Category: Reviews

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Full Moon Features: The Adventures of Hercules (1985)

[Note: Inspired by Dobes’s comprehensive list of Werewolves of the 80s and its attendant screencaps repository, I’m covering movies I previously passed over because they don’t feature werewolves, per se. As long as they have wolfish enough beast men, though, I’m considering them fair game…]

In the mid-’80s, erstwhile Incredible Hulk Lou Ferrigno starred in a pair of Hercules pictures for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s Cannon Films, because what other role was he cut out for with that physique after Arnold Schwarzenegger scooped up Conan for himself? (Coincidentally, Arnie made his screen debut in the justifiably obscure Hercules in New York in 1970, so if Golan and/or Globus approached him about headlining their Hercules franchise, he had every reason to turn them down.) Both written and directed by Luigi Cozzi (using his Anglicized pseudonym “Lewis Coates”), 1983’s Hercules and 1985’s The Adventures of Hercules are decidedly cheap-looking affairs, in spite of the fact that $6 million was allegedly spent on the former. (The budget for the sequel is unknown, but there’s no way it was more than a fraction of that.) Taking inspiration from the likes of Flash Gordon and Clash of the Titans, Cozzi’s Hercules has plenty of flashy costumes and stop-motion monsters to go around. The same cannot be said for The Adventures of Hercules, but that’s the one where the musclebound demigod fights a wolf creature, so it is the one I’m writing about.

In tandem with its Superman II ripoff credits, The Adventures opens with eight minutes of reminders of the first film’s chintzy special effects. (If you’ve even seen the clip of Hercules fighting a bear and tossing it into space, that’s where it comes from.) The plot then kicks into gear with the theft of Zeus’s seven mighty thunderbolts by four rebel gods who hide them in the bellies of seven monsters. To retrieve them, Hercules has to defeat each one, so it’s convenient that immediately upon being sent down to Earth by his father, the demigod is set upon by a wolf-man who’s big on leaping and hopping and can be readily dispatched by being stabbed in the chest with a tree branch. When the creature dissolves away, it is revealed that it was the hiding place for one of the thunderbolts, meaning Hercules has six more to go before the whole shebang is tied up 70 minutes later. (That’s one of the benefits of a small budget: a short running time.)

The defeated wolf-man in repose.

In addition to Ferrigno, the other returning cast members from Hercules are Claudio Cassinelli as Zeus, Eva Robin’s as Dedalos (a bastardization of Daedalus, who built the labyrinth for King Minos in Greek mythology, but mostly just stands around mocking his efforts in these movies), and William Berger as King Minos, who was killed by Hercules at the end of the first film, but the renegade gods resurrect him by luring a warrior to his crypt, slaying the unfortunate man, and hanging him by heels over Minos’s coffin so his blood can be spilled on the skeletal remains inside. Once he’s back among the living, Minos wastes no time extolling the virtues of science over magic (sample line: “With this sword, science will triumph!”), and being totally ungrateful about being brought back to life. “Science and chaos have given me the power to eliminate you all!” he cries, and indeed, gods soon start getting zapped out of existence willy-nilly, much like they are at the end of Clash of the Titans.

Meanwhile, Hercules goes from mythological monster to mythological monster, slaying them and collecting the thunderbolts they possess until he has enough to challenge Minos, with their final confrontation taking the form of an animated fight between a dinosaur (Minos) and a gorilla (Herc). There’s also a ticking clock of sorts since the Moon is on a collision course with Earth, which Hercules is able to prevent at the last minute, just like at the end of Flash Gordon. Now if only Flash had fought a wolf-man…

Full Moon Features: The Barbarians (1987)

[Note: Inspired by Dobes’s comprehensive list of Werewolves of the 80s and its attendant screencaps repository, I’m covering movies I previously passed over because they don’t feature werewolves, per se. As long as they have wolfish enough beast men, though, I’m considering them fair game…]

Following in the furry footsteps of last month’s Full Moon Feature, I’m continuing my survey of ’80s sword-and-sorcery flicks with cameos by fellows in fuzzy makeup with 1987’s The Barbarians. This late-arriving entry in the cycle came courtesy of Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus’s Cannon Group and was the first starring vehicle for twin bodybuilders Peter and David Paul, billed as “The Barbarian Brothers.” A quarter of the film elapses before they make their first appearance, though, and their backstory is straight out of the Conan playbook.

