Full Moon Features: Orgy of the Dead (1965)

Do not be alarmed by the title of this month’s Full Moon Feature: Orgy of the Dead was made in 1965, so it’s nowhere near as risque at it sounds. It was also written by Edward D. Wood, Jr., based on his own novel, so there’s little chance of anyone finding it at all erotic in spite of the bevy of nearly naked women that are made to dance for the pleasure of Criswell, the Emperor of the Night (and allegedly the audience).

It all starts out innocently enough with young couple Bob and Shirley (William Bates and Pat Barrington) driving out to a cemetery because, being a horror writer, Bob’s looking for inspiration for one of his extremely popular monster stories. Shirley’s not so keen on the idea, but she does exchange a chaste kiss with him, prompting him to remark, “Your puritan upbringing holds you back from my monsters, but it certainly doesn’t hurt your art of kissing.” Soon after, he loses control and crashes the car, from which they are thrown clear. That’s the cue for Criswell to beckon forth the “princes of darkness” — or maybe he says “princess.” It’s really hard to tell. I’m leaning toward the latter because only one darkness-dweller comes forth, the Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver), who gets things started by summoning a Native American girl who died in flame to… dance topless near a flame. This she does for a long time, setting the precedent for all of the acts to follow.

While this is going on, director Stephen C. Apostolof (credited as A.C. Stephen) cuts away to Bob and Shirley as they come to and decide to investigate the music coming from the cemetery. They miss most of the next act, a streetwalker, but watch in an unconvincing approximation of horror from the treeline as a girl who worshiped gold in life (also played by Barrington) is put through her paces. Her routine ends with Criswell imploring her two hunky helpers to “Throw gold on her” and “More gold” and “More gold” and “More gold!” It’s only after she gets deposited in a boiling cauldron of gold and emerges looking like she ran afoul of Auric Goldfinger that the two interlopers are caught by a Werewolf (John Andrews) and Mummy (Louis Ojena) and tied up so they can have a better view of the proceedings. Incidentally, when the Mummy speaks his voice is dubbed in a way that’s oddly muffled, which makes it really strange when he banters with the Werewolf, who only howls and growls. They also stand off to the side for the rest of the picture and seem to get a lot more into it than the other four spectators, who can’t work up the energy to look even slightly enthused to be there.

And it’s hard to blame them, really, since the balance of the picture is taken up by half a dozen mostly interchangeable dance numbers punctuated by the occasional Wood-ism. (My favorite: “A pussycat is born to be whipped.”) Apart from the cat woman, who wears a full-body costume and is whipped throughout her number (a reference to the Ann-Margret vehicle Kitten With a Whip, maybe?), the others can only be distinguished by their outfits (which always disappear during a cutaway — it’s like the filmmakers were specifically prohibited from showing any actual stripping) and maybe a thematic prop or two. (For example, the bride who strangled her husband on their wedding night gets to keep her veil on the whole time.) Finally, the whole shebang comes to an end with the sunrise, which causes the creatures of the night to turn into skeletons (yes, the Werewolf, too), but as Criswell warns, they’ll return with the next full moon. Me, I don’t plan on waiting around to see if they do.

Full Moon Features: Wolf Manor (2022) & Wolf Hollow (2023)

Regular readers of this column may have noticed it has been highly irregular of late. The last review I posted was for 1988’s Cellar Dweller in July, three full moons ago. The one before that was Santo vs. las lobas in May, and the one before that was Viking Wolf in February. This is not due to a shortage of werewolf movies — more are being made all the time, and I have a backlog 30 titles deep — but rather a shortage of ones that look even halfway decent. (That goes double for the werewolves in them.) As much as I’m looking forward to Larry Fessenden’s Blackout and festival darling My Animal, just about everything on my werewolf watchlist from 2020 and earlier is suspect for one reason or another. My local library has acquired one with a 2023 release, however, so I figured I’d pair it up with one from last year with a startlingly similar premise. I’m not saying one of these low-budget werewolf films copied off the other, just that the concept of a crew of low-budget filmmakers running afoul of werewolves while shooting on location clearly isn’t as unique as either of them thought.

