Mike Nichol’s Wolf cleverly combines comedic character study, spoofs the high profile business scene and whips it together with a far more literal lycanthropic horror story than I’d ever imagined before I watched it. It’s neat that dry metaphor went full on genuinely real monster flick, while losing none of it’s smarts along the way. Jack Nicholson, that old devil, plays an aging publisher whose livelihood is threatened by the arrival of a roguish young upstart (James Spader laying down that smarm) with designs on his job. It doesn’t help that he’s worn out, weary and not as sharp as he once was. Cue a werewolf mauling, which fixes those things right quick and turns him into a new man, in more ways than one. He’s fiercely competitive, virile and on the ball, but he also has to keep his hairy secret, well, a secret. Christopher Plummer is great as his fiery tempered boss, whose daughter (slinky Michelle Pfeiffer) begins to have eyes for the old dog, and the supporting cast has well coloured turns from Kate Nelligan, Ron Rifkin, Om Puri, David Hyde Pierce, Eileen Atkins, David Schwimmer and Richard Jenkins as a wily detective who begins to sniff the rat. The Wolf effects by Rick Baker and team are refreshingly old school, practical prosthetics and nice and gooey too. It’s also a tongue in cheek examination of male potency and territorial behaviour, so what better avenues of exploration than instinctual canine interaction and the politics of the workplace? Cool stuff, neat genre blending, a wicked cast and cool horror elements.
You want a romantic werewolf flick that rises above the vomitus of Twilight and gives you nostalgic pangs for stuff like The Howling and Bad Moon? Dark Moon Rising is your ticket, and proves that you don’t need heaps of PG-13 gloss, mopey teen bottom feeder ‘actors’ and a vacuous script to make a young adult oriented horror film. This one is admittedly low budget and feels just south of finished in spots, but it’s well crafted, made with love and bereft of CGI. The story couldn’t be simpler: a small town girl (Ginny Weirick), her stern Sheriff father (Chris Mulkey) and the new boy in town (Chris Delvecchio) who just happens to be a werewolf. Young love is always just a stone’s throw away from danger, which arrives in the form of the boy’s dangerous, monstrous father Bender (Max Ryan) who also happens to be a werewolf. You can imagine how it goes: steamy New Mexico supernatural melodrama with a few buckets of gore tossed in and a handful of super cool genre actors. Sid Haig, Lin Shaye and Maria Conchita Alonso have wonderful extended cameos, but the standout is Billy Drago, a staple villain actor who gets to do something different here. Blessed with a reptilian visage that just demands evil behaviour from him, he’s given a sympathetic detective role here, a heartbroken lawman on the hunt for Bender to appease personal anguish. The makeup and prosthetics are terrific, retro latex nightmares that made me miss the good old days before I was born when every horror flick had to rely on the ingenuity of a hardworking team of gorehounds. Despite a few weird pacing issues (tighter editing would have been appreciated), this one is a little indie horror well worth your time.
John Landis’s An American Werewolf In London has what is the most impressive human to wolf transformation sequence I’ve ever seen. You can dump your wallets out and buy all the CGI effects at hand, and none of them will ever match the tactile weight that practical effects have, the combination of hair, putty and latex that assures you there is *something real* on screen, and not the hollow timbre of computer driven wizardry. Everything in the film builds up to this shock and awe moment, and up until then it’s a fairly low key, atmospheric affair in which you never quite see the beast that kicks off the inciting incident. Griffin Dunne and David Naughton play the two American backpackers who find themselves wandering the moors of northern England, positive there is some kind of creature hunting them. The crusty locals avidly deny any such presence, but aren’t convincing and furtively shift their gaze, clearly not being honest. Sure enough, Naughton is attacked and bit one night, and he begins to exhibit those good old symptoms. The change happens all at once and is quite startling; this isn’t a sleek, aesthetic werewolf either, it’s a lumbering behemoth, all fur fangs and fury, storming about the cobbled streets of London like a coked out grizzly bear out running zookeepers. We only get to see him in London for a brief and chaotic end scene, but it’s worth it, taking the slow, misty nocturnal buildup and switching to broad daylight, revealing what was unseen before and bringing it jarringly down to earth. I can’t speak for the sequel, as I’ve never seen it, but this one remains one of the most well crafted, fun werewolf films you can find, and my personal favorite.
Stephen King’s Silver Bullet is one of the most charming werewolf flicks in the stable, one that combines adult orientated, gory horror with the fable-esque, childlike sensibility that seems to permeate King’s work. It’s also quite funny, thanks to the presence of a boisterous, rotund and quite young Gary Busey. Young Marty (Corey Haim) lives in a sleepy little town where not much of anything happens, until a rash of brutal murders occur in the area. Attributed to a serial killer by townsfolk, Marty has other ideas, specifically that a werewolf has taken up residence among them, and is snatching victims in the night. Taken seriously only by his sister (Megan Follows) and kindly Uncle Red (Busey) he bravely stalks suspect number one, who happens to be the creepy town priest (an intimidating Everett Mcgill). Things escalate into a series of gooey, effects driven set pieces that drip with wonderful 80’s schlock and awe, as of course is the tradition with anything based on King’s work. Other notables include Terry O Quinn, Bill Smitrovitch, Lawrence Tierney, King’s own son Joe Wright, and late great character actor James Gammon in an opening sequence cameo. It’s not all that scary, but more about the beloved tropes of such stories as these, the timeless monsters that inhabit them, as well the the intrepid young heroes whose lives growing up and finding themselves equally as important and high stakes as the horror elements.