In short, the Ragniks — a tribe of jugglers, musicians, and storytellers is possession of a magic ruby — are ambushed by the forces of the evil Kadar (second-billed Richard Lynch), who wants the jewel for his own nefarious purposes. After exhausting their knife-throwing and fire-breathing skills, Kadar takes Ragnik leader Canary hostage and enslaves orphan boys Kutcheck and Gore in response to one of them biting off two of his fingers. (That Canary is able to extract his promise not to kill them in the heat of the moment is one of those premises one must accept or the movie would be over before the first reel change.)

Entrusted to the Dirtmaster (Michael Berryman, who gets the “and [insert name here] as” credit), the boys are split up and put to the work in The Pit, where they’re goaded into hating men in helmets. This is because Kadar’s convoluted plan is to have them kill each other in said helmets when they come of age. This happens at the 21-minute mark, when we also discover Kadar literally keeps Canary in a cage in his harem, but she’s allowed out to watch the spectacle when the now-bulked-up Kutchek and Gore are pitted against each other. It doesn’t take long for them to realize they’ve been had — although it takes Gore a little longer since the dim one — and escape on horseback, but the Ragniks they encounter in the woods don’t recognize them and nearly hang them alongside thief Ismene (Eva LaRue). Naturally, she turns out to know how to find a way to sneak into the harem so they can rescue Canary, but that only leads to a side quest.

Wolf Man about to lose his head.

Said side quest is where the film’s first creature comes in since Canary sends Kutchek and Gore to the Tomb of the Ancient King to retrieve the Sacred Weapons required to defeat the Dragon guarding the Belly Stone in the Lime Tree in the Forbidden Lands. Canary doesn’t mention that the Tomb is watched over by a Guard Wolf Man, but he’s definitely lurking around when they show up. As impressive as he looks, he hangs back, letting two hairy, disembodied arms try to prevent Ismene and the boys from gaining entrance. The twins make short work of them, ripping the arms out of the ground, and immediately use the Sacred Weapons to behead the Wolf Man when he confronts them directly. (To add to the indignity, one picks up the severed head and waves it around while they bark and howl in triumph.)

From there, it’s off to the Forbidden Lands where Kutchek and Gore easily shake off of a couple of gill men, stab the dragon to death and get showered in its green blood, recover the ruby from its innards, and bide their time until their requisite showdown with Kadar. Considering there are two of them, it might have made dramatic sense for Kutchek to sacrifice himself to save Gore (or vice versa), but The Barbarians isn’t interested in that kind of drama. Rather, it’s about two lunkheads who look good in loincloths and furry boots, kicking the asses of everyone who goes up against them. “Look at us,” one boasts. “We’re huge!” He is not wrong.

Full Moon Features: Conquest (1983)

[Note: Inspired by Dobes’s comprehensive list of Werewolves of the 80s and its attendant screencaps repository, I’m going to start covering movies I previously passed over because they don’t feature werewolves, per se. As long as they have wolfish enough beast men, though, I’m considering them fair game. Hence, this month’s entry…]

Okay, so there’s this kid, see, and his name is Ilias (Andrea Occhipinti), and he comes from the only agrarian society at the dawn of civilization, but before he can become a man, he has to don some leather armor, take up a mystical bow that shoots flaming arrows and make his way in the world. Then there are these goat herders with mud smeared on their faces sitting around waiting for their high priestess, a topless beauty in a gold face mask named Ocron (Sabrina Siani, veteran of the first Ator movie), to bring forth the sun. Then Ocron’s beast men attack some cave dwellers, smash their elder’s skull in and tear some random naked girl to pieces, delivering the head to Ocron, who subsequently drinks from it and writhes around on an altar with a large snake. Then she has a vision where she’s shot with a glowing arrow fired by a faceless man wearing Ilias’s armor, which really harshes her buzz. Incidentally, all this happens within the first twelve minutes of Lucio Fulci’s Conquest, so if you haven’t figured out you’re in Conan the Barbarian ripoff land by the first reel change, then you obviously didn’t live through the early ’80s.