The first to reach audiences was Wolf Manor, which premiered under that title at FrightFest in the UK in 2022 and has been rechristened Scream of the Wolf for US consumption. (That’s what it’s streaming under on Tubi, alongside the ’70s TV movie of the same name for maximum confusion.) Its film-within-the-film is called Crimson Manor, and it has been shooting in Shropshire for four weeks and should have already wrapped, but the director needed to stay one more day for pick-up shots, which is a problem since it’s a full moon and the locals holed up in The Blue Moon pub aren’t keen to tell outsiders about their lycanthrope problem. This is just one of many nods to An American Werewolf in London writers Joel Ferrari and Pete Wild lard their script with, and the frequent reminders of other, better werewolf movies does this one no favors. (There’s also a silver wolf head cane like the one in Universal’s The Wolf Man that turns out to be the only effective defense against the beast.)

Dominic Brunt directs the film with a certain amount of style and the cast is mostly up to the task of selling the yucks (in both senses of the word), but few of the characters get enough screen time to develop any depth. When producer Peter Castle (Stephen Mapes) tells someone, “Trust me, I’m a producer,” the viewer immediately knows he’s not to be trusted. Meanwhile, the old pros on set are weary director Derek Francis (Rupert Procter) and his oft-sozzled star Oliver Lawrence (James Fleet), who’s playing a vampire for the seventh time and has only just come around to the idea that fake fangs are a pain in the neck. Then there’s indefatigable 1st AD Fiona (Thaila Zucchi), who’s holding the whole shaky enterprise together as best she can in spite of the hairy monster that starts picking off the cast and crew. While he’s doing his business, Brunt lingers on the blood and gore effects, and he’s also fond of his blood sprays, some of which are so far over the top, the natural inclination is to laugh. The funniest moment in the film, though, comes when the survivors are looking aghast at something and the creature casually steps out from behind a tree. That’s probably not the reaction the filmmakers intended, but it’s the one it elicited from me.

One of the werewolves from Wolf Hollow.

Like a lot of its low-budget ilk, Wolf Manor rolls credits well before its 80 minutes are up, but after zipping through them in two minutes, it comes back with a lengthy post-credits scene revealing the identity of the werewolf that bedeviled Crimson Manor’s production. And the horror isn’t over since one of those who saw the dawn has clearly been bitten and will be wolfing out the next time the moon is full. A similar thing happens in 2023’s Wolf Hollow, though in that case it’s a mid-credits scene revealing the fate of a survivor who came through the ordeal very much worse for wear, but doesn’t have to wait long for the healing powers of lycanthropy to manifest themselves.

Similarly, writer/director Mark Cantu doesn’t make the viewer wait long for his werewolves to run amok, briefly introducing a small army of partying goths who are made into mincemeat in the space of a minute and a half. The story then lurches forward a year, landing in an RV stocked with a motley film crew traveling to the title locale in the heart of Pennsyltucky on a location scout for a film called Liberty’s Last Stand, which diva star Marla (Lynn Lowry) is along for for some reason. (I guess nobody told Cantu that’s not how location scouts work.) Right from the start, there’s tension between dictatorial director Beth (Jess Uhler) and neophyte producer Alex (Christina Krakowski), whose boyfriend Ray (Noah J. Welter) tags along because their location is next to his family’s property, on which there used to a popular haunted hayride before the whole massacre thing the year before. There’s also an ongoing feud between Ray’s family and the representatives of Orrstown, which is in the process of gobbling up Wolf Hollow, a development that doesn’t sit well with its feral residents.

In a way, what’s most shocking about Wolf Hollow is how shoddy the whole thing is. Cantu and company had some ambition, but their execution is as amateurish as can be. Even putting aside the wildly varied acting and the attempts at humor that fall flat as pancakes, the fact that it can’t come close to being consistent with its werewolf designs (as reflected by the images above and below) is a sure sign they bit off more than they could chew with their budget. Movies like Wolf Hollow are the reason I’ve ceased trying to be a werewolf movie completist.

The other werewolf from Wolf Hollow. Looks a little different, doesn’t it?

Full Moon Features: Cellar Dweller (1988)

Whitney's fateful sketch of the Cellar Dweller

The centerpiece of Arrow Video’s “Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams” boxed set of five Empire Pictures released between 1984 and 1989 is a little number called Cellar Dweller, and while the dweller of said cellar isn’t your typical werewolf, it has enough lycanthropic traits that I’m willing to write it up here. “It’s part werewolf and vampire, demon and ghost,” the protagonist reads from a dusty tome entitled Curses of the Ancient Dead. “It will tear your throat open, then drink your blood, and feast on your still-warm brains.” Sounds like just the sort of thing to leave well enough alone, but aspiring comic book artist Whitney Taylor (Debrah Farentino) isn’t the sort of person who can do that.

