Friend of the site and proprietor of Horrorgasm J.C. Cooksey recently sent me a nuisance in the mail. This nuisance has a name – Creep – and he will not stop destroying ornaments and eating the cat’s food. I’ve captured him in a closet full of wrapping paper, which should give me just enough time to finish writing this post.
Creep arrived as part of the Creep in the Corner plush and book bundle. Accompanying him is a charming and colourful book that describes his origin (he has a lot of werewolf DNA, hence his presence in my house) and an array of stickers and acrylic charms bearing his face. Despite now living in what I would call a “monster-positive environment”, he has an innate need to be the polar opposite of his conceptual nemesis. The book describes this in detail, and I wish I had read it before I turned him loose.
Cooksey is the sort of creator that I aspire to be. She’s an artist, a writer, she curates horror-themed events in California, and now she’s attempting to monster-ify the western world’s most inescapable holiday. She’s taken the phrase “just add werewolves” (or werewolf-related creatures) and weaponized it in a manner perfectly calculated to delight your impressionable 8-year-old niece or nephew.
Consider gifting this Creep to your friends and family this season, both as a nice thing to do, and as a form of cultural counter-programming. Cooksey did it to me, and I have made peace with the fact that her generosity means at least a month of chewed-up Christmas light strands and shredded eggnog cartons in the fridge.
When making a werewolf movie on a limited budget (which describes nearly all werewolf movies released these days), the power of suggestion can be a useful tool for a director to have in their kit. Add some growling to a tracking shot and the audience will fill in the rest. Whichever marginally defined character is being followed at that moment is likely being stalked by some unseen creature and the actor playing them probably won’t be showing up on the next day’s call sheet. The most that needs to be shown early on is a claw or hairy arm reaching into frame and taking the fatal swipe. Alternately, shooting the attack at night and from enough of a distance means it will register without forcing your actors to spend hours in the makeup chair. The trouble only comes when you have to stop suggesting and actually produce a werewolf — if that’s the kind of movie you’re making.
It takes a while to own up to it, but 2020’s Bloodthirsty — the sophomore feature for Canadian director Amelia Moses — is that kind of movie. True, screenwriters Wendy Hill-Tout and Lowell wait until the 11th hour for one of their characters to tell another, “We’re lycanthropes, shapeshifting humans,” clarifying the situation further by having them add, “Werewolves do terrible things. It’s our nature.” Also their nature: sprouting fangs and claws when they get keyed up, but not much hair to speak of. No use for that arm after all.
Another way Bloodthirsty is stripped down is by keeping the cast as small as possible, isolating its characters at the secluded mansion of ex-boy-band-member-turned-producer Vaughn Daniels (Greg Bryk), who has magnanimously offered to nurture the talent of up-and-coming singer-songwriter Grey Kessler (Lauren Beatty). Joining her is her painter girlfriend Charlie (Katharine King), who raises the first of many red flags when she Googles Vaughn and learns he was accused of murder two decades earlier, but Grey waves her off, saying he was acquitted. What’s discomfiting about this is it occurred while he was producing another album by another signer-songwriter whose portrait he keeps on the wall surrounded by candles like some kind of a shrine. And adding to the chilly atmosphere is his stern housekeeper Vera (Judith Buchan), who disappears for long stretches but is around whenever he needs her to procure an after-dinner snack.
Before it comes to that, though, the filmmakers keep things humming by showing Grey’s disturbing dreams and hallucinations, which she keeps in check with medication. Once Vaughn takes away her pills and gives the vegan singer her first taste of meat in years, though, her carnal appetites are awakened and her songs start to reflect her new perspective. “I can smell it all over you,” Vaughn tells her. “There’s something primal. You need to use that.” Suffice it to say, she does just that. Just maybe too little too late.
“I feel like I’m in one of those dinner theater murder things and I’m having a horrible time and I can’t go home.”
