Is There a Werewolf in Netflix’s “Chilling Adventures of Sabrina”? [Spoilers]
Sabrina is threatened by a mysterious muzzle (image: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: Part 2 | Official Trailer)
In late 2018 Netflix released the first ten episodes of a new live-action show called Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, based on the young witch character who inhabits the Archie comics universe. The show was originally conceived as a companion piece to The CW’s Riverdale, a previously-established series based on the core roster of Archie characters. Sabrina was bounced to Netflix before production began, and a 20-episode first season was shot in and around Vancouver, BC, with the same crew as Riverdale.
Despite the shared crew and adjoining production schedules, the move dissolved any initial plans there might have been to set up crossovers between the two series, which was just as well. Riverdale is a teen drama that, despite its surprisingly noir style, is grounded in the real world. Sabrina is named after a teenage witch who contends with demons, casts spells that can cure alcoholism and turn people into basketball pros, and she lives with her Satan-worshipping aunts. No longer obligated to maintain bridges with the more square world of Riverdale, the first season of Sabrina – split into two 10-episode chunks because why not – was free to populate its episodes with supernatural creatures that would send Archie into the fetal position.
The first 10 episodes included a variety of creatures, including grotesque demons, avian psychopomps, zombies, ghosts, and an impressive goat-beast rendition of Satan. The trailer for part two arrived in Spring 2019 and featured glimpses of more horrific creatures, including a tantalizingly lupine muzzle that had me wondering which character from the previous episodes might possibly have some lycanthropy in their future.
So when my wife and I sat down to watch Chilling Adventures of Sabrina part two, shortly after its April 5th debut, I had only two questions on my mind: will I ever get used to the weird way all the characters pronounce the phrase “The Dark Lord”? And, more importantly, have they managed to work a werewolf into the smirking, baroque mythology of this show?Spoilers Follow
Under a Blood Red Moon
Our unnamed protagonist shows off her new manicure (image: Black Eye Media AB)
Under A Blood Red Moon by Sweden’s Black Eye Media AB isn’t a real film – the Vimeo page for the clip says “is NOT based on a real existing film, therefore it is not a commercial product”. It’s described as a pilot, a trailer, and a short film within the space of three sentences. Whatever it is, this clip has many of the werewolf movie tropes we all know and love: casual transformation, a dire warning, some internet research, some overt sexuality, and of course, running through the woods.
I like the lead actress and the werewolf effects quite a bit, and the detective in the interrogation room has a flustered charm I enjoy. It’s a shame this trailer isn’t really for anything… it’s three years old, and if it was going to become something more, it probably would have happened by now. Nevertheless, it’s nice to see some of these classic werewolf movie bits done with some real proficiency.
Made-to-order werewolf masks, cheap
My wife and I are members of Latex Mask Central, a Facebook group where mask-makers of all skill levels can show off their work, ask questions about techniques and processes, and do a little buy-and-sell. Most of the work posted there seems to reflect an interest in zombies and evil clowns, but last week I got tagged in a post that was nothin’ but werewolves. A mask-maker named Jamie Routley sculpted a mask inspired by The Howling and is now turning out made-to-order copies on Etsy, for $225 USD / $300 CAD. Here are the details:
This is a full size 1:1 scale Howling bust. Made from a thick pull latex with custom paint, hand laid fur, acrylic eyes and resin teeth, gums and tongue. Each one is made to order. Each bust can be made as a wearable mask.
If you want your own made-to-order werewolf mask for less than the cost of a cheap mobile phone, it looks like Jamie has you covered!