The film opens with an eight-minute prologue set “30 Years Ago,” when Whitney’s idol, horror comic legend Colin Childress (Jeffrey Combs), is looking for inspiration in the same ancient tome for a story he’s drawing about a vicious, hairy monster with a pentagram carved into its chest attacking a defenseless maiden. The passage he reads from it is no more reassuring, though. “Woe unto you that gives the Beast form. To contemplate evil is to ask evil home.” Sure enough, the Beast comes to life and savagely claws Colin’s model to death, but he douses it in paint thinner and sets it alight. Unfortunately for Colin, he goes up in flames as well and takes the blame for his creation, setting the stage for the events to come “30 Years Later” when Whitney arrives at the Throckmorton Institute for the Arts, which so happens to be housed in the very mansion where Colin lived, worked, and died.

In short order, Whitney meets the Institute’s condescending administrator, Mrs. Briggs (Yvonne De Carlo, the biggest name in the cast alongside Combs), who looks down on comics and doesn’t consider them “real” art. Mrs. Briggs, in turn, introduces her to the art colony’s other residents: abstract painter Phillip (Brian Robbins, the leather jacket-wearing “cool” kid from ’80s sitcom Head of the Class), ditzy performance artist Lisa (Miranda Wilson), bitchy video artist Amanda (Pamela Bellwood), with whom Whitney has a contentious history, and eccentric detective novelist Norman (Vince Edwards). In spite of Mrs. Briggs’s attempts to uphold Throckmorton’s highfalutin reputation, though, I couldn’t help noticing the posters for previous Empire Pictures Troll and Re-Animator in Phillip’s studio, and there’s framed artwork from Troll and Dolls in the Institute’s forbidden cellar, so clearly someone’s been done there in the time between Colin’s immolation and Whitney’s transformation of the space into her private studio. As much as she admires her influential forebear, though, Whitney seems destined to follow in his self-destructive footsteps the moment she puts pen to paper and starts conjuring up the title creature.

Since Cellar Dweller was directed by John Carl Buechler, Empire’s resident monster maker who’s also credited as the film’s special effects designer/supervisor, visual effects modeler, and creator of its special creature effects, said title character is most impressive indeed. (It definitely lives up to its description.) And once it’s brought back into our reality, it doesn’t take long for it to work through the supporting cast — with Whitney falling under suspicion for its dastardly deeds. Buechler and screenwriter Don Mancini (using the non de plume Kit Dubois) even work in one full-on transformation before it’s vanquished, but Whitney’s victory is short-lived as the monster gets the last word (or speech bubble).

Full Moon Features: Santo vs. las lobas (1976)

By the time he starred in 1976’s Santo vs. la lobas a.k.a. Santo vs. the She-Wolves, the silver-masked Mexican wrestler had been in 45 films in the space of 15 years. In many of those he faced a range of supernatural foes including zombies, vampire women, witches, mummies, werewolves, La Llorona, and even Drácula and the Wolf Man. Consequently, his attitude in this film when he’s first approached about doing battle with a pack of werewolves bent on humanity’s destruction is rather curious. (“I refuse to believe in legends,” he says with what I can only imagine is a straight face.) Santo changes his tune, however, after he’s chased by some German shepherds (which are being passed off by the film as wolves) and has to call for help. And later, when he’s surprised in his spacious apartment by one and is bitten, he learns exactly why it’s in his best interest to take the lycanthrope threat seriously.

The film starts out spookily enough with an unidentified woman (Erika Carlsson) being lured to an abandoned building at night where she’s accosted by an old woman named Luba who tells her she “will mark the destruction of humanity” and “signal the beginning of the eternal rules of lycanthropes.” Doesn’t sound like a bad deal at all, and the old woman has a cadre of hairy-faced, torch-bearing acolytes (men and women) to back her up. They also set upon and devour her after she expires at the hands of her successor, thus making Carlsson the New Luba. This scene is followed by five solid minutes of Santo and an unnamed tag-team partner wrestling with a pair of dirty-fighting opponents who are nevertheless vanquished. (Not that Santo’s pal does much of the vanquishing.) Santo is then approached in succession by New Luba (who’s called both the White Queen and the Silver She-Wolf in the subtitles), whose elided offer he turns down, and private investigator Jaimes Pons (Federico Falcón), who is there on behalf of the mysterious Cesar Harker (second-billed Rodolfo de Anda).

