When presented with a film like 2009’s Dark Moon Rising, it’s hard to know quite where to begin. Also known as Wolf Moon — and not to be confused with 2015’s Dark Moon Rising, which is a different movie altogether — it raises a big red flag by virtue of the fact that it has a running time in excess of two hours. In all my years of watching werewolf movies, there has only been one other that has topped two hours and that was Mike Nichols’s Wolf. (Even the director’s cut of Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman managed to come in under two hours.) In the case of Wolf, the extended running time was somewhat justified because the film doubled as a sharp character study. Dark Moon Rising, on the other hand, is stocked with shallow characters who are exactly what they appear to be on first glance and never develop beyond that. And since there are only seven characters of any note — and two of those are glorified cameos — that means they have a hell of a lot of water to tread between them.
If the opening narration is anything to go by, this is the story of a girl named Amy (Ginny Weirick), the virginal daughter of an overprotective Nevada rancher (Chris Mulkey) who falls in love with a handsome drifter named Dan (Chris Divecchio) who just so happens to be cursed to periodically turn into a hairy beast (which looks a heck of a lot like the X-Man Beast when we finally get a good look at him about a third of the way into the picture). Actually, the two of them don’t hit it off at first because he’s a total jerk to her, but then he stops being a jerk and later comes to her rescue when she naïvely accepts a ride from a stranger who attempts to rape her. It is then that Dan reveals he’s been following Amy around since the day they met, which she rightly identifies as stalker behavior, but they still go through with the standard-issue “falling in love” montage that is only slightly marred by his vision of slashing her face with a hairy paw. That’s only the beginning, though, because in the very next scene he goes full-on wolf-man, terrorizing an old couple in a truck and bothering some livestock and killing a dog before getting scared off by the shotgun-toting Crazy Louis (the part the late Sid Haig was born to play).
The next morning, Dan wakes up in the desert, clad only in torn jeans (kind of like The Hulk) and gets a ride back into town, whereupon he drives Amy out to the desert so he can spill his secret, bluntly saying, “I’m a fucking werewolf,” then chaining himself up so he can’t hurt her. He breaks the chain as soon as he changes, though (through the magic of morphing), but doesn’t harm her, which inspires them to go to a psychic to find out what the deal with him is. The psychic tells them he’s cursed (no duh) and that his father must be killed if he is to be freed from it. (She also tells them, “Goodbye. Please don’t let out the kitty,” when it’s time for them to go.) This, by the way, is the perfect time to bring up the dark, mysterious stranger (played by top-billed Max Ryan) who kills his way through several states on his way to Pahrump, Nevada. (Can’t imagine who he could be.) (Also, Pahrump, Nevada, is totally a real place that neither I nor the filmmakers made up.)
In the role of the clueless sheriff who can’t understand how a wolf could kill a horse while walking upright like a man, co-writer/director Dana Mennie cast Maria Conchita Alonso, one of six lucky cast members who are listed as co-producers in the opening credits. (I’m guessing this means they didn’t get paid up front.) The last piece of the puzzle is provided by Billy Drago as a man on the trail of Dan’s father who fills in Amy’s father and the sheriff (who once had a thing for each other, don’tcha know) on his backstory. Meanwhile, Amy’s father tries in vain to keep her and Dan apart, even pulling a gun on him at one point, but he’s happy to have the young werewolf on his side when the time comes for the final showdown with his old man. (Crazy Louis gets in on this as well, allowing Haig to let rip with lines like “Let’s go kill some shit” and “All right, you fuzzy-ass motherfucker” when he goes mano-a-mano with the big, bad wolf.) Why Dan has to walk off into the sunset after it’s all over was lost on me (after all, his father was killed, which is what I thought had to happen for his curse to be lifted), but as it’s been a decade since this came out, I don’t think we’ll be getting a Dark Moon Rising 2 (or a Wolf Moon 2, for that matter) to clarify it.