Craig J. Clark — Nov. 3rd 2017
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Some college students head into the woods under some flimsy pretext and get picked off one by one by a POV camera that knows the terrain better than them. In the new indie Lycan, the pretext is that the six students are working on a group project where their vaguely defined assignment is to “recreate a moment of history,” and between the title and the fact that the landmark they’re looking for (on horseback, no less) is the supposed grave of the Werewolf of Talbot County (get it?), it’s reasonable to assume that whatever is stalking them is a werewolf. Then again, the opening title does specify that it’s “A FILM Based on a TRUE LEGEND,” so the chances of anybody in it actually sprouting fur and fangs before going on their co-ed killing spree land squarely between slim and none, and slim isn’t liking its chances.
Set in the year 1986 for no discernible reason (although it does allow writer/director Bev Land and co-writer Michael Mordler to shoehorn in references to Sixteen Candles and Mr. T with impunity), the film announces its intentions with two solid minutes of a naked, overweight farmer having vigorous sex with a prostitute, followed by his discovery that something has killed his chickens and his dog and is about to do the same to both of them. On the other side of the opening titles, a history prof with a prickly sense of humor (played by Vanessa Angel, previously known to me as the Soviet snow bunny Dan Aykroyd cozies up to in Spies Like Us) sets things in motion by throwing six Breakfast Club types into one group and addressing them all by name so the viewer knows which characters they’ll be following and what their defining traits are.
The one that doesn’t fit into the John Hughes mold is Kenny (Parker Croft), the Bolex camera-toting horndog pothead whose character seems modeled more on Jamie Kennedy in Wes Craven’s Scream than, say, Judd Nelson’s “criminal” Bender. As for the others, Irving (Craig Tate) is definitely the overachieving “brain” of the group, putting him in Anthony Michael Hall’s shoes. Baseball player Blake (Jake Lockett) is the Emilio Estevez “athlete” equivalent. Stuck-up rich girl Blair (Rebekah Graf) and her dutiful sorority pledge Chrissy (Kalia Prescott) have to split the Molly Ringwald “princess” role between them. (Blair even makes multiple references to the debutante party she doesn’t want to miss.) And bringing up the rear is social outcast Isabella (Dania Ramirez, also one of the film’s producers and a contributor to its story), who’s working the Ally Sheedy “basket case” angle something fierce but needs more than a simple makeover to fit in.
Unsurprisingly, Isabella is the character we learn the most about, including that she lives on a farm with an older woman she calls “mama” (Gail O’Grady, who made her screen debut as “Victim in VW” in the pilot for the ’80s Werewolf TV series) who isn’t her real mother, she takes medicine for some unspecified condition, she sleeps in the barn, and she has a fairy tramp stamp (which is tastefully revealed by Land, who incidentally is also Ramirez’s husband). Furthermore, when the group sets up camp for the night, she repurposes her own childhood trauma by relating how her actual parents were slaughtered in the very same woods when she was eleven as a campfire story, which none of the others pick up on. Soon after the party turns in (with Irving having been drugged by Kenny, who intended to roofie Chrissy), one of them is dragged out of their tent by something with enormous claws and the game is afoot (or aclaw, as it were).
Even in the light of day, the boobs falls prey to various traps, with one getting his foot caught in a coyote trap, another stepping in one that leaves him hanging upside-down from a tree, and a third falling into a pit (and pulling the fourth down into it with him). Finally, the survivors make it to Isabella’s house, where they’re greeted by a couple of not-terribly-intimidating-looking wolves and their number is further reduced by a booby-trapped piano. (Don’t ask.) There follows one of the most blatantly foreshadowed reveals ever, a poorly choreographed fight to the death, and an unnecessary flash-forward to the present day, when Kenny’s Bolex is happened upon by a little girl. Based on the footage he got and the condition it will be in after being out in the elements for three-plus decades, I don’t foresee anyone making a Blair Witch-type feature out of it.