Full Moon Features: Wolfman (1979)
By the end of the ’70s, werewolf movies were fairly thin on the ground and very much in need of new blood (or at the very least, a novel way of transforming men into monsters). There was one throwback, however, that managed to make a killing on the drive-in circuit without ever venturing north of the Mason-Dixon Line — and without breaking new ground in any other way. Written and directed by first-timer Worth Keeter and produced by Earl Owensby, 1979’s generically titled Wolfman has a vaguely Southern Gothic atmosphere (various reference books list its setting as 1910 Georgia, but the film itself isn’t so specific on that point) and stars Owensby as Colin Glasgow, the “worldly” cousin who’s called home for the funeral of his elderly father. Seems there’s a curse on his family and Colin’s aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Clement Glasgow (Maggie Lauterer and Richard Dedmon), would much rather it fall on him than either one of them. Good thing for them that they have Satan-worshiping priest Reverend Leonard (Edward Grady) on their side.
Soon after his arrival at the estate, Colin starts having Vaseline-smeared nightmares which cause him to wake up in a cold sweat (and show off his naturally hairy chest and back). He also hooks up with old flame Lynn (Kristina Reynolds) and consults with family doctor Dr. Tate (Sid Rancer), who confirms there’s something strange going on. With all the repetitious dialogue and endless scenes of Colin riding around in his horse-drawn carriage (Owensby paid for it, so they obviously decided to shoot the hell out of it), it’s nearly an hour before he changes into the title character and goes on his first rampage which, when discovered, elicits the usual bewildered reactions from the authorities. (“It wasn’t anything human that killed them. Some kind of animal got them.” “I can’t say this looks like the work of any ordinary animal.”) It also produces the usual headlines about animal attacks, but I loved the ancillary story on the front page of the prop newspaper with the headline “CHURCH HOMECOMING DISRUPTED BY BEES.”
Without much further ado, Colin transforms a second time with the aid of quick lap-dissolves and, after chomping on his greedy relatives, is pursued by a trigger-happy posse. That doesn’t prevent him from picking a few of them off and evading capture until sunrise, when he transform back into a man. While Colin languishes in jail, Lynn and Dr. Tate confront Reverend Leonard, which immediately puts Lynn in peril (and leads to a foot chase through a cemetery over which some unmistakably modern electrical wires are strung). Will Colin escape in time to save her? And will he get to transform one last time while doing so? I wouldn’t dream of spoiling the ending of a good movie, but yes, he does both of those things.
Full Moon Features: FANG (2018)
Just as having a sizable budget is no guarantee of making a good werewolf movie, having a miniscule one doesn’t automatically mean you’re going to turn out a bad one. If you make the right creative decisions and spend what little money you have wisely — and make sure your script is good enough to compensate for any shortcomings in the effects department — it’s possible to make a werewolf movie on a shoestring that isn’t a complete embarrassment. Unfortunately, that’s precisely what Adam R. Steigert’s FANG is, which is doubly baffling because it’s not his first feature (which would be understandable), but rather his seventh (with a few shorts thrown in for bad measure).
Based in Buffalo, New York, where FANG (yes, the title is in all caps) had its premiere last October, Steigert has been pumping out low-budget genre flicks at a rapid clip for the past decade, often acting as his own cinematographer and editor in addition to his writing and directing duties, which he frequently shares with others. From the start, he’s set most of his movies in the same fictional town known variously as Metzburg, Metsburg, Metzburgh, or Metsburgh. However it’s spelled, the town figures into FANG since it’s the destination of strung-out junkie Joe (Theo Kemp) and his equally strung-out but not strung-out-looking girlfriend Chloe (Melodie Roehrig), who knows of the proverbial house “in the middle of nowhere” where they can hide out after murdering a stranger for drug money. While walking to Metz/sburg/h, Joe and Chloe encounter Chris and Shelly (Jason John Beebe and Jennie Russo), a bickering couple on their way to a wedding whose vehicle has broken down and who grudgingly tag along with them until they get to Chloe’s relatives’ house, which is when things really start going sideways for all concerned.
