Category: Reviews

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

Full Moon Features: WolfWalkers (2020)

Arriving at the end of a year that has been fairly dire on all fronts, Cartoon Saloon’s WolfWalkers comes as a blast of fresh air. The latest feature from the animation studio behind The Secret of Kells and Song of the Sea, WolfWalkers is of a piece with them since it is steeped in Irish folklore and revels in the traditions of hand-drawn animation.

Its story, devised by co-directors Tomm Moore and Ross Stewart and fleshed out by screenwriter Will Collins, has the simplicity and directness of a fairy tale. Robyn Goodfellowe (Honor Kneafsey), the headstrong young daughter of hunter Bill (Sean Bean), has moved with him to the walled city of Kilkenny, Ireland, where he is employed by the autocratic Lord Protector (Simon McBurney) to hunt the wolf pack that threatens their ever-expanding outpost of civilization. Of course, the wolves wouldn’t be a problem if the humans weren’t so intent on encroaching upon their enchanted forest.

This enchantment comes by way of the WolfWalkers, a mother and daughter who can communicate with the wolves and become wolves themselves — but only while they’re asleep. They also have mystical healing powers which work on ordinary wounds but not WolfWalker bites, as Robyn discovers after she’s bitten by the semi-feral Mebh (newcomer Eva Whittaker), who’s responsible for keeping the pack in line while her mother searches for a new forest for them to move to.

Without being heavy-handed about it, WolfWalkers dramatizes the conflicts of civilization versus nature, Christianity versus paganism, even the English versus the Irish. (Robyn and her father are outsiders in the country and the townspeople never let them forget it.) And it does so with fluid animation, dynamic characters, and some of the most breathtaking action sequences this side of a Hayao Miyazaki film. Best of all, it’s about people who become wolves when they go to sleep. Sounds like a dream come true.

SHIFT: The Werewolf Collaborative

SHIFT is a werewolf-themed zine put together by Sarah Mason, Sketchbook and FeatheryFlukes featuring 18 artists. I pledged on Kickstarter to get a physical copy as a collector’s item, but PDFs are still available. At A5 size, it’s small but packed with skilled imagery – a perfect haiku of lycanthropic goodness. 

Each artist gets a two-page spread, and the imagery ranges from cartoony and cute to vicious and gory to abstract and eerie. Particular favorites are WolfSkullJack’s wild-maned, fiercely snarling figure in stark red, grey and black, Mx. Morgan G. Roble’s frenzied pack with their tortured expressions and exposed rib cages, and Dominique Ramsey’s colorful, vividly stylized beast who has a complete nighttime woods incorporated into its fur. 

Honestly, there’s not a single dud in the bunch, and you’re certain to find something to your taste. My only critique is that all the werewolves adhere to the basic design of fully lupine head, legs, tail and fur, and human torso and arms. It would have been nice to see more variety, anything from feral monster quadrupeds to more humanoid, or more depictions of transformation, otherwise, it risks being indistinguishable from furry art. 

This was the first venture for the Werewolf Collaborative, and as it was a howling success, I’m looking forward to more volumes from them in the future.

Purchase the PDF on Gumroad.

Full Moon Features: Scare Package (2019)

As Werewolf News previously reported, there are werewolves in the horror anthology Scare Package, a Shudder Original that got some festival play last year before making its streaming debut in June ahead of its release on home video last month. And as a horror anthology with six individual segments and a time-consuming wraparound story that morphs into a seventh — which is by far the longest — this package has so little time to devote to its werewolf story that the actual werewolves in it amount to little more than afterthoughts.

Befitting its home on a horror streaming service, Scare Package goes all in on over-the-top gore leavened with goofy dialogue and a heaping portion of meta humor, especially in the opening segment about a creatively frustrated “cold opener” who wants to be a real character without understanding the implications of that in the genre he works in. When this turns out to be a script called “Cold Open” that the passenger in a car is telling the driver about and the driver’s response is “I just don’t know about all the meta stuff, you know,” that’s a fairly clear indication that the rest of the film will be more of the same.

Ranging from the obvious to the ridiculous to the nonsensical, the segments in Scare Package are a mixed bag, many of them playing around with multiple genre tropes while repeatedly returning to the same, familiar slasher beats that were thoroughly beaten to death during its ’80s heyday. One of the few that doesn’t go there is “M.I.S.T.,E.R.” because director Noah Segan and his co-writer Frank Garcia-Hejl have their sights set elsewhere.

