Guest List: Bryan Senn’s Top 7 Unsung Were-Gems
Bryan Senn’s latest book, The Werewolf Filmography: 300+ Films, covers every lycan-centric movie you can think of, and scads more you otherwise never would have heard of. But maybe you should — at least the ones that are good. In this Guest List for Flick Attack, Senn tracks down seven little-known were-flicks well worth your attention.
When horror buffs turn their attention to werewolves (and who among us hasn’t done that on occasion?), a number of tried-and-true titles invariably spring to mind: The Wolf Man, I Was a Teenage Werewolf, Curse of the Werewolf, The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, etc. But alongside these well-known classics lurk a pack-ful of impressive beasts prowling mostly unseen through the darkness of obscurity. So I thought it’d be (ahem) illuminating to shine a full-moon light on a few lesser-known and underappreciated specimens of lycancinema. Folkore dictates that the seventh son of a seventh son is destined to become a werewolf, so here are seven werewolf movies (in chronological order) you didn’t know you needed to see, but you do …
The Werewolf of Woodstock (1975)
Premiering on Jan. 4, 1975, on ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment, this made-for-television attempt to meld the Woodstock phenomenon with werewolfery was executive produced by none other than Dick Clark. Which begs the question: Why is the film’s music so awful?
In any case, it’s all here: cheesy rock riffs played on an abandoned Woodstock stage; a hippy heroine who keeps re-naming her dog according to the signs of the zodiac; a lycanthropy-causing lightning strike(!); King Kong/Beauty and the Beast thematics; goofy cops (including a laid-back detective sporting an ever-present Mike Nesmith beanie); a music-hating werewolf lured out of hiding by a loud rock band; and, best of all, a wolfman making his getaway in a dune buggy! Of course, what’s not here are Emmy-winning performances, a cogent screenplay or any semblance of objective quality. Still, given the right frame of mind (mood-enhancing substances recommended), The Werewolf of Woodstock can be a deliciously entertaining slice of made-for-1970s-TV cheese that, at a mere 66 minutes, never outstays its groovy welcome.
It’s a shame that, after its initial airing, The Werewolf of Woodstock disappeared like some festival crowd after the reefer’s run out, and has received no legitimate video release. For those dying to see flower-power combat lycanthropy, or who just have to see a dune buggy–driving wolfman, it’s well worth hunting down this Werewolf online or via bootleg DVD.
Night of the Howling Beast (1975)
This seventh entry in Spaniard Paul Naschy’s 13-strong Waldemar the Werewolf series may not be the best (1981’s The Craving wins that honor), but it may very well be the most entertaining. It’s certainly the most eventful and uncategorically the wildest. Leaving off his beloved Gothicism (which permeates nearly all his other wereflicks), writer-star Naschy penned a tale of anthropologist Waldemar Daninsky (Naschy) joining an expedition to search for the fabled Yeti in Tibet.
Containing nearly as many outré elements as there are yak hairs on a werewolf, this Night offers the following: cannibalistic nympho-demons; Tartan bandidos; outdoor gunfights (in which a trio of brave Europeans take down more bad guys with their tiny revolvers than a score of bandits manage with full-on machine guns); a brutal despot who skins girls alive as “treatment” for his nasty boils; a beautiful witch whose lust for power leads her to offer her own body to Waldemar while intoning, “You will obey me — as a man and as a beast!”; a prisoner revolt of half-naked nubiles (led by a captive princess, no less); half a dozen werewolf attacks; several naked women with the flesh from their backs peeled off in sheets (a sequence that earned the film a spot on Britain’s infamous “video nasties” list); and, of course, a cameo by the Abominable Snowman himself, culminating in an exciting monster-vs.-monster showdown.
Naschy himself characterized this anomalous film as “a comic-strip brought to the screen; with the Wolf Man, Tartars, the Yeti, action, the ever-present curse of the werewolf, and the Tibetan flower which frees Waldemar from this curse. In short, a film that I find very amusing.” And so will most lycan-fans, particularly those with a taste for offbeat Eurohorror.
Dog Soldiers (2002)
“It’s a monster movie full of outrageous blood and guts but given some truly unique twists,” described Dog Soldiers star Sean Pertwee. “It begins like an Army documentary, develops into a scary chase movie and then becomes Zulu with werewolves.” A platoon of British soldiers on a training exercise in the Scottish Highlands fall prey to a pack of werewolves. The soldiers hole up in an isolated farmhouse and try to find a way to defend themselves against the seemingly unstoppable lupine marauders.