For starters, creepy caretaker Harold (second-billed Gregory Blair, whose character’s last name is never spoken, but is listed in the credits as Pinter, an in-joke that makes next to no sense since there’s little about his character that is Pinteresque) informs them they can’t call anyone for help because “The Crowleys don’t really believe in phones.” They do, however, believe in having every door in their house locked at all times, a plot point Steigert immediately bungles because the set of clanking keys Harold carries around are too large to fit the one door we see that has a lock, and none of the others even have keyholes. Since that’s a detail that figures heavily into the script (which Steigert wrote with his wife Kristin), that definitely should have been caught during the location scout.
After the interminable build-up, Doris and Roy Crowley (top-billed Melantha Blackthorne and “and ____ as” Patrick Mallette) arrive on the scene 23 minutes in and proceed to up the eccentricity factor significantly with their mannered performances and theatrical old-age makeup. Once they’ve thoroughly grossed out their reluctant guests during dinner and sequestered Joe in his room — which apparently leads to the basement, where he eventually finds editor Christopher Burns Jr. chained up in his underwear and being force-fed human remains — the Crowleys show their true colors and begin picking the interlopers off. Any viewers hoping to get a good look at their transformed state had better have the pause button handy, though, because they’re the “blink and you’ll miss them” kind of monsters.
Periodically, Steigert cuts away from the Crowley house to the half-assed police investigation of the opening murder, which leads the portly sheriff to consult with retired beat cop and full-time crackpot William Sanders (Michael O’Hear, reprising his role from Steigert’s sophomore feature, 2009’s Gore), who’s remarkably active for someone with stage-three cancer and three months to live. His cancer-rich blood turns out to be a better weapon against the Crowleys than silver bullets, even, although he has to be bitten by one of them for this to be discovered, and anyone who’s seen a werewolf movie before knows what that means. Oh, and did I forget to mention the part where he and Chloe go to Joe’s dealer (whose name, I shit you not, is Christmas Eve) for backup and he just happens to know a guy who knows how to make silver bullets? Yeah, FANG is that kind of movie. It’s also the kind of movie that closes with the message that two of its characters “will return in The Horrific Evil Monsters,” which is currently filming. Based on the evidence of this one, that’s more of a threat than a promise.
Love, Death and Robots: “Shape-Shifters” Flash Review
A werewolf concludes its transformation by tearing off its human face (image: Netflix)
I looked up next to nothing about the rest of Love, Death & Robots, an animated anthology series that just premiered on Netflix. However, I saw there was at least one episode that involved werewolves, and the short films can be watched in any order, so I leapt right for Episode 10: Shape-Shifters.
Animated via photorealistic motion-capture (which didn’t fall into the uncanny valley, in my opinion), the episode follows two US Marine werewolves at a firebase in Afghanistan. The main character and his friend are the point man and rearguard for patrols, and the opening scene shows why. Unfortunately, they face prejudice from their fellow Marines despite being highly qualified to carry out their mission and serve their country, too. Their commanding officer seems to have more faith in them, but only if the weather is fair.
Without trying to spoil too much, the story intensifies quickly and delivers on its horror and war drama promise. We’re shown the aftermath of a battle at an outpost and left to imagine the terror of how it happened based on what’s left. The Marines aren’t the only side with werewolves.
Not so much a spoiler as a quick note on what these werewolves look like. Lupine heads and bodies, big claws, big teeth, bipedal and quadrupedal movement, with very, very short tails. Transformations seem to be controllable and involve ripping skin. If you like your werewolves to lean more towards horror and snarling, I think you’ll dig their design.
In closing, the episode is quick, tight, delivers on the setup, provides visceral action, and had characters I could enjoy watching more of. It also offers a few ideas to think about and different audiences could read into the underlying themes in different ways. My one slightly negative feeling comes from a sneaking suspicion that I’ve heard this story before. Of course, that could just be because I’ve read other short werewolf stories online, so viewers new to the material may find it all fresh. (Check out QuebecoisWolf’s story “Secrets” if you want more in this vein.) Still, the result is solid. It feels like the crew behind this short put a great deal of effort into their work and I think it shows. Individual mileage with certain elements may vary, but this episode accomplished its mission for this werewolf fan.