Made in 1983, at the crest of the wave of sword-and-sorcery flicks inspired by Conan‘s success, Conquest actually takes place so far back in the past that it’s more of a sticks-and-stones flick, with Ilias’s magic bow being the most sophisticated weapon around. In order to establish the dream-like atmosphere, Fulci kind of overdoes it on the smoke and haze, though. (Just because your story is set way back in the mists of time, that doesn’t mean it has to be misty all the time.) Soon enough, we’re back with Ilias, who saves some random naked girl (Maria Scola) from a snake, is attacked by some random soldiers, and is saved by a passing stranger named Mace (Jorge Rivero) who is friend to all animals, but doesn’t take kindly to the beast men who try to jump him. Mace is only interested in the bow, but lets Ilias tag along with him as long as he shows him how to use it. The two of them get trapped in a cave by Ocron’s forces, but easily escape and Mace takes Ilias home with him to meet the family (well, a family, at least). There Ilias runs into the girl again and they make doe eyes at each other over dinner, but before she can make a man out of him they are ambushed, the women and children are brutally killed, and Ilias and the bow are captured. Mace was inexplicably left alive, though, and after he rescues Ilias, Ocron roasts her head beast man Fado (José Gras) alive for failing her. (His biggest failing, it appears, was not inventing the night watch.)

One of Ocron’s beast men leaps into action.

Realizing she needs to bring in the big guns, Ocron summons forth the all-powerful Zora (Conrado San Martín), a magical dude in thick plate mail, and promises herself to him if he kills Ilias. Zora is down with this and shoots the lad with a poison dart (which Fulci accomplishes by scratching the film) while he’s out hunting with Mace, but luckily Mace knows of a small valley where a magical plant grows and goes to fetch some of its leaves while Ilias lies around oozing pus from nasty-looking wounds that Fulci shows in extreme close-up. On his way back from the valley, Mace is attacked by some swamp mummies, but manages to impale all of them and, upon his return to Ilias’s side, has to fight his own double (Zora in disguise) before he can apply the life-saving vegetation. This is followed by a truly bizarre scene with Zora sitting on a throne and Ocron fondling his metal plating, but I guess it’s no more strange than Mace being captured by some white-haired, cobwebbed Wookiees and, after he’s thrown into the water, being rescued by some dolphins that happen to swim by. (This is more tedious than you could ever imagine.) From there, Ilias and Mace are captured again, this time by cave creatures we can’t see too well in the blue light, and Ilias is beheaded, but that isn’t the end of him, for when Mace burns his body (in a sequence that Fulci lingers over for several minutes) he takes on the fallen warrior’s spirit and fulfills his destiny. The end. And in case you had any lingering doubts about what you’ve just seen, a title card comes up that states, “Any reference to persons or events is purely coincidental.” Thanks for clearing that up, title card.

P.S. – At the climax, when Mace appears to challenge Ocron, she cries out, “Stop him, Zora!” Fulci then pans over to Zora, who sighs heavily and disappears. This is my favorite moment in the entire film.

Full Moon Features: Werewolf (1987)

It’s been nearly 15 years since Shout! Factory had to scuttle its proposed release of the ’80s TV series Werewolf due to unforeseen music rights issues they weren’t able to resolve, but the disappointment is still palpable. Boasting werewolf characters designed by the great Rick Baker (although the day-to-day makeup, effects and transformations were left to Greg Cannom), the series wasn’t enough of a ratings winner to get picked up for a second season, leaving the fate of its lycanthrope lead as much in the air as it was at the conclusion of the feature-length pilot, which aired on July 11, 1987. The show’s cult remains steadfast on YouTube, though, where fans have posted the entire series exactly as it aired three and a half decades ago.

