In light of this month’s Total Lunar Supermoon Eclipse, it would be sweet if I had a totally super Full Moon Feature to share with you. Alas, this is not the case. Following the uptick in werewolf movies in the ’70s and ’80s, the ’90s found the hairy beasts on a brief decline before rallying in the new millennium. Part of this may be due to lackluster efforts like 1992’s Mad at the Moon, which premiered 30 years ago this month at the Seattle International Film Festival before landing on video, where it has spent decades misleading people into thinking it’s more about werewolves than it is.
In fact, the film is nearly half over before there’s even an inkling that there’s anything lycanthropic afoot, which means the viewer has to wade through nearly an hour of bookish Jenny Hill (Mary Stuart Masterson) mooning over unshaven drifter Miller Brown (Hart Bochner) while her meddlesome mother (Fionnula Flanagan) tries to broker a match with reclusive and socially awkward farmer James Miller (Stephen Blake). There’s some novelty to the Old West setting, but when a prostitute sees how Jenny pines after Miller Brown and advises her to “get on with it,” it’s impossible not to agree that the film as a whole needs to hurry up and get to the part where co-writer/director Martin Donovan reveals which one of his characters goes a little “mad” when the moon is full.
Unfortunately, the moment of truth when it comes is decidedly underwhelming, as is the resolution of the limp love triangle after Jenny’s mother goes to Miller Brown with “a business proposition” — namely, that he’ll stay with Jenny and “protect” her the next time the full moon comes around. Of course, that’s the night both men go out of their way to look presentable, which in James’s case goes a long way toward making him more attractive to his wife, so however things shake out, she’s sure to be content with whoever is left standing at the final curtain. If only the audience cared one way or the other.
The IMDb doesn’t give an exact release date for it — the best it can do is May 1972 — but as we’re coming up on the 50th anniversary of Andy Milligan’s infamous The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!, I figured it was about time I tackled it in this column. As catchy as its present title is, The Werewolves Are Here! started out as a movie about a brood of bickering lycanthropes called The Curse of the Moon, but when producer William Mishkin got wind of Willard‘s runaway success he had Milligan literally throw some rats into the story, hence The Rats Are Coming! They’re not integrated very well, though, so to reflect this I’ll deal with the werewolves first and then haphazardly toss in the rats later on.
The whole shebang takes place in England around the turn of the 20th century, and Milligan restricts most of the action to the Mooney estate, where ailing patriarch Pa Mooney (Douglas Phair) holds sway over his five adult children. His favorite is natural born troublemaker Monica (Hope Stansbury), who hates everything and everybody and delights in tormenting her imbecilic brother Malcolm (Berwick Kaler), who is first seen tussling with a couple of roustabouts who proceed to light him on fire on his own front lawn. The most responsible of the bunch is eldest sister Phoebe (Joan Ogden), who looks much older than her stated age of 39, followed closely by the level-headed Mortimer (Noel Collins). The household is thrown into a tizzy, however, by the return of prodigal daughter Diana (Jackie Skarvellis), who went away to Scotland for medical school and came home with a husband, painter Gerald (Ian Innes). Naturally, she hasn’t told him that she comes from a family of werewolves, but that’s just as well since Malcolm doesn’t want him in the family anyway. Even talking about the subject is enough to give him an attack that he needs a shot to recover from.
In the day or so leading up to the full moon, Diana has plenty of time to get reacquainted with her family and exchange repetitive, exposition-laden dialogue with them. (With Milligan, there’s no detail so unimportant that it can’t be repeated five or six times, usually within the same scene.) Meanwhile, rightfully figuring out that something is amiss, Gerald tries to talk her into leaving with him, but she believes the (possibly normal, possibly not) baby growing in her womb will change his mind.
And now is the time during my review of The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here! where I mention the scene where Monica heads into town to see a severely deformed man (Milligan, credited as Chris Shore) about buying a bunch of rats that have developed a taste for human flesh ever since they gnawed off his arm and part of his face while he was sleeping. Once Monica gets them home she starts talking to them and even names a few (“I think I’ll call you Willard,” she says to one. “You look just like a Willard.”), but when the one she names Ben bites her she stabs it to death and marches back to town to demand a refund. And that’s all for the rats in The Rats Are Coming! The Werewolves Are Here!