After passing along Cesar’s invitation and being rebuffed by Santo, Jaime is taken out of the picture by its literal femme fatale. Meanwhile, Santo makes a date with Cesar at a fancy hotel with a swimming pool where Cesar is nearly drowned while heroically trying to rescue a floundering guest (guess who), forcing Santo to have to rescue him. In the course of their meeting, Cesar informs Santo that he “must help us end the curse of the werewolves,” and “anyone who’s bitten by one becomes a werewolf on the first Red Moon,” which is apparently imminent. Cesar doesn’t live to see it, however, since he’s killed by the Silver She-Wolf, but not before he fatally shoots her with a silver bullet, thus leaving a new opening for Licar, King of the Lycanthropes (Jorge Russek, pictured above), to fill.

Luckily, Cesar has a brother named Eric who looks enough like him that de Anda can continue drawing a paycheck, and Eric has a fianceé (Nubia Martí, a returnee from Santo y Blue Demon vs Dracula y el Hombre Lobo) and she has a sister (third-billed Gloria Mayo, who gets to be Santo’s chaste romantic interest) who can be potential targets. (After the New Luba’s elimination, there’s much speculation about who her successor will be.) “A new era will begin,” Licar boasts. “Wolf-men will take possession of the Earth.” Again, that sounds okay to me, but when the Red Moon appears with exactly ten minutes left to go in the film, the main thing it does is give co-directors Jaime Jiménez Pons and Rubén Galindo the excuse to throw a red filter over all the night exteriors. As for the tease that Santo himself might be in danger of growing some fangs and fur under its influence, that remains a tease to the abrupt end.

Full Moon Features: Viking Wolf (2022)

After taking last month off, we are back with a werewolf film as hot off the presses as you can get. Norway’s Vikingulven, which has been Anglicized to Viking Wolf by Netflix, has the air of novelty about it thanks to its Nordic setting, but looking past the surface, co-writer/director Stig Svendsen follows the genre’s trappings without too many deviations.

The film starts off promisingly with a prologue set in the 11th century when — so the saga goes — Viking chieftain Gudbrand the Grim and his crew bring a vicious werewolf back with them from Normandy. (That none of them survive the return trip is right out of Bram Stoker’s Dracula or F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu.) The action then jumps forward to the present day, establishing the minor municipality of Nybo, where sullen teenager Thale Berg (Elli Müller Osborne) has relocated with her mother Liv (Liv Mjönes), the new deputy on the police force, stepfather Arthur (Vidar Magnussen), who stays home and plays househusband, and deaf-mute sister Jenny (Mia Fosshaug Laubacher). Accepting an invitation from nice boy Jonas (Sjur Vatne Brean), Thale joins some of her classmates for a party at the local bay, where Thale is made to feel like an outcast and mean girl Elin (Silje Øksland Krohne) falls prey to an animal attack that baffles the authorities and leaves Thale with a festering shoulder wound that means exactly what you think it does.

From there, the plot lurches forward in fits and starts, beginning with Liv’s discovery of a claw in a tree trunk at the crime scene that nobody else on the force thinks could possibly belong to a wolf. (When Elin’s mutilated body is found, the coroner identifies a “very big claw and bite mark on her neck,” but still discounts Liv’s “wolf theory.”) It’s only when the Norwegian School of Veterinary Science sends one of its lecturers, William (Arthur Hakalahti), that he confirms what they’re dealing with is an unusually large wolf. In the meantime, one-armed drifter Lars Brodin (Ståle Bjørnhaug) rolls into town, bearing silver bullets and asking leading questions like “Is the deputy familiar with the term ‘lycanthrope’?” He’s also the first person to say “werewolf” and drops ominous hints about needing to sever its bloodline, which means exactly what you think it does.

All the while, Thale has to contend with frightening visions of Elin’s ghost, which guilt trips her for no apparent reason, and the usual heightened senses, including hyperspecific hearing during a school lesson about the Fenris wolf that amplifies everything in the classroom but her teacher’s voice. After that, it isn’t long before Jenny catches her sleepwalking and another one of her classmates is found dead, prompting Thale to hop on the next bus to Oslo, which has the misfortune to get underway after the full moon has risen and, well, let’s just say it doesn’t make it to Oslo.