This is how one of the characters describes the situation in the horror comedy Werewolves Within and they couldn’t be more on-point. The first werewolf film to be based on a video game (you snooze, you lose, Altered Beast), Werewolves Within follows U.S. Forest Service Ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) as he takes a new post in the sleepy mountain town of Beaverfield, Vermont, which is so small it only has a dozen residents — Finn included. For this reason, it doesn’t take long for local mail carrier Cecily (Milana Vayntrub) to introduce him to the rest of the cast. “Everyone here is a little… questionable,” she tells him as part of the flirty banter the two of them share.
One of the things Cecily fills Finn in on is the tension in town over a gas pipeline proposed by Sam Parker (Wayne Duvall), who’s frustrated by a handful of holdouts refusing to play ball, including widowed innkeeper Jeanine (Catherine Curtis) and gay couple Joaquim and Devon (Harvey Guillén and Cheyenne Jackson), who just so happen to be tech millionaires. And that’s not to forget environmentalist Dr. Ellis (Rebecca Henderson), whose testing equipment comes in handy when pets and people alike start being attacked by some hairy creature that turns to be unclassifiable. (Suffice it to say, once the “w” word is spoken, it isn’t far from anyone’s mind.)
As in Amicus’s The Beast Must Die, it quickly becomes apparent that the murderer is one of Beaverfield’s eccentric residents, especially when the power is knocked out and the roads are rendered impassible by a snowstorm. There’s even a healthy amount of debate about whether there really is a werewolf afoot, but this site’s readers should have no concerns that the story’s going to have a Wolf of Snow Hollow-like cop out. My main beef with director Josh Ruben and screenwriter Mishna Wolff (love that surname), then, is that they wait until their film is just about over to unleash their monster. Which is a pity because the werewolf design by Constantine Sekeris and special effects makeup by Louie Zakarian are excellent. If I could include a screenshot of it without spoiling who it turns out to be, I totally would.
I’m heading south of the border for this month’s Full Moon Feature, the Mexican oddity/obscurity The Rider of the Skulls from writer/director Alfredo Salazar, who makes no attempt to disguise the fact that it is three distinct episodes in the life of the title character. Played by Dagoberto Rodríguez, the Rider is a masked avenger in an all-black ensemble who roams the countryside righting wrongs and fighting a variety of supernatural creatures because his parents were murdered by bandits. And it just so happens that the first one on his beat is a werewolf that has been scaring off the employees of ailing farmer Don Luis (David Silva), whose illness prevents him from working the land himself.
Even without the assistance of the witch who lives in the local cemetery, it doesn’t take a psychic to realize what the nature of Don Luis’s illness is, although she does take the extra step of raising one of the werewolf’s victims from the dead so he can finger the guilty party. As for Don Luis himself, his means of transforming into his feral form consists of lying down on the ground, turning into a skeleton (by means of a simple dissolve), and then reappearing with the standard fur, fangs, and claws, after which he takes a bite out of the nearest victim.
When he finally comes face to mask with the Rider, they get into a fist fight and even perform some wrestling moves, a progression repeated in the next segment when the Rider’s foe is a vampire with a bat head reminiscent of a wrestling mask. At least he has the distinction of being dispatched with a well-aimed javelin toss. Don Luis, on the other paw, suffers the indignity of slipping while chasing his stepson along a cliff, whereupon he falls to his death. That, of course, means the Rider inherits the boy as his mascot along with Don Luis’s comic-relief servant Cléofas (Pascual García Peña), but by the time the action picks back up in the next segment, the kid has been packed off to school and replaced by another pint-sized sidekick, who sticks around for the final one when the Monster of the Week is the Headless Horseman.
It’s highly appropriate that The Rider of the Skulls ends with a faceless horseman going up against a headless one since he turns out to be the restless spirit of a notorious bandit called the Jackal who seeks to be reunited with his head, which was removed years earlier by a professor who sought to study it. Also invested in the outcome are the Jackal’s two compatriots, who were executed alongside him and appear as skeletal figures in hooded robes throughout. And instead of using their fists, the Horseman and the Rider get into a sword vs. machete fight, which is more dignified for all concerned.