Finally, the day of full moon arrives and Diana takes her own trip into town to buy a pistol from a chatty old gunsmith (Milligan again, this time credited as George Clark) and sweet talk him into making some silver bullets to go. It also sees the introduction of Monica’s previously unseen best friend, childish neighbor girl Rebecca (Lillian Frit), who sticks around just long enough to get the chop for knowing too much about the Mooneys. In the end, everybody reveals the secrets they’ve been hiding from everybody else for years and years, and every Mooney who’s cursed to turn into a werewolf does, starting with Pa, whose weak heart gives out after his transformation, both of which come as something of a shock to Gerald. Just when he thought he was finally being accepted into the family!
This month’s full moon abuts St. Patrick’s Day, so it’s only natural for me to tackle a werewolf film set in Ireland. It’s also natural that I made a point of seeing The Cursed — formerly Eight for Silver — in theaters last month in spite of the fact that I knew it would likely be out of them by the time the next full moon rolled around. After all, if I can’t be counted on to show up for opening weekend of a new werewolf movie, who can?
A film with atmosphere to burn and the patience to let the viewer soak it all in, The Cursed opens in 1917 in the trenches of World War I where an officer is rushed to a field hospital after getting shot, but the surgeon pulls out more bullets than went in — and the last one is made of silver. Coupled with the wounded man deliriously repeating a child’s nursery rhyme, this sparks a flashback to 35 years earlier, when an Irish landowner made a fateful decision regarding a caravan of Roma who had a legitimate claim on a parcel of land near his settlement.
All seems resolved when Seamus Laurent (Alistair Petrie) has the camp torched, the men, women, and children shot while they flee, and an example made of two who don’t. A young man has his hands and feet chopped off and is hung up like a scarecrow. An old woman is buried alive clutching the set of silver wolf’s teeth she had fashioned by the camp’s blacksmith in anticipation of trouble. She also spends her dying breaths pronouncing a curse on everyone present, so it can’t come as too much of a surprise when, much like Freddy Kruger would two centuries later, a certain sinister scarecrow begins haunting the dreams of their offspring. And what of those silver teeth? Well, all it takes is for one of the boys (named Timmy, improbably enough) to dig them up and stick them in his mouth for all hell to break loose.
Seamus, in particular, is put out by this because his son Edward is the one bitten by Timmy and immediately falls ill. In short order, though, he’s up and about and running amok in the woods, much to the distress of his mother Isabelle (Kelly Reilly) and sister Charlotte (Amelia Crouch), who’s never in any danger since she’s alive and well in 1917 to look back on the strange events of 1882. For while writer/director/cinematographer Sean Ellis hasn’t fashioned a werewolf movie in the traditional sense, anybody who gets bitten by the silver teeth and survives turns into a monster, and anybody who’s injured by them and survives becomes a monster, and so on.
Ultimately, it takes the intercession of traveling pathologist John McBride (Boyd Holbrook) to tell Seamus and his people what they’re dealing with and order the silver teeth to be melted down and turned into bullets, an act of transformation that models those who have the misfortune to fall victim to its curse. Of course, as The Cursed demonstrates, there are some who deserve everything they get.
When Blumhouse inaugurated its “Into the Dark” series of standalone horror films on Hulu in 2018, there was no guarantee it was ever going to tackle lycanthropy. It finally did, however, with 2021’s Blood Moon, the finale of its second (and so far final) season. Written by Adam Mason & Simon Boyes and directed by Emma Tammi (best known for 2018’s prairie-set psychological horror The Wind), Blood Moon follows a mother and her young son as they move to a desert community in hopes of finding a quiet place to settle down. Privacy is of primary concern for Esme (Megalyn Echikunwoke) since her son Luna (Yonas Kibreab) is a werewolf and needs to be locked in a cage once a month — a trait he inherited from his absent father — but getting the locals to play along is another matter.
Esme’s main order of business once they’ve rented a house (which naturally has to have a basement) is ordering the materials she needs to build a cage strong enough to hold Luna when it’s his time of the month. She also takes a job as a waitress at the local watering hole, with the stipulation that there’s one day out of every month that she absolutely cannot work, the dinner rush be damned. Her boss Sam (Joshua Dov) is reasonable enough about the arrangement, but he’s one of many men in town who sees the headstrong single mother as a potential conquest. That includes odious sheriff Barlow Townes (Gareth Williams), who’s not above throwing his weight around to assert his manhood.