Svendsen and co-writer Espen Aukan (who also had a hand in last year’s Troll, also on Netflix) try to set their film apart by nominating Lars as their source of accurate werewolf lore. (“You hear the word ‘werewolf’ and you picture a mix of man and wolf running around on two legs, howling at the moon,” he scoffs.) Their efforts are undone, however, by the unconvincing CGI wolves conjured up by the effects department. Yet another area where Viking Wolf falls right in line with its contemporaries.

Full Moon Features: Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)

I was too young to catch any of the films from the ’80s werewolf boom on first run (though I did see Teen Wolf and The Monster Squad on television plenty of times to make up for it). Accordingly, I had to wait until the following decade to see my first werewolf on the big screen, an honor that didn’t fall to Jack Nicholson in Mike Nichols’s Wolf, but rather to Gary Oldman in Francis Ford Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which was released 30 years ago and to this day boasts one of the most impressive-looking wolf-men ever to grace the silver screen.

Oldman’s Dracula adopts an array of guises over the course of the film’s two hours (at least a dozen by my count), but the one that stands out for obvious reasons is the hirsute wolf-man he transforms into during his journey from Romania on the doomed Demeter and, upon his arrival in England, uses to dash to the home of the flirtatious Lucy Westenra (Sadie Frost), who visibly enjoys being ravished by him. This may seem like an embellishment on the part of screenwriter James V. Hart, but it’s actually consistent with the character created by Stoker, whose Dracula could take many forms, including that of a wolf. I’m pretty sure he made up the part about Winona Ryder’s Mina Murray being the reincarnation of Dracula’s long-lost love Elisabeta, though. Besides, that’s frighteningly close to Fright Night territory (another film with a vampire that transforms into a wolf).

The wolf motif actually comes in right at the top in the form of Dracula’s stunning red armor, which he dons while defending his country from the invading Turkish hordes (and earning the nickname Vlad the Impaler) in the mid-15th century. Upon learning of the death of Elisabeta, Dracula renounces God, declares “the blood is the life and it shall be mine,” and lets out a final howl of anguish before the title comes up. The action then shifts to London, 1897 (the year Stoker’s novel was published) and finds law clerk Jonathan Harker (Keanu Reeves) being dispatched by his firm to handle the affairs of a certain Transylvanian count. His journey to Dracula’s castle is memorable, in particular the ride through the Borgo Pass, during which his coach is chaperoned by a pack of wolves. “Listen to them, the children of the night,” Dracula says when Harker is unnerved by their howling. “What sweet music they make.” (This is one of the few lines of dialogue carried over from Tod Browning’s 1931 adaptation, in which it’s mentioned that Dracula can take the form of a wolf, but we never see him do it.)

As in Stoker’s novel, Hart’s screenplay conveys much of the exposition in the form of letters, diary entries, captain’s logs, telegrams, and so forth. While Reeves’s readings are slightly stilted as a result of his shaky British accent, Anthony Hopkins (quite possibly the most robust Van Helsing in screen history) tears into his voice overs with relish. And he’s neatly matched by Richard E. Grant as lovelorn asylum director Dr. Seward, who loses Lucy to Cary Elwes’s Lord Holmwood (who in turn loses her to Dracula), and Tom Waits as his star patient, the batshit insane Renfield. “I shall have to invent a new classification of lunatic for you,” Seward says, getting closer to the truth than he realizes.

While it spends more time than necessary on the romance between Mina and her dapper “Prince Vlad,” Bram Stoker’s Dracula remains a visual feast. This is thanks in no small part to director of photography Michael Ballhaus, visual effects director Roman Coppola, and costume designer Eiko Ishioka, who won an Academy Award for her efforts. And considering how much work went into transforming Oldman into an old man and a wolf-man and a bat-man and everything in between, that Best Makeup Oscar (awarded to special makeup effects creator Greg Cannom and his team) was also well-deserved.

Full Moon Features: Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (1972)

Thanks to the efforts of Paul Naschy, Spanish horror cinema of the late ’60s and early ’70s was awash in films pitting horror icons like Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Wolf Man against each other. One of the trend’s bandwagon-hoppers was Jesús Franco, who was in the habit of cranking out eight films a year on average in all kinds of genres and under multiple pseudonyms. Hardly a recipe for quality, but somehow I doubt that was what he was going for.