Teddy Pruvost could hardly be said to be leading a charmed existence even before he’s bitten by the wolf that’s been the bane of the sheep farmers in the provincial town where he lives. Marked as an outcast from the moment he’s introduced disrupting the dedication of a monument to the handful of locals who fought in World War II, Teddy is a school dropout and metal fan who works at a massage parlor where the owner makes a habit of coming on to him. On top of that, his foster family consists of the village idiot and his invalid mother, and his girlfriend’s parents barely acknowledge his existence, probably because they expect her to drop him like a hot pomme de terre when she graduates and goes away to college. Changes are afoot for Teddy, though, when he investigates a strange sound in the woods one night and is bitten by some unseen creature. (Guess what?)
An Official Selection at the 2020 Cannes Film Festival, Teddy (which is now streaming on Shudder) is the brainchild of writer-director brothers Ludovic and Zoran Boukherma, who also co-edited the film because that’s how dedicated they were to getting their story about a French slacker who slowly turns into a bloodthirsty monster out into the world. With his buzz cut and dragon T-shirt, Anthony Bajon fits the bill as the put-upon Teddy, who seems to have a good thing going with his girlfriend Rebecca (Christine Gautier), but his plans for their future together — including the house he intends to build on a plot of land he owns for some unexplained reason — get put out to pasture when he starts growing hair in progressively unusual places (starting with his tongue) and being transfixed by the moon, which doesn’t have to be full to have an effect on him.
Much like David Kessler in An American Werewolf in London (the subject of my very first Full Moon Features column one decade ago), Teddy becomes prone to disturbing dreams, having close encounters with wolves, and waking up naked in unusual places after his nocturnal wanderings. The Boukhermas, however, are less interested in cracking jokes than crafting a serious character study of a marginalized young man pushed to lash out at the world when he’s made to feel rejected on all fronts. It’s a pity, then, that they keep his lupine form almost entirely in shadow when he finally lets the wolf out, but the carnage he leaves in his wake makes plain that his teeth and claws aren’t merely for show.
Note: I’m on a tight deadline and unable to watch and review a new werewolf film this month. Instead, I’m re-posting this Full Moon Feature Classic on Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves in anticipation of co-star David Warner’s 80th birthday, which he’s celebrating July 29th. All the best, David!
In September 1984, Neil Jordan’s horror-fantasy The Company of Wolves was screened at the Toronto Film Festival and then went into general release in the UK, giving the Canucks and the Brits a jump on their Yank counterparts since we didn’t get it in the States until the following April. Based on the short story of the same name by Angela Carter, published in the collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Carter and Jordan’s screenplay for The Company of Wolves greatly expanded on its themes and gave Jordan a taste for the fantastic that he would revisit in such subsequent films as High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, Ondine, and Byzantium. He has yet to make another werewolf movie, though, which is a major failing on his part.
More than just a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” with an emphasis on the psycho-sexual subtext, The Company of Wolves is also a tale about a young girl’s awakening sexuality — several tales, in fact. The film starts in modern day, where Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) dreams about a pack of wolves attacking her hated sister, then we enter her dream, which takes place in a fairy tale world, but never fully. Jordan periodically cuts back to Rosaleen tossing and turning in bed to remind us that everything we’re seeing is being generated by her subconscious. (In a way, it would make an excellent double feature with Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, which came out around the same time.)
The well-qualified cast is headed up by Angela Lansbury as Rosaleen’s granny, who tells her stories full of warnings about men whose eyebrows meet and wolves that are hairy on the inside, with David Warner as her father, who’s at a loss with his daughter in both the real and the dream world. Other recognizable faces include An American Werewolf in London veteran Brian Glover as the father of a neighbor boy who takes a liking to Rosaleen (who, of course, has no time for him), Graham Crowden as a kindly old priest, Kathryn Pogson as the young bride in one of Lansbury’s tales, who marries traveling man Stephen Rea, who “answers the call of nature” one night and doesn’t come back, an uncredited Jim Carter as the man she marries in his stead, and an uncredited Terence Stamp as the Devil, who appears in a flashy car to tempt a young man in the forest. If that last part doesn’t seem to make sense, remember it’s in a story being told by a girl in her own dream. With all the different levels of fantasy and reality, things are bound to get a little mixed up.