That’s decidedly not the case with friendly neighborhood hardware store owner Miguel (Marco Rodríguez), who takes a genuine interest in Esme and doesn’t snoop around even though he’s well aware the building materials she’s getting (and paying for on installment) aren’t for keeping chickens. When the full moon arrives, Luna dutifully gets into the cage, and Esme retires to the front porch with a dart gun to keep vigil. Their first month in town passes without incident, save for the infection Luna develops that requires a trip to the hospital (where Esme has to think fast to prevent them from taking a sample of his blood), but there are complications the next full moon when Esme is talked into taking a lunch shift and Luna sneaks away to a birthday party he’s been invited to by a well-meaning Miguel.
When they don’t make it back to the house before nightfall, Luna escapes and goes on a rampage he has no memory of when Esme finds him the next morning. Luckily, the authorities are baffled by the mutilated livestock and blame it on a mountain lion, which puts the brakes on Esme’s instinct to immediately pull up stakes, but she knows all about the dangers of getting too comfortable.
Naturally, everything comes to a head after Esme and Luna have been in town long enough for her to consider enrolling him in public school, something that’s never seemed like an option before. That goes right out the window when a series of unforeseen events results in Esme’s arrest by Townes, who’s been itching to haul her in. Her pleas for him to lock Luna in a cell fall on deaf ears, though, and when the boy wolfs out he makes short work of the town’s entire police force. It’s a pity, then, that Tammi skips over Luna’s change, but considering his werewolf form is literally just a wolf, that’s just as well. A full-on transformation sequence clearly wasn’t in her budget.
When selling your soul to the Devil, it pays to be as specific as possible about the terms, otherwise Lucifer will feel duty-bound to screw you over in the most inconvenient and ironic way they can think of. In the Mexican horror film El Hombre y el Monstruo a.k.a. The Man and the Monster, mediocre concert pianist Samuel Magno (Manning in the English-language version) learns this the hard way when he offers up his soul, saying, “I want to play as no one else has ever played,” not realizing how much latitude he’s giving the Great Deceiver. True, Samuel does get to be “the greatest musical genius in the world,” but every time he sits down at the piano and plays, he transforms into a savage beast with hairy claws and a fur-filled face to match. Kinda throws a damper on any concert tours he had lined up in his head while completing his transaction with Satan.
Produced in the early days of the Mexican horror boom of the ’50s and ’60s, The Man and the Monster opens with an unnamed woman crashing her car and seeking help at a run-down mansion to which she’s drawn by the sound of piano music. As she approaches the door from which it is emanating, a raspy voice exhorts her to unlock it, which she does because “The Howling Man” episode of The Twilight Zone wouldn’t be made for another year and therefore couldn’t serve as an object lesson for her. Director Rafael Baledón doesn’t show what becomes of her immediately, though. That’s for the next driver on the scene, press agent Ricardo Souto (Richard Sandro in the English dub), to discover when he investigates the crash and finds the woman lying nearby with claw marks on her face. He, too, goes to the mansion for assistance, but is brusquely turned away by an old woman with a black cat who gives him the silent treatment.
This, as it turns out, is the domineering mother of Samuel (top-billed Enrique Rambal), who is actually the person Richard (Abel Salazar, brother of screenwriter Alfredo Salazar) is in town to see since he’s making arrangements for the debut of Samuel’s protege Laura (Martha Roth). For some reason, the tortured musician hopes this will be the means of his salvation, but his monstrous side has a way of asserting itself, especially when he hears a particularly sinister piece of music. Rambal is convincing as both title characters, since the pathetic Samuel and his aggressive alter ego operate independently of one another, a true split personality. Once his m.o. has been established, though, the action grows repetitive, with only a change of venue to the concert hall to spice things up. There is a nice scene near the end, however, when Samuel has vowed never to play again and is browbeaten into doing so by a girl who regrets being so insistent.