It’s a simple, straightforward action/horror scenario that springs to vivid life due to an electric pace, crisp writing, well-drawn characters, intense human conflict, brilliant acting, evocative direction (courtesy of The Descent’s Neil Marshall making his feature debut), atmospheric photography, thrilling action set-pieces, a shocking (and judicious) use of gore and black humor, and absolutely the most terrifying lycanthropes ever to slash across the silver screen. (These werewolves mean business: At one point, a beast literally rips the head off one soldier and throws it at another!)
What Aliens did for the hoary old otherworldly BEMs (bug-eyed monsters), Dog Soldiers did for werewolves — transforming the generally solitary tortured-soul creature into a group of lightning-fast, cunning, vicious and near-unstoppable killing machines.
Though its opening weekend gross was the biggest for a horror film released in the UK, Dog Soldiers failed to find an American theatrical distributor and ended up premiering (in an edited version) on the Sci-Fi Channel. Which makes about as much sense as leaving The Slaughtered Lamb for a midnight stroll on the moors, since Dog Soldiers stands hairy head and shaggy shoulders above most other New Millennium werewolf efforts.
Audie & the Wolf (2008)
It doesn’t take a lot of money to make a great film. All it takes is a clever script, well-drawn characters, a unique tale to tell, a talented cast and crew that will work for next to (or exactly) nothing, and the superhuman determination to pull it all together. Yes, that’s “all” it takes to make a low-budget winner. And one wonders why they come so few and far between …
But it can be done. Just look to the likes of George Romero (Night of the Living Dead), Tobe Hooper (The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) or John Sayles (Return of the Secaucus 7). Writer-director Brian Scott O’Malley (a Roger Corman alumnus) may not have that pedigree, but lightning definitely struck on his Audie & the Wolf, a fresh, original and clever low-budget horror romcom filled with engaging characters brought to likable life by excellent (if largely unknown) actors. The story of a “reverse werewolf” (as lead Derek Hughes put it) has a wolf transform into a man (dubbed “John” by the grocery delivery girl, Audie, who falls for him) during the three-day cycle of the full moon. As John struggles valiantly (and fails) to curb his appetite for fresh meat (with his partially eaten victims becoming undead zombies kept locked in the basement!), Audie must find a way to tame the beast inside him.
Audie and the Wolf carries a professional gloss missing from most ultra-low-cost efforts. With a miniscule budget under $50,000, keeping locations to a minimum (mostly a large Hollywood home and its well-manicured grounds), the gore realistic, and the gags flowing (but flowing naturally from the story and characters, not grafted-on jokes flying willy-nilly) proved imperative. The witty dialogue at times softens the horror of the situation and at others intensifies it. For instance, Audie tells an occultist, “[John is] afraid to leave the house, he doesn’t know anything, and he can’t stop eating meat.” At this, the woman quips, “Sounds like a typical American.” At another point a shocked witness to one of John’s killings exclaims, “You were going to eat her!” to which a crazed John shoots back, “If she didn’t want to get eaten, she shouldn’t have been made of meat!” Indeed.
Werewolf Fever (2009)
There’s something very appealing about a hamburger. Simplicity itself — a bun, a well-grilled piece of meat and a few condiments — it’s meant to be eaten quickly, enjoyed in the moment, and then forgotten. One could say the same about Werewolf Fever, a low-budget indie filmed on weekends at the real-life Kingburger Drive-In restaurant in Renfrew, Ontario, Canada. Simple, self-contained, and ultimately satisfying, Werewolf Fever is the cinematic equivalent of a tasty fast-food meal. A straightforward tale of a werewolf laying siege to the local hamburger joint, picking off the employees (plus a few late visitors) one by one, Werewolf Fever was shot during the summer of 2007 (it didn’t see post-production completion until 2009, when it played the festival circuit before a 2011 DVD release).
Though Werewolf Fever starts slow, once the lycanthrope shows up 15 mintues in, it’s beasts, blood and burgers for the duration. Unlike so many microbudgeted efforts, Werewolf Fever never outstays its welcome. Jack-of-all-cinema-trades Brian Singleton (director, writer, co-producer, cinematographer and editor) avoids that deadly trap into which so many amateur auteurs fall: seeing every shot as a masterpiece. Consequently, Singleton trimmed the footage fat to a lean, easily digested, 66-minute running time.