It starts unpromisingly enough in a bar where a patron (played by Segan) is having his ear bent by a cliche-spouting bartender. Retreating to the men’s room, he spies a flyer put up by a group calling itself Men in Serious Turmoil, Establishing Rights! Investigating further, Segan tracks the group down to a pet shop where they meet in the back room after hours to air out their petty grievances with women. Eager to hook their latest recruit, the group’s leader (played by Garcia-Hejl) invites Segan to join them that night at a secluded location where they can be as masculine as they want to be, but he has other things in mind.

Suffice it to say, if you’ve ever wanted to see hateful MRA types transform (some of them only partially) into werewolves and get killed off in quick succession in a variety of ways (as one of the film’s creators says on the commentary, “So much of this movie was coming up with interesting ways to kill people”), this nine-minute short should scratch that itch. Just don’t expect its conclusion, which takes a wild swing into a completely different subgenre, to be remotely satisfying. Chasing “M.I.S.T.,E.R.” with a self-proclaimed “post-modern feminist slasher revenge body horror” film was probably a good call, but the most consistently amusing segment in the whole film is the Fourth of July-themed “The Night He Came Back Again! Part IV – The Final Kill.” One segment can’t redeem an entire anthology, though.

Full Moon Features: Hunter’s Moon/Hubie Halloween (2020)

It’s rare for the full moon to fall on Halloween, as it does this year. This one is also the Hunter’s Moon, which so happens to be the title of a new werewolf movie that came out earlier this year. What a pity, then, that it’s short on scares and suspense and long on irritating characters. Chief among them is Juliet Delaney (Katrina Bowden), daughter of Thomas and Bernice (producer Jay Mohr and Amanda Wyss), who leave Juliet and her two younger sisters alone in the isolated country house the family has just moved into while they go away on a business trip. What their business is eventually becomes clear, as does the reason why they’re not afraid to leave their daughters alone with three local miscreants prowling about and a sheriff (Thomas Jane doing a ludicrous accent) who has a conflict of interest when it comes to upholding the law.

Hunter’s Moon gets off on the wrong foot with a pre-title sequence in which a young woman is drugged by a psycho killer (the prominently billed Sean Patrick Flanery) who buries her in the woods and is immediately taken out by an unseen growling creature. (This is why his house — “the Ellsbury place,” as the locals ominously call it — was on the market for the Delaneys to snap up.) This opening eventually ties in with the main story, but writer/director Michael Caissie takes his time with the reveal, just as he waits until the last ten minutes to show his monster in full and even longer for someone to actually name it. This kind of coyness is to be expected to some extent, but not every werewolf movie needs to be plotted like a mystery for the characters to solve and fewer still should be built around a twist that can be spotted coming a mile away. The alternate title of Hunter’s Moon is The Orchard. I recommend picking something else to watch this Halloween.

That something else shouldn’t necessarily be Hubie Halloween, though. The latest product of Adam Sandler’s ongoing multi-picture deal with Netflix, Hubie is most notable for featuring Steve Buscemi as a lycanthrope, making this the fourth time he’s played one if you count the Hotel Transylvania movies. Here he’s Walter Lambert, the new neighbor of Sandler’s Hubie Dubois, latest in the long line of socially awkward naifs who are too good for this world that he’s played over the years. This incarnation is a lifelong resident of Salem, Massachusetts, where he’s in his element as a lover of all things Halloween, but also the constant butt of people’s jokes. (He even has to dodge a variety of objects thrown at him while he rides around town on his bicycle, one of the film’s few genuinely amusing running jokes.)

After his introduction, Walter tells Hubie that if he should ever hear strange noises coming from next door not to investigate, setting up the scene later on when Hubie does just that and finds evidence of Walter locking himself in his basement — as well as a feral-looking Walter himself. Before that, he’s also been seen boarding up his windows and doors and piling furniture up against the front door as the full moon (which falls on Halloween, naturally) approaches. After his escape from the basement, Hubie next encounters Walter in the woods, where his sole sign of physical transformation is his extremely hairy arms. Those expecting him to completely wolf out will come away as disappointed as I was.