Craig J. Clark — Oct. 4th 2017
As long as I’ve been a fan of John Landis’s landmark lycanthropus An American Werewolf in London (the subject of my very first Full Moon Feature six years ago), I’ve stringently avoided exposing myself to its late-arriving sequel for fear of tainting the original in my eyes. Released in Japan on October 18, 1997, and the U.K. on the 31st (fans in the States would have to wait until Christmas Day to feast their eyes on it), An American Werewolf in Paris can’t even be considered a proper sequel to London since they have no characters in common (this despite the opening title that says it’s “Based on Characters Created by John Landis”). At most, director Anthony Waller and screenwriters Tim Burns and Tom Stern (whose also co-wrote Alex Winter’s bizarro cult item Freaked) borrow some of the werewolf lore Landis invented for his film.
The main thing they play around with is the notion that a werewolf’s victims are doomed to return as the undead, but even then they muck it up (or at the very least muddy the waters) because Landis specified everyone in the werewolf’s bloodline had to die for them to stop walking the Earth. (This is why Jack is around to haunt David.) Here, only the werewolf that carried out the attack has to be destroyed, a challenging proposition since they all look exactly alike when transformed. Waller, Burns, and Stern also add a wrinkle about werewolves not being haunted if they eat their victims’ hearts. Furthermore, a werewolf can cure themselves by eating the heart of the one that bit them. Shockingly enough, with all the talk of heart-eating in this film, at no point does anybody — werewolf or otherwise — say “eat your heart out,” but then again, the script’s often ill-fitting humor runs more to physical gags than verbal jokes (one exception: the stiff in the morgue who moans, “A guy can’t rest in pieces around here”), so perhaps that’s just as well.
The trouble begins with the substitution of three college bros on a “daredevil tour” of Europe for the down-to-Earth David and Jack. Of the three, Andy (Tom Everett Scott) is the least aggravating, so naturally it falls to him to rescue distraught Parisian Sérafine (Julie Delpy) when she throws herself off the Eiffel Tower — which he was planning to do himself, only with a bungee cord attached to his feet. (This is the first of many poor special effects scenes that have failed to hold up, as if they were remotely convincing 20 years ago.) As for Andy’s buddies, Brad and Chris (Vince Vieluf and Phil Buckman), I guess he was given two so one could be werewolf chow while the other becomes a pawn of the werewolf cabal when its leader, Claude (Pierre Cosso), attempts to recruit the newly lycanthropic Andy, whose condition is poorly explained to him by Sérafine.
It turns out Claude likes to throw parties for American tourists, which he and his hand-picked goon squad proceeds to tear apart at the appointed time. Alas, these party scenes leave an opening for Waller to fill the soundtrack with ’90s alt-rock tripe by the likes of Bush, Better Than Ezra, Smash Mouth, Skinny Puppy, and Fastball. (Cake gets a pass because they’re Cake and their song is a cover of Barry White’s “Never Gonna Give You Up.”) When you’re making the follow-up to a beloved film with an iconic soundtrack, the last thing you want to do is set a montage sequence to “Walkin’ on the Sun,” which goes completely against the spirit of the song choices in the original.
In spite of that lapse, Paris features a few deliberate echoes of London, including a pipe-smoking authority figure and the reality that the police are mostly clueless about the nature of the beasts they’re confronting. There’s even an homage of sorts to the Piccadilly multi-vehicle pile-up when Andy steals a car and almost immediately crashes it. One area where it doesn’t even attempt to follow in the first film’s paw prints, though, is the transformations, which are accomplished via rubbery-looking CGI. The fully transformed wolves are also digital creations, with the few practical effects reserved for extreme closeups. Instead of taking stock of this and realizing which effects were convincing and which were not, Hollywood doubled down on the ones and zeroes, believing that eventually technology would catch up to what Rick Baker accomplished with latex appliances and sheer ingenuity. Twenty years later, we’re still waiting.
