Full Moon Feature: Night Shadow (1989)

Another month, another Full Moon Feature. This month’s selection is 1989’s Night Shadow, a film I came by in a four-movie pack with Howling IV: The Original Nightmare, Raging Sharks, and Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep. (I guess you’d call that a surf-and-wolf combo.) I knew the film couldn’t possibly live up to its cover image, which depicts a man with a howling wolf’s head and hairy shoulders who’s wearing pants that have slipped down to reveal his underwear, but a werewolf movie is a werewolf movie is a werewolf movie…

Unless, of course, that werewolf movie is Night Shadow, which sends up its first red flag during the opening credits when it reveals that it’s “based on a concept and creature designed by Mark Crowe.” Not that I have anything against Crowe and his creature design work, mind you, but if this movie got made simply because he had a werewolf suit lying around, that’s not a good enough reason. I guess it was sufficient for writer/director Randolph Cohlan, though, who killed two birds with one swipe of the claw by making Night Shadow both his directorial debut and swan song. It was also one of the last films for veteran character actor Aldo Ray (as Gene Krebelski, novelty fish product salesman), and it was the last for special effects technician Rick Scott, who got the role of a lifetime — literally — as the bearded drifter with the gnarly fingernails who (shock! horror! puzzlement!) turns out to be a werewolf. (I often wonder why low-budget movies bother “introducing” actors if they’re only going to fade back into the woodwork.)

Actually, the star of the film is Brenda Vance, who plays successful TV anchorwoman Alex Jung, who chooses to spend her vacation in her sleepy hometown and finds she’s being stalked by a real creep who seems to have some kind of a psychic connection with her — that is, when he isn’t killing old men for their pickup trucks. While she’s home, Alex checks in with her brother Tai (Stuart Quan, credited as Dane Chan), a kickboxing handyman in a half-shirt, and makes time with old flame Adam (Tom Boylan), whose job as sheriff is complicated by the vicious mutilations that get dropped into his lap. Meanwhile, Tai pulls pranks on and with his two asshole friends Dean and Bruce (Kato Kaelin — yes, that Kato Kaelin — and Orien Richman), who are marked for death when they steal the drifter’s diary out of his stinky motel room.

Now, some people who lived through the ’90s will say it’s worth tracking this movie down just to watch Kato Kaelin get a metal pipe shoved through his chest by a hairy werewolf. Let me assure you, these people are wrong. If there’s any entertainment to be wrung out of this tedious monster movie, it can be found in the performance of Jeannette Lewis as unflappable county coroner Francis Stern. Not only does she deliver the requisite werewolf movie dialogue (“All of the victims were mutilated in exactly the same way. There are definite signs of an animal attack.”) like a champ, but she also says one of the funniest lines I’ve ever heard in any werewolf movie: “The woman’s head is missing, making identification very difficult.” I tell you, that’s Academy Award material right there.