As pilots must, the one for Werewolf — written by series creator Frank Lupo and directed by David Hemmings — spends a fair bit of time establishing its main character, college student Eric Cord, who’s first seen threatening to drop his studious girlfriend Kelly into a swimming pool. (You can’t get more happy-go-lucky than that.) Before that, though, it teases one of the show’s antagonists, bounty hunter Alamo Joe, who delivers hard-boiled narration while loading a rifle with silver bullets. (A sample: “You can stand up to anything if you’ve got the guts to look it in the eye. If you can look it in the eye.”) This is followed by a sequence in a club soundtracked by the Mike + the Mechanics song “Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)” where an unidentified character with a pentagram etched into the palm of his hand stalks the couple he plans to make his next meal out of. (Naturally, this features POV camerawork overlaid with video effects to indicate that we’re seeing were-vision.) Then comes the aforementioned pool scene and the opening credits, depicting Eric driving around to Timbuk 3’s “The Future’s So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades.” (That one could easily be substituted, so my money’s on “Silent Running” being one of the songs Shout! couldn’t clear.)

Eric’s life is irrevocably changed when he arrives home to find the lights out in his apartment and his roommate Ted loading a revolver with silver bullets and referencing a newspaper headline (“MURDER VICTIMS FOUND PARTIALLY DEVOURED”) he claims to be responsible for. “You better have one hell of an explanation to get me to believe this,” Eric says. After a long pause punctuated by thunder, Ted replies, “I’m a werewolf.” (This happens 19 minutes in for those keeping score at home.) When Ted begs to be tied up until midnight, Eric humors him, but dozes off while waiting for him to transform and is caught unprepared when Ted finally wolfs out, losing the gun in the scuffle and getting bitten in the shoulder before recovering it and putting Ted out of his misery. Eric’s misery has only just begun, however, since he’s soon charged with murder and showing signs of following in his roommate’s paw prints.

The balance of the pilot includes an American Werewolf-like nightmare, multiple scenes of Eric sheepishly waking up in the buff, the addition of two comic-relief characters (Eric’s klutzy doofus of a lawyer and his fast-talking bail bondsman), and the proper introduction of Alamo Joe and the show’s other antagonist, salty boat captain Janos Skorzeny, who readily confirms that he’s the werewolf who infected Ted the previous summer and claims Eric as part of his bloodline. (“You’re one of mine, aren’t you?” he asks with a twinkle in his eye.) Since Ted’s belief was that he could end his curse by killing Skorzeny, that becomes Eric’s mission as well, but their first face-to-face — or snout-to-snout — encounter ends in a stalemate and Skorzeny scampering away unharmed. “Maybe it’s ending,” Kelly says hopefully, but Eric is quick to correct her. “No, it’s just beginning,” he says, and his adventures continued for 28 more episodes before the plug got pulled the following spring.

Full Moon Feature(tte)s: Mazey Day (2023)

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but as I’m the person keeping the proverbial lights on here at Werewolf News, I hereby resolve to watch and review more werewolf movies in the coming year. That would be a breeze if they were all 40 minutes long like Mazey Day, an episode from the latest season of Netflix’s Black Mirror which is — spoiler alert — about a werewolf. (I see no reason to be coy about something I’m reviewing for this site.)

While Mazey Day strays far from what a Black Mirror typically entails, as a werewolf story it gets the job done, and in an efficient manner I appreciate. It does take its time getting to the werewolfery, though, establishing protagonist Bo (Zazie Beetz, having her second brush with lycanthropy after 2018’s Slice) as a Los Angeles-based paparazzo who begins questioning her life choices when a television actor she caught in a compromising position kills himself. “You can’t handle the consequences, don’t enter the game,” says one of her more callous colleagues, and her response is to hang up her camera and get a job as a barista.

With the prelims out of the way, the story picks up in the Czech Republic, where hot actress Mazey Day (Clara Rugaard) is filming a costume thing. One night, while high on mushrooms, she goes for a drive and hits something in the road, but it isn’t revealed right away what happened when she got out of the car to investigate. When she begins acting erratically on set and is sent packing, she goes into hiding, which sends the tabloids into a feeding frenzy that drags Bo back into the game when a quick $30K payday is dangled in front of her. What she and her fellow “photojournalists” find when they track Mazey down to the isolated rehab facility where she’s waiting out the three nights of the full moon, however, is, well, you know, she’s a werewolf. And she’s hungry.