Full Moon Features: Monsterwolf (2010)

I know not to expect great things from Syfy Original Movies, but even by their low, low standards, Monsterwolf (which premiered ten years ago this month) is aggressively mediocre and dramatically inert. The main conflict stems from whether Louisiana girl-turned-wannabe high-powered New York lawyer Maria Bennett (Leonor Varela, who was Arrested Development‘s first Marta) will help the nakedly evil Holter Oil Company and its sleazy CEO Stark (Robert Picardo, a long way from The Howling) rape her people’s land. Yes, you guessed it. It’s the old “oil company surveying team accidentally releases the animal spirit of a long-vanished Native American tribe which proceeds to eliminate them and anybody foolish enough to sell out to them” plot we’ve all seen a hundred times before. Only this time it features Jason London (following in his twin’s footsteps one year after Jeremy starred in the execrable Wolvesbayne) as Maria’s redneck ex-boyfriend Yale, who comes complete with a runner about how he has an outstanding warrant for his arrest because he ducked out of jury duty. That’s what passes for comic relief to screenwriter Charles Bolon, who figured he would conserve characters by making Maria’s father the local sheriff (Marc Macaulay) who’s investigating the wolf attacks that have targeted Holter’s employees, especially when it catches them littering or driving drunk.

In the role of the Native American Who Knows What’s Going On, Man, Monsterwolf gives us Chief Turner (Steve Reevis, Fargo‘s Shep Proudfoot), whose stories about the brave warrior who turned himself into a spirit wolf to protect his tribe and the other warrior who had to sacrifice himself to lay the wolf to rest are rendered in adorably simplistic animation. And in the role of Yale’s annoying best friend we’ve got full-on redneck stereotype Chase, who’s played by Wolvesbayne director Griff Furst, who also served as this film’s co-producer and second unit director. I haven’t even mentioned Coughlin (Jon Eyez), the cigar-chomping, pretentious, knotted-beard-having mercenary called in by Stark to take out the wolf and, failing that, Chief Turner. At least while he’s around, director Todor Chapkanov appears to be marginally engaged in the action, but the combination of practical wolf effects (for the extreme closeups) and CGI (for the medium and long shots) only serves to highlight the artificiality of both.

Full Moon Features: Night Wolf (2010)

When I first heard about this month’s Full Moon Feature, it was called 13Hrs, a reference to how long its protagonists have to hold out (until dawn, essentially) when they’re beset by an unknown (and barely seen) creature. When it finally came out on DVD — two years after its UK release in September 2010 — it was renamed Night Wolf, presumably so Lionsgate could have a much easier time selling it as a werewolf movie. Set in and around, but mostly in the spacious attic of, a remote English country house, Night Wolf devotes the first quarter of its scant 85-minute running time to introducing us to the characters who will spend the majority of their time in between monster attacks sniping at each other unpleasantly.

First up, there’s Los Angeles transplant Sarah (Isabella Calthorpe), who’s back home for a few weeks but hasn’t been for eight months, which is the first thing she’s ribbed about by her three brothers (some of whom are half-brothers, although the dialogue doesn’t make plain which are which). The most dickish of them is Stephen (Peter Gadiot), who has started sleeping with Sarah’s best friend Emily (Gemma Atkinson) in the interim to get back at her for some unspoken transgression. Charlie (Gabriel Thomson) and Luke (Antony De Liseo) are less-defined, which is understandable in the latter’s case since he spends most of the film sleeping off his first high out in the barn while they others are trapped in the attic, having retreated there after discovering the boys’ father eviscerated in his bed. Rounding out the main cast are their stoner friend Gary (Tom Felton, a.k.a. Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter films), who is the beast’s second victim (well, third if you count the dog), and Doug (Joshua Bowman), who’s nursing an unmistakable crush on Sarah.

Nearly every one of director Jonathan Glendening’s aesthetic decisions appears to have been economically motivated, from the limited cast to the isolated location (translation: no extras) to the fact that it’s nearly over before we’re allowed to get a decent look at its monster. When we do, it’s decidedly not hairy, which leads to a curious morning-after scene when it’s human again and is revealed to be completely hairless. Actually, that should be “when they’re human again,” because this is the sort of werewolf film where one of the characters gets bitten early on and later discovers the wound isn’t as bad as they originally thought, which can only mean one thing, etc. It’s also the sort of film where two sets of characters at two different times start inexplicably making out right in the middle of the crisis, which is precisely the sort of thing that makes me throw up my hands in frustration. I had a different reaction, though, when one of them gets hold of a shotgun and accidentally blows their own head off with it. That I actually applauded.

By the way, the trailer for Night Wolf/13Hrs heralds the fact that it’s from the producers of Dog Soldiers, a comparison that does it no favors. As for Glendening, his follow-up to this was 2012’s Strippers vs Werewolves, a film I have not seen and have no desire to see. Even I have my limits.

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?