Category: Reviews

Sometimes we get asked to share our opinions. Sometimes we don’t get asked but share them anyway.

Full Moon Features: Fright Night (1985)

This may seem counter-intuitive, but the best werewolf in a film released in 1985 is the one in Fright Night, which came out 35 years ago today. Written and directed by Tom Holland (making his directorial debut after scripting the likes of The Beast Within and Psycho II), the film stars Chris Sarandon as Jerry Dandrige, the handsome vampire who moves in next door to teenage horror fan Charley Brewster (William Ragsdale), who sees some strange things out his bedroom window and finds it impossible to get anybody to believe his wild stories. Amanda Bearse co-stars as his girlfriend Amy, who gets upset when he gets distracted by what his neighbor is up to, with Stephen Geoffreys as his nerdy friend Ed, who has a homoerotically charged encounter with Jerry and goes over to the dark side. (Of course, since everyone calls him by nickname “Evil” throughout, that’s not much of a stretch for him.)

And it is Evil Ed who, having received Jerry’s bite, transforms into a wolf (with red, glowing eyes) to protect him when Charley recruits down-on-his-luck horror show host Peter Vincent (Roddy McDowall) to help him with his vampire problem. In fact, the scene where Peter confronts the lupine Evil Ed and stakes him is one of the film’s highlights, featuring some effective puppetry and transformation effects as the injured wolf becomes a wolf-boy and painfully reverts to his human form before expiring. As anybody who’s seen Fright Night knows, though, Evil Ed is the one who gets the last word, leaving open the possibility that he wasn’t entirely finished off. The makers of 1988’s Fright Night Part 2 declined to bring the character back, though, and the werewolf aspect was removed entirely from the official 2011 remake, which is just as well considering how poorly the unofficial one handled it.

I’m speaking, of course, of 2008’s direct-to-video trifle Never Cry Werewolf, which I covered a ways back. While the parallels between the two films are numerous and unmistakable, though, there are a number of crucial differences. For example, while Jerry has a human protector named Billy (Jonathan Stark), the later film’s werewolf next door has to make do with a big, black dog, which isn’t as useful for disposing of victims’ bodies. Also, McDowall may play his part with self-deprecating humor, but he never sinks to the level of jokey parody Kevin Sorbo does in Never Cry Werewolf. There’s nothing in that film, however, that comes close to the scene in Fright Night where Jerry seduces Amy in the middle of a crowded dance floor. And does Never Cry Werewolf have a soundtrack featuring songs by J. Geils Band, Sparks, Autograph, and Devo? I don’t think so.

Full Moon Features: Daughter of Dr. Jekyll (1957)

In Danse Macabre, his 1981 survey of the horror field, Stephen King describes the three major archetypes of horror — the Vampire, the Werewolf, and the Thing Without a Name — in terms of a Tarot deck. When it comes time to turn over the Werewolf card, the novel he discusses in detail is Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and he mounts a persuasive argument since it is about a man who periodically descends into a bestial state. True, Jekyll’s transformation is brought about by chemical means as opposed to the influence of the moon or anything else generally associated with lycanthropy, but that in itself isn’t so unusual. Screen adaptations of Stevenson’s novel have generally shied away from calling Edward Hyde an actual werewolf, though.

One exception to this is the 1957 cheapie Daughter of Dr. Jekyll, which opens with narration describing Jekyll as “a human werewolf” — and the hairy-faced gentleman who appears in its bizarre introduction certainly looks the part. What’s especially odd about him, though, is his response to the narrator’s assertion that “a nationwide sigh of relief” followed the news of the monster’s death. “No longer would the sound of every strange footstep mean terror,” the narrator intones. “The evil thing would never prowl the dark again.” Upon hearing this, the fiend looks straight into the camera and cackles, “Are you sure?” The effect is probably meant to be chilling, but it falls short of that mark.