Craig J. Clark — Sep. 5th 2017
Some werewolf tales are liberal enough that their lycanthropes are capable of transforming several nights in a row — as long as the moon looks full enough. Such is the case with the 1972 TV movie Moon of the Wolf, in which sheriff Aaron Whitaker (David Janssen) goes head-to-head with the uncanny when an unknown creature with superhuman strength starts chowing down on his constituents.
Set on the Louisiana bayou in the quaintly named town of Marsh Island, which gives director Daniel Petrie a fair amount of atmosphere to work with, Moon of the Wolf provides Whitaker with any of a number of suspects. There’s backwoods hick Tom (John Davis Chandler), who is out hunting with his pa (Royal Dano) when he discovers the werewolf’s first victim. Then there’s the victim’s distraught brother Lawrence (Geoffrey Lewis), who didn’t like her messing around above her station. And Whitaker also comes to suspect the town doctor (John Beradino), who apparently got the young lady in question pregnant and was pushing her to get an abortion. Meanwhile he rekindles a long-forgotten crush on Louise Rodanthe (Barbara Rush), whose family founded the town way back when and who’s just returned from the big, bad city. This doesn’t exactly endear Whitaker to her overprotective brother Andrew (Bradford Dillman), but until he solves his mystery it’s not like he has a whole lot of time for romancing anyway.
For such a short film (it’s only 74 minutes), Moon of the Wolf sure takes its time getting to the werewolf attacks (or even hinting that the attacks are being carried out by a werewolf). Apart from an old man on his deathbed raving in French about the “loup-garou,” no one even suspects that they have a lycanthrope on their hands (except maybe for the old man’s superstitious nurse, who knows how to ward them off), which leads the gun-toting populace to organize a wild dog hunt (the results of which are kept tastefully off-screen). Of course, when the killer finally does show his hairy face (and hands, which come complete with black fingernails) it’s none too impressive, so there’s a very good reason why the filmmakers kept his identity under wraps. It’s just too bad they also kept the body count down. A couple more murders would have livened the proceedings up immensely.
Craig J. Clark — Aug. 5th 2017
The year 2007 was rather a light one for werewolf films (the only one I’ve missed the anniversary of is the YA adaptation Blood and Chocolate, which I’m not exactly heartbroken about), and it would be even lighter had the Canadian-made Skinwalkers, which premiered at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival, not taken so long to get a theatrical release. (Oddly, there’s no Canadian release date on record, but it did finally come out in the States on August 10, 2007.) Directed by the late Jim Isaac, whose previous genre effort was Jason X, Skinwalkers features decent-looking creature effects by Stan Winston Studio, but all too often they’re obscured by flash cuts and camera-speed trickery that was probably intended to make the action scenes seem more exciting, but all it really does is detract from them. Its effectiveness is also blunted by how much it was whittled down from its original 110-minute R-rated cut to the leaner (but definitely not meaner) 92-minute PG-13.
The plot is centered around a boy named Tim Talbot (I wonder which of the three credited screenwriters came up with that name) born of a human mother and a skinwalker (which is a fancy Navajo term for werewolf) father who is on the cusp of his thirteenth birthday, when legend says he will be able to break the curse of lycanthropy — that is if he lives that long. Seems one group of evil skinwalkers (led by Jason Behr’s Valek) has developed a taste for blood and wants to go on indulging their bestial natures, while another (led by Atom Egoyan regular Elias Koteas’s Jonas) seeks to protect the boy (Matthew Knight) and his skeptical mother Rachel (Rhona Mitra, who went on to play the vampire love interest in Underworld: Rise of the Lycans) at all costs.
At one point they hit the road in a converted RV that is incredibly easy to spot once you know to look for it (and which reminded me a lot of the fortified vehicle in George A. Romero’s Land of the Dead), and eventually wind up at an abandoned factory (that favorite locale of action directors) where the survivors of both groups duke it out and occasionally shoot at each other. (Did I mention there’s a lot of gun play in this movie? No? Well, there is.) Then comes the most unintentionally amusing moment in the whole film, when the two main werewolves square off against one another and the filmmakers quickly flash on the actors’ faces so you know which one you’re supposed to be rooting for. I guess it didn’t hit them until they were in the editing room that guys in furry werewolf makeup tend to look somewhat similar.