Since this was first published in 2014, The Company of Wolves stubbornly remains without a domestic release to supplant the bare-bones DVD put out by Hen’s Tooth Video almost two decades ago. The film is currently streaming on Kanopy under the Shout Factory banner, though, so maybe they have designs on putting out their own edition. They just don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to do so.
For the would-be writer of werewolf stories, it can be the worst feeling in the world to get wind of a forthcoming film or novel or come across a short story that uses the same premise they’ve been working on. For me, this happened when I read the Christmas-themed werewolf anthology Wolfsbane and Mistletoe, published in 2008, and J.A. Konrath’s story “SA,” short for “Shapeshifters Anonymous.” This was close enough to the “Lycanthropes Anonymous” from my in-progress werewolf novel that I soon abandoned it in spite of the fact that Konrath’s group was for werebeasts of all types, some of which were deliberately ludicrous. (A were-tortoise?) The result was more tongue-in-cheek than I had been going for, but I still felt that I had been beaten to the “werewolf support group” punch.
The jokey tone carries over to the story’s television adaptation, 2020’s A Creepshow Holiday Special, making it the show’s second werewolf episode after season one’s “Bad Wolf Down.” The key difference is this one has more time to stretch out, allowing writer/director Greg Nicotero to stay as faithful to Konrath’s story as possible. It opens with the visibly nervous Robert Weston (Adam Pally) arriving at St. Argento’s for its weekly “Shapeshifters Anonymous” meeting and, after trying the previous week’s password (“Landis,” naturally), bribing his way in with a box of baked goods. The regulars are understandably leery of this newcomer, especially since he claims to be the notorious “Naperville Ripper,” but as the first half of the special unfolds he gets to know the motley assemblage of therianthropes, as chapter president Irena Reid (Anna Camp) calls them, and they get to know him.
Seems perky schoolteacher Irena is a were-cheetah (appropriate since she’s named after Simone Simon’s character from the original Cat People), the gruff Scott Howard (Pete Burris) is the aforementioned were-tortoise (so don’t read anything into the fact that he’s named after the protagonist of Teen Wolf), would-be ladies man Andy McDermott (Frank Nicotero) is a were-boar (cue the jokes about him being a real pig), and Ryan (Derek Russo) is a total mystery since he never speaks and nobody even knows his last name. The odd one out, then, is Phyllis Allenbee (Candy McLellan), who’s actually a furry with a hippo persona, but she considers the others her “people” and they clearly reciprocate since they accept her more readily than Robert. He proves to be on the level, though, and they’re unconcerned about his carnivorous nature since his victims have all been bad people who had a werewolf attack coming to them. (And the werewolf movie in-jokes keep coming since the Ripper’s victims are given as Waldemar Daminski [sic], Tony Rivers, and Ginger Fitzgerald.)
Those who haven’t read Konrath’s story may wonder why “Shapeshifters Anonymous” is set at Christmastime and potentially be blindsided by the bizarre turn it takes in it second half. Since that’s the part where the members of the group shift into their hairy (and, in Scott’s case, scaly) shapes to defend their turf from an outside threat, though, the patient viewer may find it to be an ample reward for their indulgence. No need to wait until the holidays to enjoy it.
This month’s Flower Moon is also a Super Blood Moon, so I’ve chosen a film that is appropriately bloody for this month’s Full Moon Feature. While Paul Naschy’s El aullido del diablo, a.k.a. The Howl of the Devil, isn’t strictly a werewolf film, it does include a brief appearance by his signature character, Waldemar Daninsky, one of many monsters he appears as over the course of what turns out to be a particularly perverted psycho-sexual odyssey. Naschy’s most monstrous character, though, is the decidedly human Hector Doriani, a failed stage actor living in the shadow of his dead brother Alex, a horror star of the ’70s who killed himself in 1981 — coincidentally the same year the last successful Waldemar Daninsky film, The Night of the Werewolf, was released.