So it goes with the film proper, in which 21-year-old Janet Smith (Gloria Talbott) drags her smug fiancé George Hastings (John Agar) along with her to the house she’s inherited from her deceased father, not realizing he’s the infamous Dr. Henry Jekyll. (“Not the Dr. Jekyll?” George asks, as if there’s more than one.) This they learn from her guardian, the kindly Dr. Lomas (Arthur Shields), who comes equipped with an Irish accent and an endless supply of warm milk, brandy, and other sedatives for Janet since she soon starts having disturbing dreams.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the villagers are a superstitious lot, to the point where they drove a stake through Hyde’s heart, as this is said to be “the only safeguard, according to ancient tales of witchcraft, that keeps a werewolf from rising out of the grave when the moon is full to hunt for human blood.” So yes, writer/producer Jack Pollexfen threw werewolf, vampire, and witch lore into a blender, hit purée, and this script was the result. That it works even a little bit has to be put down to the professionalism of director Edgar G. Ulmer, a low-budget specialist who previously worked with Pollexfen on 1951’s The Man from Planet X, but he could only do so much.

In many ways, Daughter of Dr. Jekyll is a replay of Universal’s She-Wolf of London from the previous decade since that, too, revolved around a young heiress who’s made to believe she becomes a monster and commits ghastly murders every night. True, Janet wakes up two days running with blood on her hands and nightgown and mud on her shoes, but it’s not hard to guess what’s really going on since Dr. Lomas uses a candle to hypnotize her the first night of the full moon. Meanwhile, arch-skeptic George bones up on the arcane beliefs he’s up against by paging through a handy copy of Witch, Warlock and Werewolf, which has the most adorable illustrations.

Wouldn’t you buy a copy for your bookshelf?

Full Moon Features: One Wolf’s Family (1990)

It’s only natural that the syndicated horror anthology series Monsters would tackle werewolves at some point during its run. What’s surprising is it waited until most of the way through season two to do so. (Then again, its predecessor, Tales from the Darkside, waited until season-three opener “The Circus” to unleash its first werewolf, and followed it with the Tom Savini-directed “Family Reunion” in its fourth and final season.)

Aired on February 11, 1990, “One Wolf’s Family” is notable for starring husband-and-wife team Jerry Stiller (who died last month at the age of 92) and Anne Meara as two werewolves from “the old country” who have come to America to make a better life for themselves and their daughter. As the leader of their close-knit pack, Stiller’s Victor is a good provider, which is why he’s beside himself when he finds out his daughter Anya (Amy Stiller) is in love with a werehyena. That leaves his peacekeeper wife Greta (Meara) to browbeat him into accepting Anya’s choice of fiancé, even he is a lowly scavenger.

Writer Paul Dini (who still had Batman: The Animated Series in his future) and director Alex Zamm keep things light by having Victor and Greta playfully nip at each other when he comes home from work and casually talk about the jogger they’re having for dinner (whose freshly killed corpse is sharing fridge space with various other body parts). In addition to Anya’s engagement, Dini tosses another threat to their happy home life into the mix in the form of nosy neighbor Mrs. Peabody (Darkside vet Karen Shallo), who’s entirely too suspicious — and xenophobic — for her own good. (Who drops by to borrow a cup of cheese?)

Things get hairy — as does Victor — when Anya’s beau Stanley (Robert Clohessy) turns out to be every bit the bottom feeder he feared. Unlike a lot of Monsters episodes, where the make-up effects are used sparingly, once Victor wolfs out and scares Stanley off, he stays wolfed out, giving Mrs. Peabody the chance to get photographic proof of just what her neighbors are. “They’re werewolves!” she cries. “As if their being foreigners wasn’t enough.” Before she can gather the torch-bearing mob, though, Stanley proves himself useful — and worthy of joining the family.

Incidentally, exactly one year after “One Wolf’s Family” aired, Monsters returned to the well with “Werewolf of Hollywood,” but that’s a story for another day.

Blu-ray Review: The Beast and the Magic Sword (Mondo Macabro)

When I reviewed Paul Naschy’s 1983 film The Beast and the Magic Sword in 2018, I wrote that it was “only a matter of time before a company like Mondo Macabro or Scream Factory” got around to giving the film its first release in the States. As it turned out, Mondo Macabro was the one that stepped up, putting it out on Blu-ray in February in an edition that includes a variety of special features to please just about any Naschy fan.

