subscribers received a lump of coal in their stocking in the form of Bright, a movie with more than a passing resemblance to 1988’s Alien Nation since it’s about a human cop reluctantly partnered up with an orc. Coming on the heels of 2015’s poorly received Victor Frankenstein, screenwriter Max Landis’s last high-concept genre effort, this doesn’t exactly bode well for his plans to retool the story of his forthcoming American Werewolf in London remake, but if one looks back about a decade in his CV, it’s possible to have a glimmer of hope for what might be.
It’s hard to imagine now, but long before he had any features to his name, Landis was just an up-and-comer whose sole writing credit was on the Masters of Horror episode Deer Woman, on which he collaborated with its director, who just so happened to be his father. When Showtime decided two Masters of Horror seasons were enough, creator Mick Garris sold NBC on a similar anthology called Fear Itself and brought the younger Landis on board to pen one of its episodes. The result was the scrappy werewolf tale Something with Bite, which never aired on the network because it pulled the plug on the ratings-challenged series after eight episodes in favor of airing the 2008 Summer Olympics. Talk about shortsighted.
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson — another Masters of Horror veteran — Something with Bite stars Wendell Pierce as tubby, lethargic veterinarian Wilbur Orwell, who’s good with animals but whose home life isn’t all it could be. (His wife and son both feel neglected, and with good reason.) Then he gets bitten by an injured werewolf that’s brought to his clinic when it’s hit by a truck and, well, things start turning around for our man Wilbur. Not only does he develop a heightened sense of smell (along with the ability to transform into a large, hairy, ravenous beast at will), but he also becomes more assertive with his employees and attentive to his family. The only hitch is the series of apparent animal attacks that has been plaguing the city. The police detective on the case believes they’re the work of a man (“A disturbed man, but still a man.”) and somehow comes to suspect Wilbur, which puts him on the spot. After all, if he doesn’t remember everything he does when he’s a wolf, how does he know for sure that he didn’t do them?
Maybe I’m biased, but when I eventually caught up with Something with Bite on DVD, I found it to be one of Fear Itself‘s better episodes. Its take on werewolf lore is interesting (for instance, did you know there are vegan werewolves?) and Landis leavens the script with enough humor to keep it from getting too dark. I also like the design of the beast, which Dickerson is able to give a fair amount of screen time at the climax. Even in extreme closeup it manages to be convincing, which is quite an achievement given the budget constraints. Should Landis’s American Werewolf redo see the light of day, I hope to be able to say the same thing about the creature his special effects team conjures up.