Holed up in his spacious country house, the pitiful Hector propositions his comely maid Carmen (Caroline Munro), who repeatedly resists his advances. Frustrated, he gets his kicks by sending his chauffeur Eric (Jesús Franco regular Horward Vernon) out to pick up young women so he can play twisted sex games with them while dressed up as such villains as Rasputin, Bluebeard, and Fu Manchu. After each has been paid off by Eric and sent packing, though, they’re knifed to death by a figure in black wearing a creepy mask and leather gloves. Meanwhile, Hector’s nephew Adrian (played by Naschy’s son Sergio) has an active imaginary life in which he interacts with various classic movie monsters. This gives Naschy the chance to not only dust off Waldemar’s fangs and fur, but also get made up as Frankenstein’s Monster (which Adrian calls “Frankie”), Mr. Hyde, the Phantom of the Opera, and Quasimodo, who says of Waldemar, “He’s dealing with destiny, like all of us.”
There’s a note of resignation in that, as Naschy knew his days of making horror films at a rapid clip were behind him. (In the mid-’70s, he was writing and starring in as many as seven a year.) It’s not surprising, then, that he went out of his way to make sure he could play as many monsters as possible in this, which he deemed “a modest homage to Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Jack Pierce” and the Universal horrors he fell in love with as a child. A film like The Howl of the Devil can’t get by on nostalgia alone, though, hence the gory slasher-type murders and the moments where Eric is seen performing black magic in an attempt to summon Alex and compel him to cross the barrier of death and rejoin him and Adrian. That Eric doesn’t consider what he would look like after spending seven years in the grave proves how shortsighted he is.
As for Adrian, while he reveres his dead father and watches his films at every opportunity, the walls of his bedroom are not only festooned with photographs of Alex in his various monstrous disguises, but also posters for Rambo: First Blood Part II and An American Werewolf in London. Considering it was the latter’s innovative makeup effects that left Naschy’s own efforts in the dust, it’s not for nothing that Adrian tells Waldemar to his furry face that he’s “the best and most tragic of them all.”
Mother’s Day is two weeks away, but I’d be hard-pressed to think of a better werewolf movie for this month’s Pink Moon than 1991’s Mom, one of a number of films hailing from the early ’90s centered on sons dealing with their suddenly monstrous mothers. From New Zealand came Peter Jackson’s 1992 opus Braindead, released in the US as Dead Alive, about a zombie outbreak spawned by a mild-mannered young man’s domineering mother. It was followed by the homegrown Ed and His Dead Mother, a 1993 horror-comedy starring Steve Buscemi that landed more on the comedy end of the scale. Preceding both, though, was Mom, in which the proud mother of a TV news reporter is turned into a flesh-eating monster by a bite from the transient who takes up residence in her spare room.
When she’s introduced, Emily Dwyer (Jeanne Baker) is about the sweetest old lady you can imagine, but she’s suffering from empty nest syndrome since the only way she can see her son on Christmas Eve is by watching his news broadcast and her daughter is just a distracted voice on the telephone. Still, she makes a point of filling her modest house with decorations, with the most important one being the “ROOM TO LET” sign in her front window. This draws the attention of drifter Nestor Duvalier (Brion James), who turned into a monster and viciously murdered a pregnant girl in the film’s opening, so the viewer knows he’s bad news even if she can’t see through his bogus “blind man” routine. She also ignores such classic warning signs as her dog growling at him and the fact that he can smell something burning in the kitchen from his room. (Later on, he even refers to the “heightened sense of hearing” he has thanks to his “condition.”)