In brief, The Beast and the Magic Sword finds Naschy’s signature werewolf character, Polish count Waldemar Daninsky, traveling to 16th-century Japan in search of a cure for his lycanthropy, which is the result of a curse placed on one of his ancestors by a witch. As Naschy points out in the 13-minute introduction included on the disc, this was his second Spanish/Japanese co-production following 1980’s Human Beasts and the one where he was given the largest canvas on which to paint Waldemar’s story. Calling it “a truly unique experience,” he relates how the Japanese crew went the extra mile for him, building sets and making props and costumes to match the era the story was set in (despite the fact that all of their standing sets, which he was perfectly willing to use, were from the following century) and even having a sword made with silver because that’s what the script specified. As a result, the attention to detail makes The Beast the most handsomely mounted entry in the series and the one Naschy was justifiably most proud of.

With a running time close to two hours, it’s also Waldemar’s longest screen adventure, giving NaschyCast hosts Rod Barrett and Troy Guinn ample time to provide a comprehensive commentary. After ten years of doing a podcast devoted to all things Naschy, they really know their stuff, and the enthusiasm they share for the man and his work comes through loud and clear. The same goes for Gavin Baddeley, author of the FrightFest Guide to Werewolf Movies, who contributes a 32-minute interview that puts Naschy’s entire career in perspective. Illustrated with clips from nearly all of Naschy’s werewolf films and trailers, this is an excellent primer for anyone who’s never seen one and is curious about where to start.

The last bonus feature on the disc is The Smile of the Wolf. Directed by Javier Perea, who was able to interview Naschy before his death in 2009, the 46-minute documentary covers his career, decade by decade, from the 1960s to the 2000s. If anybody can speak authoritatively about his work, it’s the man himself. This alone makes Mondo Macabro’s release worth a look, as is the fact that the remastered print looks amazing. Besides, where else are you going see a werewolf fight a Bengal tiger?

Full Moon Features: Iron Wolf (2013)

I’ve seen it reported that this month’s Super Pink Moon is going to be the biggest full moon of 2020. In keeping with that, I wish I had a good werewolf movie to write about, but instead I’ve got 2013’s Iron Wolf. Following in the paw prints of Project: Metalbeast, the German-made Iron Wolf also followed closely on the heels of the previous year’s Iron Sky, which was about Nazis biding their time on the dark side of the moon following the defeat of the Third Reich. Iron Wolf stays decidedly earthbound, however, opening with a 15-minute pre-title sequence set in Germany in 1945 as the Russian army (i.e. kids playing dress-up) is bearing down on a Nazi research facility (guarded by some other kids playing dress-up) where the obligatory mad scientist Dr. Müller (Urs Remond) is hard at work on “the most powerful weapon in the entire war” — a werewolf that has been trained not to attack soldiers in German uniforms. “All right, gentlemen,” says Major Schilling (producer/executive producer Nico Sentner), the officer in charge of the program. “Create a whole army of these… creatures. We have a war to win.” Within minutes, however, the compound is overrun, everyone who knows what’s what is shot, and Müller’s sole success (a gypsy werewolf that has had its genes spliced with a German shepherd) is locked away for 65 years.

There follows a five-minute title sequence during which a homeless man (played by screenwriter Marco Theiss) tools around the facility with his shopping cart and decides to hunker down in front of the room where the werewolf has been locked away and is somehow still alive and kicking after six and a half decades without a meal. That presents itself when the story jumps ahead to the present day (i.e. three years later), when famous punk rocker Spike Jones (producer/co-executive producer Dominik Starck) arrives with his entourage to convert the building into the venue for a punk show to be headlined by his band, Scum of the Streets. Spike’s hangers-on — none of whom are bothered by the fact that he’s nicked his stage name from a famous bandleader — include his girlfriend Jersey (top-billed Carolina Rath), brother Leon (Roland Freitag), and upstart Trigger (Hannes Sell), who appears not to mind being named after Roy Rogers’s horse. He does mind Leon’s neo-Nazi past, however, and is at loggerheads with him right from the start, while his bandmate Todd (Michael Krug) is much more easy-going as long as the beer doesn’t run out. Also in the bargain is Todd’s girlfriend Lynn (Caterina Döhring), Trigger’s girlfriend Kate (Ildiko Preszly), and Sandy (Annegret Thalwitzer), a random girl Kate met at a club and brought along so the werewolf would have one more victim when Spike stupidly releases the monster from its prison.