Full Moon Features: Wolfen (1981)
Released in the midst of the 1981 werewolf movie boom that yielded Full Moon High, The Howling, and An American Werewolf in London in quick succession, Wolfen is often lumped in with them in spite of the fact that its supernatural wolf creatures are emphatically not shapeshifters. The first of three Whitley Strieber books adapted for the screen (the other two being the modern-day vampire tale The Hunger in 1983 and the alien abduction trip Communion in 1989), Wolfen was co-written and directed by Michael Wadleigh, then most famous for making the documentary Woodstock. Not the most obvious proving ground for a horror filmmaker, but his background does lend the film a sense of realism that it shares with such contemporary urban fare as Abel Ferrara’s Ms. 45, Sidney Lumet’s Prince of the City, and William Friedkin’s Cruising, to name a few.
With key scenes filmed in the shadow of the World Trade Center and in sight of the Statue of Liberty, Wolfen announces itself as a New York movie through and through. But just as Wadleigh was an unconventional choice for director, so too was his choice of leading man: British-born Albert Finney, who is nevertheless convincing as semi-retired police detective Dewey Wilson, who’s called in to investigate a puzzling triple homicide involving a super-rich real estate developer. (It’s never stated precisely why Dewey is on leave, but he’s told the reason his captain wants him on the case is because “It’s very weird and it’s very strange, just like you.”)
In the early going, Wadleigh keeps much of the gruesomeness off-screen. True, the developer’s Haitian bodyguard gets disarmed in the most literal fashion, but we’re spared the sight of his trophy wife’s head falling off when the police are taking in the crime scene the following morning. Later on, when a junkie picks the wrong spot to “get straight,” we actually get to see his throat torn out and heart unceremoniously dropped on the ground, but because Wadleigh is unable to reveal who or what is responsible for these acts, it’s impossible for them to register as anything other than quick shocks. In fact, the most effective jump scare in the film was manufactured in the editing room by zooming out from a blowup of Dewey looking out on what he doesn’t realize is the Wolfen’s hunting grounds. That can’t necessarily be attributed to Wadleigh, though, because he isn’t responsible for the final shape of the film, which was worked on by no fewer than four editors, some of whom came onto the project after he was unceremoniously kicked off it.
Supporting the late Finney is a uniformly great cast including Gregory Hines as a coroner who throws Dewey a curve by ruling out metal weapons and introducing him to eccentric zoologist Ferguson (Tom Noonan), who identifies the hairs found on the victims as being from the species canis lupus. Ferguson also makes the first connection between wolves and Native Americans, which leads Dewey to Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos), a militant high-steel worker who casually tells Dewey he can “shift with the best of them.” “Shift?” Dewey asks. “Shapeshift,” Eddie clarifies. “We do it for kicks.” In short order, Dewey watches as Eddie undergoes an esoteric ritual where he accepts a ceremonial necklace, goes to the beach to strip, makes paw prints in the sand with his knuckles, and howls at the moon. He doesn’t physically change, though, which surely disappointed anybody expecting a Rick Baker or Rob Bottin-style transformation. “It’s all in the head!” he shouts in Dewey’s face, leaving an impression on the hard-nosed cop nonetheless.
When Wadleigh finally gets around to showing the Wolfen, the big reveal is somewhat underwhelming since they’re played by ordinary wolves (albeit spookily lit ones). The other area where Wolfen comes up short is the domestic terrorism subplot that takes up too much time for something that turns out to be a red herring. Its only benefit is giving Dewey a foil in psychologist Rebecca Neff (Broadway actress Diane Venora making her screen debut), who’s working for the security company that dropped the ball at the beginning of the film. Even she turns out to be largely superfluous, though, disappearing for long stretches without really being missed. It’s possible Venora had a lot more scenes that got lost in the editorial shuffle, but at least she’s around for the climactic standoff between Dewey and the Wolfen, which made sure Hines and Noonan couldn’t say the same.
