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.