It’s at this point that co-producer/co-editor/cinematographer/director David Brückner begins giving the viewer fleeting glimpses of his werewolf (which is played by producer/production manager/stunt choreographer/co-editor/co-director Jens Nier, who also cooked up the story with Sentner), which is eventually revealed to be a guy wearing a largely immobile werewolf mask in a tattered Nazi uniform. “You gotta give that to the Nazis,” says one of the characters. “When they did something inhuman, they did it thoroughly.” The same, however, cannot be said for Brückner and Nier, in spite of the copious blood and gore they throw into the mix (and all over some of the supporting players). They do make sure viewers know how many jobs they and their friends did on the film, though, by repeating most of the credits twice during the eleven-minute closing crawl. All the better to make sure you can avoid anything else they’ve work on.

Full Moon Features: Outcast (2010)

It may not strictly be a werewolf movie, but there’s a full moon on the cover of the Bloody Disgusting Presents release of 2010’s Outcast, which premiered ten years ago at the South by Southwest Film Festival, so it will make do for this month’s Full Moon Feature. There is, in fact, a creature called The Beast in it, but when we get a good look at it, there’s no denying that it is quite hairless, with glistening, rubbery skin. Then again, the werewolves in Ginger Snaps are also pretty rubbery, so one can’t be too particular.

At any rate, the film takes place in and around an Edinburgh housing estate, which overprotective mother Mary (Kate Dickie) and her sheltered teenage son Fergal (Niall Bruton) move into not expecting to stay very long. That’s partially because they’re travelers from Ireland, but mostly because they’re being pursued by the mysterious Cathal (James Nesbitt), who’s been endowed with magical powers and has a guide by the name of Liam (Ciarán McMenamin) to instruct him on how to use them. Good thing, then, that Mary knows some magic of her own, even if it isn’t much use when Fergal starts showing an interest in local girl Petronella (Hanna Stanbridge), who tries to bring him out of his shell, little realizing how much effort it takes him to stay inside it.

As much as I appreciate when a horror film puts a new spin on a familiar story, I do wish co-writers Colm McCarthy (who also directed) and Tom K. McCarthy hadn’t been so coy about it and simply made their monster a werewolf (or at the very least given it some hair). They also hint at a larger mythology with the character of the Laird (James Cosmo), who knows all that goes on in his domain and whose permission must be asked before Cathal and Liam can carry out their hunt. Maybe if the McCarthys had been a little clearer about how all the pieces fit together, the end result would be more satisfying. As it is, Outcast will have to remain a curious could have been.

Full Moon Features: Project: Metalbeast (1995)

Five years ago, when the theme of the inaugural issue of Werewolves Versus was announced as being “The 1990s,” I determined the way to tackle it was to review a film from that decade without the benefit of the IMDb or Wikipedia, relying only on my hazy memories. The film I chose was 1995’s Project: Metalbeast and after re-watching it for this month’s Full Moon Feature, I found my memories were mostly accurate, even if I didn’t know the names of most of the actors or behind-the-scenes personnel. In fact, the only ones I did remember were actor Barry Bostwick (who plays the film’s slimy human villain) and stunt coordinator Kane Hodder (who gets the “and _ as the MetalBeast” credit). Sorry, top-billed Kim Delaney!

I should also extend my apologies to co-writer/director Allesandro De Gaetano, but only if he apologizes to me first for bringing 2010’s Neowolf into the world. Then again, he may have done that simply to make his first werewolf film look better in comparison. One thing both films have in common is Eastern Europe as the source of their lycanthropy. In Neowolf, it was the eponymous rock band. Project: Metalbeast, on the other paw, opens in 1974 with a U.S. Military Intelligence infiltration of a Hungarian castle in the Carpathian Mountains.

