Werewolf movie fans are a jealous lot. While we sit and watch good to great films being made every year about vampires, ghosts, ghouls and slashers, finding a watchable werewolf movie is as difficult as trying to reach that last silver bullet that's fallen out of your pocket as you tried to reload your gun in panic.
The Howling. An American Werewolf in London. Ginger Snaps. The Company of Wolves. Scooby Doo and the Reluctant Werewolf. The list of really solid werewolf films is frustratingly short. And even then there are the werewolf film sub-categories. Every werewolf movie fan has their preferences. Do you like your werewolves to live in a hippie nature-centric commune? Or do you prefer the idea of a damned solitary soul struggling with this curse? Do you like four-legged hellhounds or bipedal manbeasts? Or, god forbid, are you one of those crazies that enjoy it when a werewolf film uses real wolves. It's hard out there for a werewolf fan.
In recent years, finding a solid werewolf film has gotten even harder with the advent of CGI. It used to be, at the very least, even if the film was bad we were given a great looking creature effect to feast our eyes on. See, for example,Project: Metalbeast - a 1995 film in which Kane Hodder plays a werewolf who, as part of a government experiment, is given bulletproof skin. While the execution maybe left a little to be desired, we can all agree that this is an awesome concept. And, good news, the film featured an even more awesome monster! In contrast, the biggest werewolf film of the century so far featured a giant telepathic CGI wolf. Carlo Rambaldi weeps.
As a programmer at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema and a devout disciple of a good werewolf film, I have had a chance to screen most of the truly great werewolf movies over the years. One film, though, has always eluded my grasp. Until now. On Friday, October 21, we will finally be screening Bad Moon in 35mm at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema - Vintage Park in Houston, Texas. Even better? Writer/director Eric Red will be in attendance at the screening. You can buy tickets here.
Eric Red, of course, is the writer of Near Dark and The Hitcher and the director of Body Parts and Cohen and Tate. His film Bad Moon is, for my money, the best werewolf film of the '90s.
Based on Wayne Smith's novel Thor, Bad Moon stars Michael Paré as Ted, a hotshot photographer who, while on a trip to Nepal, is bitten by a werewolf. Upon returning home to America, Ted struggles to control his curse, and when his sister (played by Mariel Hemingway) invites him to come and stay with her and her son (Mason Gamble), Ted agrees - hoping the power of love might overcome his plight. He must have seen Curse of the Werewolf.
Wayne Smith's novel was written from the perspective of the family dog, Thor, an animal that was immediately able to hone in on the visiting uncle's lycanthropy. In Red's adaptation, Thor is again a focal point of the film's perspective, though not the sole POV of the movie. I've always been a fan of monster movies that traffic between family-friendly sentimentality and extreme gore and violence. Something for the whole family!
Bad Moon certainly takes that approach - never shying away from brutal werewolf-caused carnage but also celebrating the sweet unquestionable love a dog has for its family. If you've ever watched an episode of Lassie and wished there were more scenes of a werewolf attacking a couple mid-sex scene, this is the movie for you. Even if you've never had that wish before, try it - maybe you'll discover you have a new "thing".
As good as the dog is in the movie, Steve Johnson's werewolf design steals the show. Featuring a fully animatronic head and a full body costume, Bad Moon's werewolf is, hand's down, one of the best monsters brought to life for the glorious purpose of cinema. The movement and life that is brought by the werewolf's motorized noggin helps sell the creature as a character first and foremost.
As good as the werewolf design is, though, the film is marred by the first flirtation the werewolf sub-genre would have with CGI. An attempt to utilize computer effects to assist in the transformation scene has some truly bizarre results. Director Eric Red agrees - his director's cut actually exorcises the entire transformation scene! Don't fret too much, though, Eric - a year later the werewolf transformation process would truly hit rock-bottom with the release of An American Werewolf in Paris, a film whose special effects have aged as well as a PS1 video game's cut scene.
Here's a final bit of Thor trivia for you. If you've seen Kiss Kiss Bang Bang, you'll remember the scene where Harry Lockhart meets an actress at Harlan Dexter's party. The actress has just filmed a scene in a werewolf movie. I've long tried to figure out whether that werewolf costume was reused from an earlier movie or built fresh for Shane Black's film. The werewolf looks familiar but its weird turtleshell back always threw me off. Searching for clues, I noticed that the novel Thor can be found in Harlan's bookshelf, alongside the Johnny Gossamer novels that drive the film's story. Could Harlan Dexter had been involved with Bad Moon in the world of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Are we looking at an example of a Mandela Effect - a glimpse at an earlier, slightly off reality? Or is this just the ranting of a man who has spent too much time thinking about werewolf movies?
If you've never seen Bad Moon, you should definitely take the time to seek it out. Scream Factory just put out a great special edition Blu-ray featuring the aforementioned Director's Cut, two audio commentaries and a surprisingly candid making of documentary. But, if you are within driving distance of Houston, don't miss the opportunity to see the film on the big screen in 35mm with Eric Red in attendance.