“What We Do in the Shadows” TV series trailer has werewolves, supermarket fires, psychic vampires & more
A still from the WWDITS season 1 trailer depicting one of two werewolves mentioned (image: What We Do in the Shadows | Season 1: Official Trailer)
Based on the feature film of the same name from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, What We Do in the Shadows is a documentary-style look into the daily (or rather, nightly) lives of four vampires who’ve “lived” together for hundreds of years. In Staten Island.
I’m thrilled that Clement and Waititi have turned that “good vampire movie” franchise into a new TV series for FX. Like the movie it’s based on, the series focuses on the exploits of vampires, but they chucked in a little lycanthropy action for werewolf nerds like us. I really like the werewolf design, although the one depicted in the trailer (and shown in the feature image on this post) really needs to stop skipping leg day at the gym.
Take a look, y’all:
Sculpting one of the many Immortal Masks werewolves
In the world of werewolf fandom, this is a widely agreed-upon pair of facts:
- you can never have too many werewolf masks
- the good werewolf masks cost more than a new computer
To wit: California’s Immortal Masks sells not one, not three, but five silicone werewolf masks of varying anatomy, coverage, and style. Each one starts in the Chromebook price range, and as you add options like fur and custom paint, the cost quickly ascends to MacBook territory.
Anyway, all of this preamble is just to set up my sharing this throwback photo from the Immortal Masks Instagram account, showing Andrew Freeman in the middle of sculpting the Immortal werewolf mask. Andrew popped into the comments to credit fellow creature sculptor Charlie Hernandez with “a lot of the heavy lifting”.
Paying four figures for a werewolf mask is a wild luxury, but I’m the owner of a custom painted and furred Hellhound mask and sleeves, and as someone who cares very much about detail and quality, the scrimping and saving and credit card debt was worth it to me.
“Update On Werewolves” by Margaret Atwood
(image: Thomas Hawk)
This morning I noticed that one of the most popular posts on this site is, oddly, about a poem. That got me thinking about werewolves in verse, which sent me back to a poem by acclaimed writer, teacher and essayist Margaret Atwood, whose work you may have most recently seen adapted on Hulu.
Update On Werewolves
In the old days, all werewolves were male.
They burst through their bluejean clothing
as well as their own split skins,
exposed themselves in parks,
howled at the moonshine.
Those things frat boys do.
Went too far with the pigtail yanking –
growled down into the pink and wriggling
females, who cried Wee wee
wee all the way to the bone.
Heck, it was only flirting,
plus a canid sense of fun:
See Jane run!
But now it’s different.
Now it’s a global threat.
Long-legged women sprint through ravines
in furry warmups, a pack of kinky
models in sado French Vogue getups
and airbrushed short-term memories,
bent on no-penalties rampage.
Look at their red-rimmed paws!
Look at their gnashing eyeballs!
Look at the backlit gauze
of their full-moon subversive haloes!
Hairy all over, this belle dame,
and it’s not a sweater.
O freedom, freedom and power!
they sing as they lope over bridges,
bums to the wind, ripping out throats
on footpaths, pissing off brokers.
Tomorrow they’ll be back
in their middle-management black
and Jimmy Choos
with hours they can’t account for
and first dates’ blood on the stairs.
They’ll make some calls: Goodbye.
It isn’t you. I can’t say why.
They’ll dream of sprouting tails
at sales meetings,
right in the audiovisuals.
They’ll have addictive hangovers
and ruined nails.
“Update On Werewolves” was first published in 2012 on Atwood’s Wattpad site, and has circulated since. I’m taking the liberty of reposting the whole poem here because I want some of its powerful, sneering, Jimmy-Choo-and-blood energy to permeate this site.