Series writer Charlie Brooker uses lycanthropy as a metaphor for addiction, but setting the story in 2006 (established by an entertainment news report about the birth of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s daughter Suri) mostly seems like an excuse to have Bo use a dial-up connection and call an iPod her “new toy.” The year also brings to mind the dodgy CGI transformations that became de rigueur in werewolf films around that time, but the effects in Mazey Day are decent enough. The choice to use a suit performer for some of them definitely goes a long way.

Full Moon Features: Orgy of the Dead (1965)

Do not be alarmed by the title of this month’s Full Moon Feature: Orgy of the Dead was made in 1965, so it’s nowhere near as risque at it sounds. It was also written by Edward D. Wood, Jr., based on his own novel, so there’s little chance of anyone finding it at all erotic in spite of the bevy of nearly naked women that are made to dance for the pleasure of Criswell, the Emperor of the Night (and allegedly the audience).

It all starts out innocently enough with young couple Bob and Shirley (William Bates and Pat Barrington) driving out to a cemetery because, being a horror writer, Bob’s looking for inspiration for one of his extremely popular monster stories. Shirley’s not so keen on the idea, but she does exchange a chaste kiss with him, prompting him to remark, “Your puritan upbringing holds you back from my monsters, but it certainly doesn’t hurt your art of kissing.” Soon after, he loses control and crashes the car, from which they are thrown clear. That’s the cue for Criswell to beckon forth the “princes of darkness” — or maybe he says “princess.” It’s really hard to tell. I’m leaning toward the latter because only one darkness-dweller comes forth, the Black Ghoul (Fawn Silver), who gets things started by summoning a Native American girl who died in flame to… dance topless near a flame. This she does for a long time, setting the precedent for all of the acts to follow.

While this is going on, director Stephen C. Apostolof (credited as A.C. Stephen) cuts away to Bob and Shirley as they come to and decide to investigate the music coming from the cemetery. They miss most of the next act, a streetwalker, but watch in an unconvincing approximation of horror from the treeline as a girl who worshiped gold in life (also played by Barrington) is put through her paces. Her routine ends with Criswell imploring her two hunky helpers to “Throw gold on her” and “More gold” and “More gold” and “More gold!” It’s only after she gets deposited in a boiling cauldron of gold and emerges looking like she ran afoul of Auric Goldfinger that the two interlopers are caught by a Werewolf (John Andrews) and Mummy (Louis Ojena) and tied up so they can have a better view of the proceedings. Incidentally, when the Mummy speaks his voice is dubbed in a way that’s oddly muffled, which makes it really strange when he banters with the Werewolf, who only howls and growls. They also stand off to the side for the rest of the picture and seem to get a lot more into it than the other four spectators, who can’t work up the energy to look even slightly enthused to be there.

And it’s hard to blame them, really, since the balance of the picture is taken up by half a dozen mostly interchangeable dance numbers punctuated by the occasional Wood-ism. (My favorite: “A pussycat is born to be whipped.”) Apart from the cat woman, who wears a full-body costume and is whipped throughout her number (a reference to the Ann-Margret vehicle Kitten With a Whip, maybe?), the others can only be distinguished by their outfits (which always disappear during a cutaway — it’s like the filmmakers were specifically prohibited from showing any actual stripping) and maybe a thematic prop or two. (For example, the bride who strangled her husband on their wedding night gets to keep her veil on the whole time.) Finally, the whole shebang comes to an end with the sunrise, which causes the creatures of the night to turn into skeletons (yes, the Werewolf, too), but as Criswell warns, they’ll return with the next full moon. Me, I don’t plan on waiting around to see if they do.

Full Moon Features: Wolf Manor (2022) & Wolf Hollow (2023)

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.

One of the werewolves from Wolf Hollow.

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.

The other werewolf from Wolf Hollow. Looks a little different, doesn’t it?

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.