How not to make a werewolf movie

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Wednesday, January 9, 2013

How not to make a werewolf movie

If you have been following you are already aware of my deep love and respect for the majestic werewolf.  If there was one mythological beast I hope is real this would be the one.  Today we will delve into that special combination of budget, script, effects and acting that can suck the life out what should be a simple formula for terror.
I will be avoiding the various arguments of humanoid vs. quadruped, behavior and killing method that seem to span the current breed of werewolves in cinema, did you see what I did there with ‘breed’, and just stick to the basic universal rules of lycanthropy. 
  1. Character gets infected and isn’t aware that he/she is.
  2. Character transforms and doesn’t particularly care for it.
  3. Friends and loved ones are placed in jeopardy.
  4. Everyone dies violently.
  5. Werewolf either gets killed or vanishes into the darkness to kill again in the sequel.
Now an otherwise great werewolf movie can be brought to a sudden stop by something as simple as a bad makeup design.  Using the most excellent film “The Howling” by Joe Dante as my example I wish to demonstrate what I mean.  Keep in mind this is the same movie and the same effects department creating the very different looks of two of the characters.
This is a werewolf
This is a Pomeranian
After a movie full of some of the best looking werewolves that 1981 had to offer, they end the movie with Dee Wallace turning into Chewbacca.  But I’m not here to tarnish this wonderful film.  I’m here to show two examples of screwing up a simple horror movie concept.




War Wolves (2009)

War Wolves is a 2009 television movie that originally aired on the Syfy network on March 8, 2009. The film stars John Saxon and Michael Worth, who also serves as the film's director.
Jack Ford leads a special forces unit back to the United States to hunt down Jake Gabriel, a soldier who has been infected with the werewolf virus that turns man into wolf. Little does Jack know that three of the female soldiers serving in his unit have also been infected and have already transformed into she-wolves. The she-wolves' forces of evil and Ford's special op forces of good, are pitted against each other in the race to save mankind from turning into wolves.
Oh boy, where to start?  Staring and Directed by the same guy is never a good sign.  How about SyFy original, which usually means done for $20 and lunch.  But I have seen some great films done cheap so maybe this one will be…
Sweet Jeebus!  Really?!  The makeup is really just plastic ears and teeth, contacts and black greasepaint on the end of her nose?  There is no way it can all look this bad.  They had to make the male werewolf better.
Ah…Bad picture, maybe a different angle.
Holy Crap!  Yep, and it only goes downhill from there.  Fight sequences over-use that Matrix bullet time effect and flight by wire so the jumps are epic and acrobatic.  Dialogue is delivered by growling but the ill fitting plastic teeth also make the actors slobber so every line is this weird gravelly lispy spit projecting overdone emoting monologue.  Last but not least, let’s look at the character descriptions:
  • Michael Worth as Jake Gabriel who had left his former comrades behind and uses alcohol and drugs to suppress the urges and changes his body is undergoing. He coins the alias Lawrence Talbot, the name of the original Wolfman
  • Natasha Alam as Erika Moore Jake's love interest and leader of the wolves in Jake's absence, she attempts to convert the reluctant Jake into embracing his wolf side and turning against the humans.
  • John Saxon as Tony Ford an aging military General in hunt of the wolves. Detached from his family due to his lengthy, seemingly endless work.
  • Tim Thomerson as Frank Bergman Ford's assistant, a rambunctious old man who seems to make light of about any situation. He is Tony's opposite and best friend.
  • Adrienne Barbeau as Gail a woman who has taken Jake in, she attends an AA group at the local church which Jake attends as well. She is a very insightful woman who regales stories of "her" Kenny and provides profound insight, mixed with a little belief in Men in Black, Sasquatch, Aliens etc.
They just had to invoke Lon Chaney Jr. not that it lends any respect to the film.  There are so many clichés and recycled plot points in this film I don’t think there is anything original in the whole 104 minutes.


Half Moon (2010)

"Half Moon" tells the story of a city gripped with fear because of a man killing prostitutes. When down on her luck prostitute Rose (Shellie Chapman aka Tori Black) goes to a hotel to meet a man who seems like the perfect guy things soon change and she suspects he could be the killer ...or worse a Werewolf.
When I first became aware of this film I thought it could be a great film.  There is a Jack the Ripper killing working girls, Rose meets Jacob at the hotel and after a few hours of just talking lets her guard down.  When Jacob goes to the bathroom she opens the duffle bag he brought and finds it full of S&M gear and weapons.  After handcuffing him to a chair the mystery of whether he is the serial killer or not begins to play out all the while trying to not reveal what he really is.  I believed this could be the best idea I had heard for a werewolf movie.  Not really sure if our character really is infected or just insane.  Unfortunately, there is so much wrong with this movie I actually only watched twenty minutes of it and then jumped to the end for the forty seconds of werewolf…blurry, fun fur wearing werewolf.
You would think the problem would be Tori Black since adult film actresses are not known for their acting ability but she did a great job.  As I recall this film only has two locations, the street where Rose hears about the job and the hotel room so money got saved there.  The pacing and dialogue feels so far off my head hurt after only the twenty minutes I gave it.  There are stretches where Rose and Jacob are talking about absolutely nothing and it feels like the cameraman just let the camera roll while the two characters made up their own awkward lines.
I wanted this to be a good film both because I thought the plot sounded interesting and I wanted Tori Black to deliver a performance so amazing it made people rethink their prejudice toward adult film actors.  Too bad I was wrong.


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