I realize I’m far from the first person to take Franco to task for his overuse of zooms, but 1972’s Dracula, Prisoner of Frankenstein (also known as Drácula contra Frankenstein) features an overabundance of zooms. I’m tempted to think he used them as a substitute for dialogue (there’s only about six or seven lines spoken in the first half of the film), but that would imply that Franco employs them to convey information visually when the fact of the matter is he leaves things so vague and ambiguous that for the longest time it’s impossible to figure out who many of the characters are or what their motivations could be. Dracula (Franco regular Howard Vernon) attacks a girl in the middle of the day (presumably because they didn’t have the budget for night shooting), and some random guy (Alberto Dalbés, later revealed to be Dr. Seward) is summoned to examine the body, then goes for a long ride in his carriage until he happens upon Dracula’s castle, finds the bloodsucker at rest and stakes him. Through the magic of editing, the undead vampire becomes a dead bat and the doctor’s stake changes its size and shape, after which Seward quits the castle, a job well done. Then, and only then, does Franco give somebody — in this case, gypsy girl Amira (Geneviève Robert) — a line of dialogue, and it is to herald the arrival of the film’s second title character.

Indeed, Dr. Frankenstein (Dennis Price) and his mute servant Morpho (Luis Barboo) move right into the castle without even consulting a real estate agent — and with The Monster (Fernando Bilbao) in tow. (“Here, I shall be able to work and triumph,” Frankenstein declares.) The mad doctor wastes no time installing his equipment, but doesn’t bother with any lights, preferring instead to reactivate his heavy-lidded creature (whose stitches look painted on). The Monster’s first job is to abduct a cabaret singer before she can sing a second number, although anybody could have done because all Frankenstein does is drain her blood, pumping it into a glass bottle and drowning a live bat, which then turns into the revived Dracula. Morpho then gets to engage in a little light necrophilia before stuffing the singer’s body into an oven, after which the still-slumbering Dracula is returned to his coffin for safe keeping.

Meanwhile, two coffins over, a heretofore unseen female vampire (Britt Nichols) emerges and puts the bite on Amira because lesbian vampirism was really big in the early ’70s. Then Frankenstein and Dracula are driven to Seward’s house, where his daughter Maria (Paca Gabaldón) freaks out and has to be given a sedative, thus rendering her helpless when Dracula is sicced on her. Now vampirized, Maria is abducted by The Monster when Seward foolishly takes her out riding, and, now paired up with Dracula, they interrupt an aristocratic couple in the throes of passion, curiously choosing same-sex partners for themselves. The aristocrats are then delivered to Frankenstein, but we don’t find out what his plans are for them because Franco cuts away to Seward being rescued by the gypsies, at which time the well-informed Amira unloads the biggest info dump in the whole picture.

It seems Amira — now a vampire, but apparently not the kind who bites people, unless she does that off-screen — has been spying on Frankenstein and knows all about his plans for world domination. She also believes Seward will be able to set things right and that he won’t have to do it alone. “When the full moon appears and the wind clears the sky, the werewolf will come to help you,” she tells him. “The battle will be bloody, but you will win in the end.” And sure enough, with one reel left to go in the picture, a shaggy-looking Wolf Man (an actor credited only as Brandy) does appear on the night of the full moon to do battle with The Monster for all of one minute. Meanwhile, Frankenstein is menaced by and kills the female vampire and, thoroughly peeved, dispatches Dracula and Maria while his scratched-up Monster watches. (There are no more signs of the Wolf Man, so I guess The Monster killed him off-screen.) He also fries his creation and disappears, thus sparing Franco from having to deliver an actual confrontation between the two men of science when Seward arrives on the scene, too late to actually do anything. Guess Amira was just whistling “Dixie.”

Full Moon Features: The Munsters & Werewolf by Night (2022)

This year’s Spooky Season (which, like Christmas, seems to start earlier and earlier all the time) has brought with it two werewolf-related streaming premieres. The more prominent of the two is the long-awaited introduction of ’70s-vintage lycanthrope Jack Russell, a.k.a. Werewolf by Night, to the Marvel Studiosverse, but the first out of the gate was Rob Zombie’s revamp of corny ’60s sitcom The Munsters, which debuted on Netflix the last week of September.