Singleton manages to create a number of memorable moments, the most striking being when the beast attacks roller-skating waitress Sandy. After a swipe of his clawed hand sends her to the ground, she looks up to see her own leg, severed at the knee, rolling upright across the parking lot on its solitary skate until finally falling over. (“We rolled the skate across the parking lot more than 30 times to get the right take,” laughed Singleton.) Later, as the survivors creep out to see what has happened to Sandy, they look up to spot the creature standing atop the drive-in gnawing on her severed limb — roller skate still attached — before lifting it above its head like a trophy, roaring in triumph, then tossing it down at their feet. Horrific and humorous at the same time, these scenes encapsulate the outrageous enthusiasm of this hey-let’s-put-on-a-werewolf-show production.
Game of Werewolves (2011)
Kurt Vonnegut once said of the concept of black humor that “The biggest laughs are based on the biggest disappointments and the biggest fears.” And few fears are bigger — or more primal — than that of being dismembered and eaten. In this “Comedia Bestial” (bestial comedy), as Game of Werewolves’ Spanish poster proclaims it, black comedy gallops through the film like a mighty were-steed when struggling writer Tomas (Gorka Otxoa) returns to his ancestral village only to be targeted as a sacrifice to a werewolf imprisoned in the town catacombs, a sacrifice necessary to prevent the activation of a “second curse” that could destroy the entire town.
The comedy arises naturally from the characters’ reactions to the horrific absurdity of the situations, with the attacks coming fast and furious as vicious counterpoints to the dark humor of the situation. Far from a silly spoof, this Game is played straight, as are the truly terrifying monsters. Writer-director Juan Martinez Moreno wanted his werewolves to have substance, heft, and therefore eschewed CGI in favor of stuntmen in impressive-looking weresuits. These creatures, with their hulking hirsute bodies, sport striking red eyes set deep in a wolfish, fang-filled face.
Though taking the standard werewolf-stalking-the-village approach for the first half, the movie turns things upside down when the “second curse” kicks in and the entire village transforms en masse into vicious lycanthropes who then chase and attack the small group of humans. Such a clever switch not only ups the lycan-ante but the action (and horror) quotient as well, leading to an exciting werewolf car chase (with the old auto driven by Tomas’ tough grandmother), some impressive stuntwork as werewolves leap twenty feet through the air to pounce on their victims, and a desperate final stand in the old church that ends with a literal bang.
Game of Werewolves does for lycanthropes what Shaun of the Dead did for zombies … except Shaun was a big hit and received wide distribution in the U.S., whereas Game remains woefully — and unfairly — obscure to most American viewers. Don’t let the nonsensical title fool you (“In America it’s Game of Werewolves I guess because of Game of Thrones,” posited Moreno); for those looking for a funny, scary, affecting, and highly entertaining werewolf outing, this Game is one well worth playing.
A werewolf policeman … who’s an alcoholic … and who loves donuts? Yep, the low-budget ($1 million) Canadian horror-comedy WolfCop (shot in and around Regina and Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan) offers this and so much more when Lou Garou (Leo Fafard), the worst cop in the local sheriff’s department, falls victim to a satanic ritual and emerges as … WolfCop, who sets about cleaning up the mean streets of Woodhaven, Canada.
WolfCop’s appearance carefully walks that line between horror and comedy like a tightrope performer navigating above a circus audience, but with booze and donuts as his metaphorical balance pole. With dark skin, coarse hair, a black canine nose, red-rimmed lips and white protruding fangs, he appears fierce enough to be taken seriously yet, with his hulking bulk encased in a now-too-tight cop’s uniform, incongruous enough to raise an amused eyebrow.
The juggling act extends to WolfCop’s behavior as well. While reveling in his newfound power, which includes brutal and gruesome limb-ripping, decapitations, and an audacious face-skinning, WolfCop also retains at least some of Lou’s humanity, communicating in brief, guttural utterances (“Lou, you’re a wolf!” his friend exclaims, to which Were-Lou growlingly adds, “Cop!”); feasting on hooch and donuts (which, like Popeye and his spinach, seems to give him a boost) rather than human flesh; and acting like a cop (well, a cop in the Dirty-Harry-Meets-the-Wolfman mode anyway) by thwarting criminals not only with his claws, but by using his gun as well. He even has sex while in werewolf form — resulting in the first consensual were-bestiality scene in lycancinema history!
Sometimes scary, sometimes funny, sometimes shocking but always engaging, WolfCop breaks down the door and offers you the right to remain entertained. —Bryan Senn