Author: Craig J. Clark

Craig J. Clark hasn't seen every werewolf movie ever made, but he's working on it (the complete list of the ones he's seen so far is here). He has been a contributor to Werewolf News since August 2011, when he wrote about his deep and abiding love for John Landis's An American Werewolf in London. Since then, his Full Moon Features have appeared every time the moon has been full and bright. His non-werewolf reviews can be found at Crooked Marquee and on Letterboxd.

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.

Full Moon Features: Wild Country (2005)

If the ever-dwindling number of halfway decent werewolf movies I have to choose from is anything to go by, it won’t be long before I run out of Full Moon Features to write about. (Considering I’ve watched 172 of the cursed things over the past 14 years, it’s a miracle I’m still finding ones that are even watchable.) This month’s selection is Wild Country, a wee wisp of a film (it runs 67 minutes, 73 with credits) that earns points for using practical creature effects, but loses them straight away because they’re so damned silly-looking. (According to the IMDb, their design was based on the four-legged monster wolf from An American Werewolf in London, but one thing writer/director Craig Strachan forgets is that John Landis shows David Kessler in his fully transformed state only sparingly, and never in the full light of the last 20 minutes of this film. Lesson: If you’re going to take cues from a classic, make sure you learn the right things from it.)

The supernatural angle aside, Wild Country is a straightforward story of survival, populated by barely sketched-in teenage characters played by unseasoned actors who do little to make the viewer care about which order they get picked off. Right at the top, Strachan introduces his predetermined Final Girl, 16-year-old Kelly Ann (Samantha Shields), who gives birth to a baby that is immediately whisked away and given to a childless couple. Six weeks later, Father Steve (an underused Peter Capaldi) picks her up so she can take part in an overnight church youth club hike on the heath. Her companions: her best friend Louise (Nicola Muldoon), bully David (Kevin Quinn), his runty younger brother Mark (Jamie Quinn), and unexpected addition Lee (Martin Compston), who just so happens to be the boy that got her into trouble. On the way to the drop-off point, Father Steve regales his charges with the story of Sawney Bean and his clan of inbred cannibals (which previously served as the inspiration for Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes), but once the youths are on their own, they find there’s something even more terrifying out there, and it’s fast and covered in fur.

Strachan throws viewers a curve by letting the kids have a couple run-ins with a feral-looking shepherd (Alan McHugh), a likely suspect to turn out to be the werewolf right up until the moment he becomes its first victim. There’s also a fair bit of business about a baby boy Kelly Ann and Lee find in an abandoned castle, thus giving her a second chance to be a mother. Overall, though, it’s just a lot of running and yelling and dropping mobiles and the like until the twist ending that anybody with half a brain should be able to see coming a mile away. Still, at least it gives Peter Capaldi something else to do. Did I mention he’s grossly underused?

Full Moon Features: Wolf Children (2012) & Tales of the Night (2011)

What happens when a young woman and a lanky werewolf fall in love? Why, they make Wolf Children, of course! Co-written and directed by Mamoru Hosoda, the 2012 animated feature only spends about 20 minutes on the courtship of university student Hara and the Wolf Man of her dreams, who works as a mover. In that time, they meet (in one of her courses, which he is auditing unofficially), get to know each other, share their secrets (his is the real whopper, as you might imagine), and build a life together. That includes having children, but not long after the birth of their second he gets himself killed, leaving Hara alone to care for their feral offspring and forcing her to move out of the city, away from all the prying eyes and meddling social workers.

Of course, even in the country with no neighbors for miles around, Hara and her children — tomboy Yuki and shy boy Ame — are the subject of gossip, and she has to prove herself capable of putting in the work before they’ll teach her even the rudiments of farming. She also has to get used to the idea of letting her children go out into the world because it isn’t long before Yuki is insisting on being allowed to go to elementary school, which Hara only agrees to after making her promise not to wolf out in front of the other children. As for Ame, he learns a valuable lesson when he comes face to face with a timber wolf in captivity and finds it has no wisdom to pass on to him. That, he surmises, is what happens when you let human society keep you caged up. No wonder he ultimately chooses a different path for himself.

Considering how much leeway animation gives filmmakers, especially when it comes to realizing tricky things like character transformations, it’s surprising how few animated films there are about werewolves and shapeshifters. What’s not surprising, though, is how the small number that do exist are dominated by family-friendly fare like The Nightmare Before Christmas, Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, WolfWalkers, and the Hotel Transylvania series. They’re also rarely the focus of the stories, with a rare exception being Michel Ocelot’s 2011 French anthology Tales of the Night, which is bookended by tales of transformation, the first of which is called “Night of the Werewolf.”

The wraparound segments consist of an old animator and his two young helpers, Théo and Annie, who propose story ideas to each other and then decide which parts they’re going to play, how they’re going to be costumed, and so forth. So, for example, when Théo says, “Let’s suppose I’m a werewolf,” the ensuing discussion results in a story about a young loup-garou who becomes engaged to the older of two sisters who proves her lack of worth by betraying him the moment she learns his secret. Happily, the younger sister is able to restore him to his human form and even accepts him for the part-time beast that he is. From there, Ocelot travels to the Caribbean, the Aztec empire, an African village and the mountains of Tibet, doubling back to medieval France for “The Young Doe and the Architect’s Son,” in which a young woman is cursed by an ogre of a sorcerer when she refuses to marry him. When the young lover who helped her escape from his clutches believes she’s been turned into a doe, he seeks the help of a fairy, but the solution turns out to have been right under his nose the whole time.

One thing that helps Tales of the Night stand out is its distinctive look, which recalls Ocelot’s early work with silhouette animation. Even if he’s using computers to bring his characters to life, when the results are this charming it doesn’t matter how the magic is accomplished. And his habit of highlighting ancient stories and legends of different cultures is a handy reminder that everything old can be made new again with a dash of creativity.