Unlike Bryans Fuller and Singer’s unsuccessful Mockingbird Lane pilot, which aired once in 2012 when it wasn’t picked to go to series, Zombie’s update of The Munsters goes back to the time before Herman and Lily Munster were married. Heck, it goes back to the time before Herman was even created, as it opens with mad scientist Dr. Henry Wolfgang (Zombie regular Richard Brake, doing a wicked Vincent Price impression) and his hunchbacked assistant Floop (Lost alumnus Jorge Garcia) robbing graves for the parts Dr. Wolfgang needs to make “a perfect physical specimen.” While that’s being assembled, Zombie introduces The Count (Daniel Roebuck) and his daughter Lily (Sheri Moon Zombie), who’s first seen on a date with Count Orlock (Brake again, this time playing the title character from F.W. Murnau’s Nosferatu), along with Lily’s “idiot brother” Lester (Tomas Boykin), a werewolf indebted to vindictive gypsy fortune teller Zoya (Catherine Schell).

A minor character from the series who only appeared in one episode (season one’s “Herman’s Rival,” in which he creates a crisis by borrowing money from Herman, leading Lily to believe they’re broke), Lester plays a minor role in Zombie’s film as well, but it’s a pivotal one since it is through him that Zoya gets the deed to the Count’s castle and evicts them, forcing newlyweds Herman and Lily to move from Transylvania to sunny Hollywood, California, where they end up at a familiar address. It remains to be seen whether Zombie will be called upon to do a sequel, but if he does one can only hope enough time will have passed for them to have produced their own adolescent troublemaker werewolf, Eddie.

As for Werewolf by Night, since it’s a Marvel Studios “Special Presentation,” it only runs 53 minutes (48 without credits), but writer-director Michael Giacchino stakes out his own territory within the MCU by evoking the look of black-and-white Universal horror films (complete with fake reel changes) while simultaneously throwing in splashes of blood and severed limbs. (That’s the “Intense Violence” that earned it a TV-14, along with the “Strong Coarse Language” — i.e. somebody says the word “shit” once.) Gael García Bernal stars as everyone’s favorite non-terrier Jack Russell, who infiltrates a secret society of monster hunters that has gathered to see who will take possession of the legendary Bloodstone, which its former owner’s widow, Verussa (Harriet Sansom Harris), would rather not see pass on to his estranged daughter Elsa (Laura Donnelly).

A deliberate departure from “the known universe, with its heroes and marvels,” Werewolf by Night shares with fellow Disney Plus stablemate Moon Knight the fact that it takes its time getting to the part where the title character actually puts in an appearance. (“It’s time for you to show yourself,” the vindictive Verussa says, and not a moment to soon.) And while Jack Russell’s transformation into his nocturnal alter ego is accomplished in silhouette (so as not to stretch the budget too much), it’s not long after that Giacchino gives the viewer a good look at him in all his fuzzy glory, short-lived as it is. If this is laying the groundwork for further adventures for Jack and his fellow darkness-dwelling denizens, then it’s about as solid as we could have hoped.

Full Moon Features: Hard Rock Nightmare (1988)

“Some call him Lucifer. Some call him Satan. I call him Master.” These words are spoken over a black screen. Their speaker is then revealed to be the jocular grandfather of a petrified boy named Jim, who’s rooted to the spot while Grandpa tells him, “Creatures who drink blood and can become wolves are real!” His joshing has dire consequences, though, because after he declares himself a “creature of the night” and says he’ll come back to kill Jim and his whole family, the young lad takes matters into his own hands and drives a wooden stake through the old codger’s heart when he lies down to take a nap. “What have you done? He was only joking,” cries Jim’s grandmother, but it’s too late. The traumatized boy has blood on his hands and has had a lifetime belief in vampires and werewolves instilled in him.

All this happens (in black and white, no less) in the first two and a half minutes of 1988’s Hard Rock Nightmare, which are quite honestly the best — and best-acted — two and a half minutes of the film. The remainder follows young adult Jim (Martin Hansen), an up-and-coming rock star, and his band, the Bad Boys, as they take his uncle’s Winnebago to the family farm left to him by his late grandmother (who apparently had no hard feelings about the whole murdering-her-spouse deal) so they can rehearse their repertoire (including the hard-rocking title song) without bothering the neighbors, who have called the cops on them three times in the space of a week.