Given the code name “Operation Lycanthropus,” its objective is the retrieval of a sample of werewolf blood for the purpose of creating a “superior combat agent.” That’s precisely what rogue operative Butler (John Manzilli) wants to be and why he has no compunction about letting their werewolf blood donor attack his partner, allowing him to get the drop on it. Back at the U.S. Secret Ops Center, though, Butler gets impatient with all the incessant testing (who cares if the blood has an extra chromosome, will it turn him into a bloodthirsty beast or not?) and recklessly injects himself with what’s left of the sample he took. In short order, he gets what he wants, but when he transforms and start mauling the medical staff, his smug superior Miller (Bostwick) plugs him with three silver bullets and has his body sent down to cryonics, where he spends the next two decades on ice. “This little experiment just gets more and more interesting, doesn’t it?” Miller asks no one in particular before the fade to black.

When the story picks back up in 1994, the “New U.S. Secret Ops Center” is being used for the development of an experimental synthetic skin by Dr. Anna de Carlo (Delaney), who keeps running into the problem of the skin hardening. That’s not an issue for Col. Miller, though, who gets himself put in charge of the project and provides de Carlo’s team with a test subject that’s more than just human. “These scientists don’t know it,” he tells Butler’s frozen popsicle of a corpse, “but they’re going to give you a skin of steel. You’ll be indestructible and under my control.” Of course, why he thinks the metal-skinned lycanthrope he shot 20 years earlier will be inclined to take orders from him is a real mystery. I guess he hopes Butler will let bygones be bygones.

As is often the case in werewolf movies, all it takes is for the silver bullets that killed the monster to be removed for it to come back to life. Unfortunately for de Carlo’s team, this occurs after they’ve covered most of Butler’s body with synthetic skin, resulting in his transformation into the MetalBeast when the full moon rises. As I wrote in my Werewolves Versus review, “There’s lots of running through dark hallways and warehouse space, gunfire galore, and even an explosion or two.” I also compared to Miller to Paul Reiser’s duplicitous company man in Aliens (an obvious antecedent), but it took this re-watch to remember how gruesomely Miller dies at the MetalBeast’s claws. Before he does, though, he straightens his tie and smooths down his hair. He’s fooling himself if he thinks he’s going to leave a good-looking corpse, but the effort is noted.

Full Moon Features: Silver Bullet (1985)

After 1981, the other big year for werewolf movies in the ’80s was 1985 since it saw the release of Ladyhawke (a werewolf film in all but name), Fright Night (which I’ll be covering in a few months), the comedic Teen Wolf, the laughable Howling II: Your Sister Is a Werewolf, and Silver Bullet, which isn’t strictly speaking a horror comedy, but it’s a creature feature that opens with the legend “Dino De Laurentiis Presents,” which all but guarantees there will be plenty of unintentional laughter before the closing credits roll.

Directed by Daniel Attias, who made only one feature before jumping to the small screen, Silver Bullet was written by Stephen King and based on his own novelette Cycle of the Werewolf, which covered a whole year of werewolf attacks in a small town. For the film version, he compressed the timeline to just a few months (from late spring to Halloween night) and did away with the conceit of having each attack fall on a different holiday (which was patently unrealistic, but King would be the first to cop to that). And the film wastes no time getting to its first laugh-inducing moment, which comes 3:27 in when a drunken railroad worker’s head rolls in a hysterically funny fashion. The requisite opening jump scare thus taken care of, King then gets down to the business of introducing his characters.

