This holiday season, Netflix subscribers received a lump of coal in their stocking in the form of Bright, a movie with more than a passing resemblance to 1988’s Alien Nation since it’s about a human cop reluctantly partnered up with an orc. Coming on the heels of 2015’s poorly received Victor Frankenstein, screenwriter Max Landis’s last high-concept genre effort, this doesn’t exactly bode well for his plans to retool the story of his forthcoming American Werewolf in London remake, but if one looks back about a decade in his CV, it’s possible to have a glimmer of hope for what might be.
It’s hard to imagine now, but long before he had any features to his name, Landis was just an up-and-comer whose sole writing credit was on the Masters of Horror episode Deer Woman, on which he collaborated with its director, who just so happened to be his father. When Showtime decided two Masters of Horror seasons were enough, creator Mick Garris sold NBC on a similar anthology called Fear Itself and brought the younger Landis on board to pen one of its episodes. The result was the scrappy werewolf tale Something with Bite, which never aired on the network because it pulled the plug on the ratings-challenged series after eight episodes in favor of airing the 2008 Summer Olympics. Talk about shortsighted.
Directed by Ernest R. Dickerson — another Masters of Horror veteran — Something with Bite stars Wendell Pierce as tubby, lethargic veterinarian Wilbur Orwell, who’s good with animals but whose home life isn’t all it could be. (His wife and son both feel neglected, and with good reason.) Then he gets bitten by an injured werewolf that’s brought to his clinic when it’s hit by a truck and, well, things start turning around for our man Wilbur. Not only does he develop a heightened sense of smell (along with the ability to transform into a large, hairy, ravenous beast at will), but he also becomes more assertive with his employees and attentive to his family. The only hitch is the series of apparent animal attacks that has been plaguing the city. The police detective on the case believes they’re the work of a man (“A disturbed man, but still a man.”) and somehow comes to suspect Wilbur, which puts him on the spot. After all, if he doesn’t remember everything he does when he’s a wolf, how does he know for sure that he didn’t do them?
Maybe I’m biased, but when I eventually caught up with Something with Bite on DVD, I found it to be one of Fear Itself‘s better episodes. Its take on werewolf lore is interesting (for instance, did you know there are vegan werewolves?) and Landis leavens the script with enough humor to keep it from getting too dark. I also like the design of the beast, which Dickerson is able to give a fair amount of screen time at the climax. Even in extreme closeup it manages to be convincing, which is quite an achievement given the budget constraints. Should Landis’s American Werewolf redo see the light of day, I hope to be able to say the same thing about the creature his special effects team conjures up.