Anyway, in addition to the distracting editing tricks, the film also features plenty of digital effects that don’t do a whole lot to advance the story. Sure, they can make the moon look red and show extreme close-ups of animalistic yellow eyes, but are they doing anything at all to make me believe in the reality of what’s happening onscreen? (Not that realism is necessarily the first order of business when one is making a werewolf movie, but still.) One of the things that I did take away from the film that showed the filmmakers had actually put some thought into their premise, though, was the design of the restraints that the good skinwalkers voluntarily put themselves in when they know the change is coming on. Looking at them, one can imagine how they would have been handed down and modified over the centuries. Of course, with this film’s paltry box office take (just over $1 million in the few weeks it was in U.S. theaters), it’s no surprise we never got a Skinwalkers 2: Rise of the Skinwalkers.
Craig J. Clark — Jul. 8th 2017
Is it possible to make a successful werewolf movie where the protagonist never transforms into a wolf creature of any kind? Well, in 1975, Toei Tokyo proved it was not only possible, but the resulting film could be wildly entertaining in unexpected ways. Based on a popular manga series by Kazumasa Hirai, Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope follows the adventures of Akira Inugami, the lone survivor of a clan of werewolves slaughtered during the opening credits who grows up to be a reporter played by action star Sonny Chiba. After witnessing the grisly demise of a man in a white suit (all the better to show off his red, red blood) frantically fleeing from a phantom tiger that corners him and claws him to death, Akira is grilled by the police, but soon released when the autopsy report comes back. “A human being wouldn’t be able to slash a body like that,” one cop says, “and not in such a short time either.” Little do they know…
From that point on, the fantastical plot Akira gets enmeshed in becomes increasingly convoluted. Turns out the dead man was in the band Mobs which, at the behest of its corrupt manager, gang-raped up-and-coming singer Miki Ogata (Etsuko Nami), who was given syphilis by one of them. As a result, she’s strung out on drugs and reduced to singing in a cheap strip club, which is where Akira tracks her down, but not before facing off against a vicious gang of yakuza thugs. From this altercation he’s rescued by a mysterious motorcyclist all in black leather who takes him back to her place, literally licks his wounds, and initiates sex. “Right now, I’m just a woman who wants an animal,” she says, and she gets one before disappearing from the film as abruptly as she rode into it.
At various points during the story, director Kazuhiko Yamaguchi inserts a caption to keep the viewer updated on what day of the lunar cycle it is. This is pertinent because while Akira never physically changes, his mystical powers wax and wane with the moon, so on Day 15 — the full moon — he’s near-invincible and he’s at his weakest when it’s new. Even so, between these extremes he still has astonishing healing powers, which is why he shrugs it off when he’s shot in the shoulder and is unconcerned about catching the clap when he puts the moves on Miki.
For her part, Miki turns out to have a psychic link with the phantom tiger slashing her rapists and other ne’er-do-wells to death. This is why she’s of interest to the Japanese Cabinet Intelligence Agency, which also scoops up Akira and experiments on him, even performing a blood transfusion to see if lycanthropy and its attendant powers can be passed on in that fashion. The answer: kind of, but the effect is only temporary and the recipient has a nasty surprise coming to them. “Is this proof that werewolves and humans can never mix?” Akira muses, sending him back to his birthplace, where he’s immediately recognized and captured by the same superstitious villagers that massacred his clan years before. (Guess they have long memories.)
This development leads to the the film’s third weird sex scene, when Akira is freed by a woman who takes pity on him and says, “Let my body give you some relief, even if just for a while.” (Screenwriter Fumio Konami’s dialogue is full of such howlers, although it’s entirely possible this is just a translation issue.) Inevitably, everything winds up with the long-awaited clash between wolf and tiger as Akira and Miki are pitted against each other by the J-CIA, whose director also meets a fitting end. And now, thanks to Arrow Video’s sterling release, this underseen werewolf exploitation film will be reaching more eyeballs than it has in decades. Long live Wolf Guy!