Top-billed is Gary Busey, who plays Red, the frequently drunk and unrepentantly vulgar uncle of crippled pre-teen Marty (Corey Haim) and his resentful older sister Jane (Megan Follows, who intrusively narrates the film, which takes place in 1976, from the present day). In a fantastical touch that must have seemed like a good idea on paper, Marty is equipped with a gasoline-powered motorized wheelchair called the Silver Bullet, which Uncle Red upgrades to a zippier model about halfway through the film — all the better to outrun the marauding werewolf in their midst. Since he’s the “cool uncle,” Red is the one adult Marty is able to confide in after he has a run-in with the hairy beast, although Red is understandably skeptical until the moment he’s face to face with it himself. The film also features Everett McGill as the local reverend, who quickly runs out of words of comfort as the bodies start piling up, Terry O’Quinn as the harried sheriff trying to get to the bottom of things, and Lawrence Tierney as a bartender with a baseball bat called “The Peace Maker” (which gets commandeered by the werewolf in one of the few moments where the filmmakers deliberately set out to get a laugh and succeed).

Of course, the real star of a werewolf movie should be its werewolf and the one in this film — which was created by Oscar winner Carlo Rambaldi — is a pretty sad specimen. It’s not a good sign that the second big laugh in the film comes when the werewolf reaches into the frame (12:02 in) and its hand looks more like it belongs to a hairy ape. Other unintentionally comic moments are the greenhouse grab (24:50), the posse of werewolf hunters that is suddenly revealed to be in waist-deep fog (40:15), the multiple-casket funeral service (41:56), the confusion (“Is that a bear?” I initially thought) when the creature is seen reflected in the water (54:19), the shot that I like to call “Reverend Five O’clock Shadow” (1:08:00), and — last but not least — the werewolf’s Kool Aid Man entrance at the climax (1:28:36). (Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t have it growl out an “Oh, yeah!”) Maybe I would be more forgiving had I seen this when it first came out, but coming to it later in life, I’m afraid I can only shake my head in unabashed bemusement.

[Silver Bullet is now available on Blu-ray from Scream Factory in a collector’s edition with two commentaries (one by Attias, the other by producer Martha De Laurentiis), and interviews with some of the actors and technicians who worked on the film. Notably absent is King, who had a busy year filmwise in 1985 between scripting this film and Lewis Teague’s Cat’s Eye and prepping his directorial debut, the infamous Maximum Overdrive.]

FrightFest Guide to Werewolf Movies

Since 2000, FrightFest has become the UK’s largest and most respected horror movie festival, and are now venturing into publishing with their Dark Heart of Cinema series of movie guides. Werewolf Movies is the fourth (after Ghost, Monster, and Exploitation movies, and I for one am happy werewolves were featured before those limelight-hogging vampires or zombies), and proves to be as helpful as that one smart but weird friend of yours who’s seen every horror movie ever produced when it comes to sorting the mongrels from the Best in Show. And even if you are that weird friend, you’re liable to discover some rarities you’ve never heard of before.

After an introduction from Neil Marshall, director of the fan-favorite gorefest Dog Soldiers, author Gavin Baddeley gives us an intro to cinematic lycanthropy, and then a lengthy essay on the history of the werewolf. This is where most authors trip up, repeating error-ridden nth-hand versions of stories or blatantly making shit up, but this is practically worth the price of admission alone. Comprehensive and accurate, he explains how the concept of werewolves has been influenced by politics, religion, the natural world as it evolves over time. For a general public that is often familiar with only the most overused tropes (silver bullets and full moons are extremely recent additions to werewolf lore), this is an excellent introduction. This is followed by a chapter on non-lupine shapeshifters, and speculation on why movie werewolves are so often the “underdogs” compared to other monsters.

The special effects budget required to put even a minimal werewolf onscreen is a hurdle for entry-level filmmakers, and even big-budget productions can struggle to produce a convincing beast, so there are far fewer films featuring them than lesser monsters like vampires, zombies, ghosts or nominally human slashers. We’re lucky to get one or two new werewolf flicks a year; hoping that they’re worthy of intense analysis or anything more than popcorn fodder is almost too much to ask for. Nevertheless, over the years there’s been a couple of solid genre classics amid the pack, and even the most incompetent, incoherent or downright goofy werewolf flick can be enjoyable if you’re in the right frame of mind. A werewolf movie guide doesn’t suffer quite the same rapid obsolescence as another subject might, but they also require an author with insight, a clever turn of phrase and a vast tolerance for cheese to tackle the roughly 200 entries.