The breaking point comes when Emily tries to force some of her home cooking on Nestor in spite of his protestations that he always eats out, whereupon he transforms and puts the bite on her. In short order, they’re preying upon Los Angeles’s homeless population together and her son Clay (Mark Thomas Miller) finds himself in the awkward position of reporting from her crime scenes. (“My mother just quietly and deliberately killed a man and ate him,” he says after witnessing one of their nocturnal outings. “That kind of blows all the old rules to hell, don’t you think?”) On top of this, his girlfriend Alice (Mary McDonough, late of The Waltons) is pregnant, so even after Nestor is taken out of the picture (stabbing him with knitting needles doesn’t work, but burning him to a cinder does the trick), Clay fears for both her and their unborn child. Locking Mom up in her room is only a temporary solution, though, and over time his attempts to hide her condition from the world grow increasingly desperate.
While watching Mom, it quickly becomes apparent that its story may have been better served had it been done with more of a satirical edge, but first-time writer/director Patrick Rand plays things fairly straight. He even includes your standard subplot about the police (represented by harried lieutenant Art Evans, who played a similar role in Ruthless People) investigating a series of animal-related attacks around town. (“Fingerprints?” asks one of his detectives. “For that, you would need fingers,” he replies.) About the only novel twist is the ambiguity surrounding what kind of creature Nestor is. “Vampire, werewolf, ghoul — it’s all the same,” he says, but his monstrous form is hairy enough to qualify as the middle one for our purposes. As for dear old Mom, the only time she’s seen fully transformed is in one of Clay’s nightmares, but the intermediate stage of her make-up is more than a lot of current werewolf films attempt, so I won’t knock it.
Werewolf movies are generally bad. Movies based on video games are generally extremely bad. These things are known. What, then, am I to make of Werewolves Within, an upcoming werewolf movie based on a 2016 Ubisoft PlayStation VR game of the same name?
The film, written by Mishna Wolff (I’m Down) and directed by [Josh] Ruben, centers on the small town of Beaverfield as a proposed gas pipeline creates divisions within the town and a snowstorm traps its residents together inside the local inn, with newly arrived forest ranger Finn and postal worker Cecily teaming up to try and keep the peace and uncover the truth behind a mysterious creature that has begun terrorizing the community.
“A bunch of people all trapped somewhere while one of them, secretly a malevolent force, kills them off one at a time” is such a well-worn trope that there’s literally a party game about it, which inspired the video game that inspired this movie. It’s a whodunnit framework used approximately one million times in werewolf media, most recently to poor effect in The Beast Within. Even Timothy Dalton had a turn at it in a Tales from the Crypt episode. As a basis for a screenplay, its only narrative hooks are “guess who the werewolf is” (it’s always the least-likely person) and “will the werewolf prevail” (no). It’s formulaic to a fault. The success or failure of such a film rests on the shoulders of its characters, who have to be charming and interesting enough to make a weary werewolf-loving audience care. If you would like to know how often I think this is successful, please re-read the first sentence of this post.
Imagine my surprise, then, when the teaser trailer for Werewolves Within reveals a bunch of distinctly rendered oddballs, all running around clutching guns and screaming while their dogs get eaten, and their friends get mauled in bed. I want to see these people get eaten (or eat other people). Of course, I want to see the werewolf (or werewolves) triumph at the end, but this time, the journey to my likely disappointment seems like it’ll be fun.
Speaking of the werewolves, what do they look like here? True to form, each shot in the trailer cuts away just before the werewolf is revealed, but the game is obvious in its commitment to the bipedal monster design we know and love. Hopefully, the film follows suit. In the meantime, those of us who freeze-frame trailers in search of a beastly money shot might derive some satisfaction from the film’s teaser poster.
“This movie is an homage to my love for Hot Fuzz, the Coen Brothers, and Arachnophobia,” writes Ruben. As references go, these sound promising. The trailer for Werewolves Within does not promise a lycanthropic Knives Out, but it does show a high level of self-awareness and delight at its own premise. If it turns out to be at least as entertaining as Timothy Dalton’s big surprise at the end of Werewolf Concerto, I’ll be happy.
Werewolves Within premieres in theatres on June 25th, followed by a VOD and digital release on July 2nd.