Since the last full moon of 2021 is upon us, I figured I’d look back at a trio of werewolf films from a decade ago that I haven’t covered yet because, well, the werewolves aren’t in them very much. In fact, one of them is about an actress who has merely been cast in a werewolf movie, which we don’t actually get to see in production.
The first one out of the gate — or out of the dog house — is Dylan Dog: Dead of Night, a horror comedy based on a long-running Italian comic book that runs into its first problem by casting Brandon Routh as the title character, a long-retired New Orleans-based paranormal investigator who takes a break from his mundane divorce work when a real whopper of a case drops in his lap. Routh’s voice-over narration is supposed to sound detached and ironic, but too often it feels like he’s audibly digging his elbow into our ribs, trying to convince the viewer that whatever he just said is the most hysterical thing ever, probably because it has something to do with vampires, werewolves, or zombies. (Those are the three main monster types represented in the film. There are also passing references to ghouls, but they don’t really figure into the plot.) The vampires all answer to Taye Diggs’s grandstanding Vargas while the leader of the werewolf clan is Peter Stormare’s Gabriel (whose second, played by pro wrestler Kurt Angle, is named Wolfgang, har har). As for the zombies, they come into play when Dylan’s assistant Marcus is bitten to death by one, which gives Sam Huntington (Being Human‘s resident werewolf) the opportunity to play a different kind of creature of the night. As comic relief goes, though, he’s really annoyingly high-strung.
I haven’t gotten into the plot at all, which revolves around Dylan’s reluctant investigation into the death of an importer who had recently come into possession of an artifact coveted by vampires and werewolves alike. In true noir fashion, the man’s daughter becomes Dylan’s love interest pretty much by default, which gives him a chance to open up about his tragic backstory. It’s an attempt to lend a little gravitas to a story that involves side trips to zombie body shops, fast food joints, and support groups, but Routh can only do so much emoting. And director Kevin Munroe falls back on repetitive fight scenes, one of which is preceded by Kurt Angle growling “It’s dyin’ time.” That’s fairly redundant, though, because by the time that line is spoken, anybody still watching will have long since declared this dog dead in the water.
Next up is the mumblecore drama Silver Bullets, not to be confused with the similarly titled Stephen King adaptation. Written and directed by Joe Swanberg, who is known for churning out films at a rapid clip — or rather, he was at the time this film came out — Silver Bullets was a long time coming since its production was unusually protracted. Shooting began in late 2008 and he didn’t complete the film until early 2011, when it premiered at South by Southwest. Furthermore, he essentially shot and edited two different versions before settling on a story that satisfied him, about a young actress who gets cast in a low-budget werewolf film.
Kate Lyn Sheil stars as Claire, the actress in question, who’s thrilled to be playing the younger version of June (Jane Adams), an insecure actress who shares the prologue — and her worries about putting on weight — with Sam (indie fixture Larry Fessenden, who later auditions for a role in the film). For her part, Claire’s relationship with her boyfriend Ethan (Swanberg, playing a frustrated filmmaker) deteriorates after he casts her best friend Charlie (Amy Seimetz, also the film’s producer) as his girlfriend in the low-budget drama he’s shooting concurrently with her werewolf film. Meanwhile, Sheil’s director Ben (Ti West, essentially playing himself) clumsily puts the moves on her, which she’s slow to rebuff. Even if they go no further than a little kissing on the mouth, the damage has been done.
Lastly, we come to Drew Goddard’s The Cabin in the Woods, which was released in the spring of 2012 but had its premiere at Austin’s Butt-Numb-A-Thon film festival the previous December. (If nothing else, Harry Knowles’s fall from grace in 2017 has spared any further films from the ignominy of having their premieres at a festival with such a dumb name.) Rather than talk about the plot, though, which should be common knowledge at this point, let us focus on its werewolf, surely one of the best-looking specimens ever to grace the silver screen (however briefly).
I don’t know what totem in the cabin’s basement would have activated it, but I’m sorry it wasn’t chosen because I definitely would have enjoyed seeing more of this ferocious beast in action. Then again, it does get some of the best moments in the final act, even taking a bite out of the so-called “final girl” because that’s just the sort of thing it would do. Werewolf movies don’t have final girls. Whatever else it does, The Cabin in the Woods gets that.
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.