Regular readers of this column may have noticed it has been highly irregular of late. The last review I posted was for 1988’s Cellar Dweller in July, three full moons ago. The one before that was Santo vs. las lobas in May, and the one before that was Viking Wolf in February. This is not due to a shortage of werewolf movies — more are being made all the time, and I have a backlog 30 titles deep — but rather a shortage of ones that look even halfway decent. (That goes double for the werewolves in them.) As much as I’m looking forward to Larry Fessenden’s Blackout and festival darling My Animal, just about everything on my werewolf watchlist from 2020 and earlier is suspect for one reason or another. My local library has acquired one with a 2023 release, however, so I figured I’d pair it up with one from last year with a startlingly similar premise. I’m not saying one of these low-budget werewolf films copied off the other, just that the concept of a crew of low-budget filmmakers running afoul of werewolves while shooting on location clearly isn’t as unique as either of them thought.
The first to reach audiences was Wolf Manor, which premiered under that title at FrightFest in the UK in 2022 and has been rechristened Scream of the Wolf for US consumption. (That’s what it’s streaming under on Tubi, alongside the ’70s TV movie of the same name for maximum confusion.) Its film-within-the-film is called Crimson Manor, and it has been shooting in Shropshire for four weeks and should have already wrapped, but the director needed to stay one more day for pick-up shots, which is a problem since it’s a full moon and the locals holed up in The Blue Moon pub aren’t keen to tell outsiders about their lycanthrope problem. This is just one of many nods to An American Werewolf in London writers Joel Ferrari and Pete Wild lard their script with, and the frequent reminders of other, better werewolf movies does this one no favors. (There’s also a silver wolf head cane like the one in Universal’s The Wolf Man that turns out to be the only effective defense against the beast.)
Dominic Brunt directs the film with a certain amount of style and the cast is mostly up to the task of selling the yucks (in both senses of the word), but few of the characters get enough screen time to develop any depth. When producer Peter Castle (Stephen Mapes) tells someone, “Trust me, I’m a producer,” the viewer immediately knows he’s not to be trusted. Meanwhile, the old pros on set are weary director Derek Francis (Rupert Procter) and his oft-sozzled star Oliver Lawrence (James Fleet), who’s playing a vampire for the seventh time and has only just come around to the idea that fake fangs are a pain in the neck. Then there’s indefatigable 1st AD Fiona (Thaila Zucchi), who’s holding the whole shaky enterprise together as best she can in spite of the hairy monster that starts picking off the cast and crew. While he’s doing his business, Brunt lingers on the blood and gore effects, and he’s also fond of his blood sprays, some of which are so far over the top, the natural inclination is to laugh. The funniest moment in the film, though, comes when the survivors are looking aghast at something and the creature casually steps out from behind a tree. That’s probably not the reaction the filmmakers intended, but it’s the one it elicited from me.
Like a lot of its low-budget ilk, Wolf Manor rolls credits well before its 80 minutes are up, but after zipping through them in two minutes, it comes back with a lengthy post-credits scene revealing the identity of the werewolf that bedeviled Crimson Manor’s production. And the horror isn’t over since one of those who saw the dawn has clearly been bitten and will be wolfing out the next time the moon is full. A similar thing happens in 2023’s Wolf Hollow, though in that case it’s a mid-credits scene revealing the fate of a survivor who came through the ordeal very much worse for wear, but doesn’t have to wait long for the healing powers of lycanthropy to manifest themselves.
Similarly, writer/director Mark Cantu doesn’t make the viewer wait long for his werewolves to run amok, briefly introducing a small army of partying goths who are made into mincemeat in the space of a minute and a half. The story then lurches forward a year, landing in an RV stocked with a motley film crew traveling to the title locale in the heart of Pennsyltucky on a location scout for a film called Liberty’s Last Stand, which diva star Marla (Lynn Lowry) is along for for some reason. (I guess nobody told Cantu that’s not how location scouts work.) Right from the start, there’s tension between dictatorial director Beth (Jess Uhler) and neophyte producer Alex (Christina Krakowski), whose boyfriend Ray (Noah J. Welter) tags along because their location is next to his family’s property, on which there used to a popular haunted hayride before the whole massacre thing the year before. There’s also an ongoing feud between Ray’s family and the representatives of Orrstown, which is in the process of gobbling up Wolf Hollow, a development that doesn’t sit well with its feral residents.
In a way, what’s most shocking about Wolf Hollow is how shoddy the whole thing is. Cantu and company had some ambition, but their execution is as amateurish as can be. Even putting aside the wildly varied acting and the attempts at humor that fall flat as pancakes, the fact that it can’t come close to being consistent with its werewolf designs (as reflected by the images above and below) is a sure sign they bit off more than they could chew with their budget. Movies like Wolf Hollow are the reason I’ve ceased trying to be a werewolf movie completist.