Jim’s fellow noisemakers are his best friend Charlie (Greg Joujon-Roche) on guitar, perpetually stoned bass player Sammy (Robert D. Peverley), full-of-himself drummer John (Bryan Kovacs, who can’t mime along with the backing track to save his life), and nerdy keyboardist Paul (Tom Shell), who wears large, Trevor Horn-like glasses, and a single earring. Along for the trip are sound guy Tim (Gary Hays), Jim’s supportive girlfriend Sally (Lisa Guggenheim), Sammy’s petite squeeze Connie (Nikki McQueen), and Sally’s friend Tina (Annie Mikan), who’s hung up on Charlie but insists she’s not a groupie. And waiting for them at the farm, where they arrive on the night of the full moon, is a hairy creature that walks on two legs, has razor-sharp claws and fangs, and a sense of timing that is impeccable. (It claims its first victim after Tim, having tried to wheedle a hand job out of a reluctant Tina, says, “All I wanted was a little head,” at which point he is immediately beheaded with a single swipe of a paw.)

The monster’s first appearance, incidentally, doesn’t occur until after the band has had their first rehearsal and Jim has received a cryptic phone call from his long-dead Grandpa, prompting him to go for a walk to clear his head. Subsequent attacks are also timed to Jim’s periodic disappearances, putting suspicion on him when, having discovered the phone is out of order, the gang sends two of their number to the RV to try to raise someone on the CB, and two others to the local Ranger Station, which Jim’s Uncle Gary (Troy Donahue, the most experienced actor in the cast) knows will be deserted since he made a call from his office in the city while the band was en route and found out the ranger is away at a wedding. (“They’re up there all alone,” he says, to himself as much as anyone else.)

By the time Jim’s entourage has been effectively halved, he’s pretty far gone (it doesn’t help that his nightmares have gotten increasingly freaky), arming himself with a rifle and muttering about needing to make silver bullets for it. After Charlie comes face to muzzle with the beast and lives to tell the tale, though, the survivors concoct a plan to lure it out into the open and put it down for good. It’s only then that writer-director Dominick Brsascia (making his sophomore feature) gives viewers a full-body shot of his creature, which looks good enough that it probably could have stood to be featured more. The moment following the discovery of Tim’s headless corpse when Jim sits everyone down and tells them, “A wolf did this, a werewolf,” there’s no need to by coy about what they’re up against.

Hard Rock Nightmare is currently streaming on Shudder.

Full Moon Features: Wilczyca (1983)

Some things are such a novelty that it’s noteworthy when one encounters them in the wild. A Polish werewolf film is such a thing. A werewolf film set in a wintry landscape is another. Both are combined in 1983’s Wilczyca, also known as The Wolf or She-Wolf, which was released by Severin Films late last year as part of its well-curated folk horror collection, All the Haunts Be Ours. (It’s also streaming right now on Shudder for those who have the service.)

The title character is Mary (Iwona Bielska), wife of steward Casper Wosinski (Krzysztof Jasinski), who has turned to witchcraft during one of his long absences and curses him on her deathbed. “I’ll find you,” she hisses, clutching a wolf’s paw, and expires, after which Casper and his brother Matthew (Jerzy Prażmowski) hear a wolf howl in the distance. So far, so lycanthropic. Duly unnerved, Matthew is intent on staking Mary while they’re taking her to the cemetery and does so at the grave site. (He also calls her a witch, which means screenwriter Jerzy Gierałtowski and director Marek Piestrak are playing fast and loose with their monster lore.) It clearly doesn’t take, though, because it’s not long after — when Casper has moved away to go to work for a count he fought alongside “during the insurrection” — that he spots a she-wolf and mutters, “What the devil? She’s found me…”

The visitations from Mary — not only in what Casper takes for granted is her wolf form, but also in his daydreams — continue when he is charged with looking after the count’s property and his wife Julia (also played by Bielska) when he’s forced to flee the Hussars. And while the count is away, the countess definitely will play — not only with a Hussar officer from her past (seen in a flashback feeding a caged wolf to impress her and getting his hand bitten for his troubles), but also with Casper, whom she teases coquettishly. As the she-wolf (which is described as “no ordinary wolf” and “as big as a calf”) shows no signs of leaving him be, Casper begins to think Mary has taken possession of Julia, a belief bolstered by the scene where he shoots the wolf, follows its bloody trail, and finds Julia at the end of it with a freshly injured hand. Only then is the need for a silver bullet cast in holy water mooted, and since only one is made, that means Casper has to make it count.

Since Piestrak opted not to go the wolf-man (or -woman) route, this saved his crew from having to go overboard on the makeup effects. Instead, they ladle on the atmosphere and period trappings, which serve to heighten the drama when the time comes for Casper to act. Even if the results aren’t horrific in the traditional sense — one obvious lift from The Omen aside — Wilczyca provides a window into another world and culture.