Craig J. Clark — Jun. 8th 2017
Long in the works and nearly as long making it to home video after its first public screening three years ago, the big-screen adaptation of Mitch Hyman’s cult comic book Bubba the Redneck Werewolf is finally available to be seen by all manner of lycanthrope lovers. It must be said, however, that it will be most appreciated by those with a high tolerance for bad jokes, puns, and sight gags. In fact, viewers will know right away whether Bubba is the werewolf for them based on its bouncy, countrified theme song, which plays over the opening credits.
“His teeth are long, his claws are sharp, he’s a beast in moon and sun,” goes one lyric. “If this defies your precious science, well, you might wanna cut and run.” Science aside, Bubba is not your traditional werewolf since his transformation is one-way only with no return to his human form in sight. He’s even played by two actors — Chris Stephens when he’s human, which only lasts for about 15 minutes, and Fred Lass after he wolfs out (a transition that disappointingly happens off-screen). This comes about when the hapless Bubba, in an effort to win back his one-time high-school sweetheart Bobbie Jo (Malone Thomas), makes a deal with The Devil (gleefully played by Hyman), who arrives in the hick town of Broken Taint (in Cracker County, Florida) in all his red-skinned, horned glory. “I wanna be strong and powerful,” Bubba confides in him. “I wanna be a macho man with hair on my chest and hair on my head.” And that is precisely what The Devil delivers — along with a four-slice toaster and smokeless ashtray as a bonus for signing away his soul.
When Bubba awakens the next morning and sees himself in the mirror, his response isn’t far from how many werewolf aficionados would probably react. “Holy shit,” he says, admiring his fangs, claws, and fur. “I’m a werewolf. I’m a fucking werewolf,” pausing before adding, “Awesome!” Unfortunately, just about everybody else in town makes spectacularly bad deals with The Devil, who has a lawyer’s knack for finding loopholes in contracts and taking full advantage of them. Accordingly, they take up residence in Bubba’s favorite watering hole and petition him to kill the fiend and release them from their self-inflicted torments. The trouble is Bubba likes his new identity, especially since it causes Bobbie Jo to toss her new beau aside and swoon for him in a big way, so he’ll need to have all his wits about him when he finally confronts the horned one, and he doesn’t have too many to start with. “I made you and I can destroy you just as easily,” says The Devil, a line given extra weight since it’s spoken by Bubba’s actual creator.
Befitting its comic-book origins, the action in Bubba is frequently cartoonish and over-the-top. Director Brendan Jackson Rogers (who also appears as Bubba’s idiot cousin Clovis in addition to producing, operating the camera, and being one of the film’s editors) embraces this with his reliance on digital effects for a lot of the signage, explosions, blood sprays, and projectile vomit. Meanwhile, screenwriter Stephen Biro wallows in all manner of verbal humor, much of it of the cornball variety. This reaches its nadir in the interminable “Where Is Hu?” routine, which won’t be causing Abbott and Costello fans to lose any sleep. And the less said about the montage in which Bubba goes fishing and bowling, plays video games, and catches a Frisbee in his mouth (a moment that recalls a similar sequence in Teen Wolf Too), the better.
It would be a mistake to judge this film too harshly, though. Bubba the Redneck Werewolf — at least in its cinematic form — was always meant to be lowbrow entertainment, so as long as one approaches it on that level, it’s possible to find things to enjoy about it. Plus, it’s barely 80 minutes long, so it doesn’t have enough time to wear out its welcome. That counts for a lot.