Baddeley isn’t just some rando with an opinion. A journalist and fiction author with decades of experience and an admirable infatuation with lupine cinema. His skill shows in how he doesn’t fall victim to the tired trope of snarking the many awful films he must have sat through, which can get juvenile and tiresome to read. Even without the use of a cutesy rating system like “three out of five full moons”, he gives a concise recap and fair evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses which runs from a paragraph to two pages, depending on the meatiness of the entry. Each review is illustrated with large stills, posters, and other art which considering the full-color printing on heavyweight, slick paper, gives the book as a whole a heft and expensive feel. 

As always, there are a few errors and quibbles – for example, Stan Winston’s work on The Monster Squad is incorrectly attributed to Rick Baker, the generally well-liked Bad Moon (the first werewolf film to use computer morphing effects in its transformation scene) is overlooked, and Baddeley uses “Oriental” rather than Asian, a term considered offensive when applied to people, although this may be a British quirk that sounds off to an American reader. 

You can purchase a hardcover or signed version directly from the publisher’s website, or a paperback from Amazon.

Full Moon Features: 2019’s Secret Wide-Release Werewolf Movie

It speaks poorly for the marketing of this summer’s Annabelle Comes Home (somehow the seventh feature in “The Conjuring Universe,” because every film franchise now has to have its own universe for some goddamn reason) that I didn’t even get wind that there is a werewolf in it until it was slinking out of theaters. (Aside to movie marketing people: If you tell the general public there is a werewolf in your movie, the werewolf people will turn out for it.) The werewolf in question, called “The Black Shuck” and based on a legend hundreds of years old, is described as “a hellhound that possessed a man in England” and is a case that the Warrens — demonologist Ed (Patrick Wilson) and clairvoyant Lorraine (Vera Farmiga) — investigated in the mid-’60s.

Writer/director Gary Dauberman (making his directorial debut after writing three previous Conjuring spin-off films starting with 2014’s Annabelle) doesn’t show anything of the actual investigation, though, apart from an old book in the Warren Artifact Room (where they display all their haunted and cursed objects) and the case file in their office. That’s because the bulk of the film takes place in the early ’70s, one year after the Warrens have taken possession of possessed porcelain doll Annabelle and installed it in a case made of chapel glass in which, Lorraine declares, “The evil is contained.” The case also comes with explicit instructions that it never be opened, but if signs like those were heeded, movies like this wouldn’t exist.

The bulk of the film also takes place without Ed and Lorraine since they’re conveniently out of town, leaving their morose ten-year-old daughter Judy (Mckenna Grace) with babysitter Mary Ellen (Madison Iseman), who has asthma so Dauberman can build a suspense sequence out of a race to retrieve her inhaler. Of course, she wouldn’t need it if her snooping friend Daniela (Katie Sarife) didn’t invite herself over and snoop around, breaking into the Artifact Room and letting Annabelle out of her case. Called “a beacon for other spirits” by Lorraine, Annabelle does indeed call in some backup to help wreak havoc on the Warren household and its inhabitants.

Of primary interest to readers of this site is The Black Shuck, which materializes out of the swirling mist that surrounds the house to menace Bob (Michael Cimino, not the director), a guitar-slinging neighbor who has a serious crush on Mary Ellen. In light of its stated m.o., I figured the creature would possess Bob, but it does not. In fact, it does little more than chase Bob into a chicken coop and traps Judy in a car, staying in the shadows to such an extent that it’s genuinely puzzling that the production bothered making a full-body suit for it, but at least it gets shown off in the “Behind the Scenes” featurette included on the disc.

As far as the werewolf’s scant screen time is concerned, it’s comparable to what the other malevolent visitors get, chief among them The Ferry Man, a bride in a cursed wedding dress, and a soul-sucking demon. In a way, Annabelle Comes Home is the Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed of The Conjuring Universe, with Annabelle as the least frightening part of it. Then again, the real Annabelle was a Raggedy Ann doll (seen briefly on TV while Mary Ellen is watching The Dating Game), so if the producers of this film had gone for verisimilitude, it could have been even less creepy.