Craig J. Clark — May. 10th 2017
As the foremost authority on werewolf movies ’round these parts, it naturally fell to me to review Bryan Senn’s The Werewolf Filmography, the first attempt at a comprehensive overview of the subject since Stephen Jones published The Illustrated Werewolf Movie Guide back in 1996. (Senn dismisses Jones’s book in his introduction, claiming “its brevity and haphazardness makes it far from definitive and of limited use,” but it’s still worth tracking down and hanging onto for its generous sampling of photos, posters, and lobby cards, many of them in color.) Where Jones muddies the waters by including any and all films in which someone is transformed into an animal — resulting in annoyances like every filmed version of Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake ballet getting a capsule review — Senn’s bent is more lycan-centric. In fact, of the “300+ Movies” trumpeted in the book’s subtitle, only 158 are covered in the main section, with the rest being relegated to the chapters on “Pseudowolves” (a slippery designation that feels arbitrary at times) and “Other Were-Beasts” (a less crowded and more self-explanatory field).
In his introduction, Senn cuts right to the heart of the matter. “Why write a book on werewolf cinema,” he reasonably asks, “if the majority of the films are, shall we say, less than classic?” The answer, of course, is to highlight the good and the great while steering people away from the bad and “the howlingly ugly.” To this end, Senn employs a five-moon rating system (similar to the one used by Jones, albeit without the fancy graphics) that isn’t nearly so bottom-heavy as one might expect based on the genre’s track record. True, it’s possible to count the five-moon movies on one claw (for the record, they are The Wolf Man, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, Dog Soldiers, and Game of Werewolves), and there are only two that get four-and-a-half (Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein and Ginger Snaps), but those are neatly balanced out by the four half-moon movies and the three turkeys that come away with zero. (Happily, I have not seen any of the latter, and based on Senn’s recommendation, will continue to avoid them.) That leaves the majority in the one-to-four-moon range, with a fairly even distribution reflecting the range in quality therein.
To be fair, Senn tosses more than a few curve balls into the works. While he takes Hammer’s The Curse of the Werewolf down a peg with a two-and-a-half-moon review, questioning its “classic” status in the process, he doles out four moons to the likes of Silver Bullet, the 2011 Red Riding Hood, and Wolves, none of which impressed me that much when I saw them. He does, on the other hand, recognize that Rise of the Lycans is the best entry in the Underworld series, and is unafraid to call out dreck like Night Shadow, The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, Red: Werewolf Hunter, and Teen Wolf Too. That last write-up contains one of several typos that managed to sneak past Senn’s editor, though, when star Jason Bateman is accidentally called “Justin.” (See also: the “Pseudowolf” entry on The Brothers Grimm, which misspells Peter Stormare’s name twice before getting it right in the very next paragraph.) Most damning of all, though, is the way the back cover lists the wrong year (2011) for Dog Soldiers, an error compounded by its inclusion in McFarland’s online listing for the book.
Other idiosyncracies abound. While it’s understandable that Senn would want to partition off films where werewolves only appear in supporting roles or, say, a single segment of an omnibus film, relegating Paul Naschy’s The Beast and the Magic Sword and Licántropo and other Spanish-language werewolf films to the “Pseudowolves” chapter merely because they never received an official release in the U.S. seems short-sighted, especially since Senn’s write-ups for them are often as long and detailed as his “full-fledged” werewolf film reviews. He’s also heavily reliant on quotes from the filmmakers — many of them culled from other sources, although some hail from interviews Senn personally conducted — and given to repeating himself to pad the entries out. And while it’s nice to have an appendix listing the films in chronological order (since the text arranges them alphabetically), it would have been nice to have another one that breaks them down by rating for easy reference.
With its hefty $55 price tag and sturdy hardback binding, The Werewolf Filmography is an impressive, if imperfect, addition to McFarland’s stable of horror reference books, and can be ordered directly from the publisher (www.mcfarlandpub.com, 800-253-2187) [or Amazon – ed.]. It won’t take long for it to go out of date, though, since, as Senn points out in his introduction, more than half of the werewolf films he covers have been produced since the turn of the millennium, with more being churned out all the time. Some of them may turn out to be winners (I’ve got high hopes for Another WolfCop, to give one example), but lycan-lovers will always need help separating the wheat from the chaff. With luck, a second edition where Senn does just that won’t be long in coming.
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.