You might be tempted to think that I made up the word “Werewolfery” as a way to avoid the rather boring, normal title of “Werewolves” or somesuch, but then you’d be wrong, because one of the movies I watched this week used the term Werewolfery multiple times. Alright, fine, it’s maybe a two birds, one stone situation, but it at least has a basis in what I watched. Of course, the last time this theme showed up during the Six Weeks of Halloween (way back in 2008!), I referred to it as the Lycanthropic Edition, so there is that. Anywho, I caught up with three werewolf movies I hadn’t seen before this week. Werewolfery abound:
The Six Weeks of Halloween: Week 2 – Werewolfery
- The Wolf Man (1941 trailer)
- An American Werewolf in London (Robot Chicken)
- An American Werewolf in London (trailer)
Werewolf of London – A botanist seeking a rare flower in Tibet (or maybe just in Vasquez Rocks) is attacked by a strange animal. Upon the next full moon, he finds himself transforming into a bloodthirsty beast, but the rare flower may hold the transformation at bay…
This 1935 monster jam was Universal Studios first attempt at a Werewolf franchise, though it obviously didn’t stick. 1941’s The Wolf Man would be Universal’s much more successful film, which leads to some contrarian takes that the first attempt is better, though I think I come down squarely on team The Wolf Man. There’s certainly lots to like about Werewolf of London. The makeup is pretty neat, and the first transformation sequence, obscured by passing trees, is a clever bit of trick photography. Oh, and this is the origin of the term “Werewolfery” I mentioned above – they use it multiple times, and I couldn’t help but chuckle. The character of Dr. Yogami shows some promise, though it doesn’t really play out that way. A lot of the elements that make a good Universal monster jam are all there, but they’re just slightly… off.
Unfortunately, the protagonist of the film isn’t particularly likeable and is the film’s biggest detriment. To be sure, Henry Hull puts in a fine performance, but the character as conceived and written is a bit of a dullard. It’s particularly deficient when compared to Lon Chaney Jr.’s soulful and empathetic performance in The Wolf Man. Hull isn’t able to pull any sympathy whatsoever, and the picture suffers for it. The sympathetic monster is a key element of why Universal’s monsters work so well, but this movie barely even makes the attempt.
It’s a fascinating movie for those who enjoy tracing the evolution of Universal’s brand of monster movie. Alas, it doesn’t quite work and we don’t even get any perfectly coiffed werewolves drinkin’ a piña colada at Trader Vic’s, as you might expect from the song. Anyway, it’s interesting, but if you’re in the mood for a Universal monster movie about werewolves, The Wolf Man is your best bet. **1/2
The Beast Must Die – A wealthy big game hunter has invited eight guests for a weekend getaway at his lush country estate. Little do they know that their host suspects one of them is a werewolf, and he’s decked out the grounds in cameras and sensors so that he can hunt the biggest game of them all.
This late period Amicus picture is essentially a mashup of Richard Connell’s The Most Dangerous Game, Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, and the Werewolf party game. Indeed, the movie informs us early on that we’re going to be asked to guess which character is the werewolf towards the end of the film, and they even put a little clock on screen when the time comes, flashing suspicious shots of each character before the reveals start coming.
It’s a neat little premise, though there are some things that fall down on execution. Most of the film seems to be on autopilot, just going through the motions in the leadup to a guessing game where the audience hasn’t really been provided much in the way of clues. At 93 minutes, it’s not a long movie, but it does feel padded at times (there’s an interminable car chase towards the beginning of the film that goes on far, far too long, for no real reason). Also, and this is a me thing, but our wealthy big game hunter is, perhaps, the worst hunter ever portrayed on screen. The man is just completely incompetent (the “eat the rich” crowd might get a kick out of this sort of thing, but I just find it boring), and that never really works for me.
Still, there are a few surprises here and there that keep things interesting, including the ending, which has a reveal that makes no sense at first, but for which there is an explanation before the ultimate reveal. Along the way, we do get a nice smattering of British character actors ranging from the always entertaining Peter Cushing, to a very young Michael Gambon, to Calvin Lockart, who I know best as King WIllie in that cinematic masterpiece Predator 2.
It’s a great premise, but it doesn’t really deliver much on its potential. It strikes me as the sort of thing that would actually be interesting to see updated and remade (there’s apparently a TV series of the same name, but it doesn’t appear to be a remake or even about werewolves). **
Silver Bullet – The small town of Tarker’s Mill is suffers a series of grisly murders each month during the full moon. A young boy in a wheelchair begins to suspect the murders are the doing of a werewolf, enlisting his sister and insane uncle in the hunt.
This is one of those bizarre 80s horror movies that suddenly makes more sense when you realize that it’s based on a Stephen King story. So many things that work well on the page come off as unintentionally hilarious on screen. Or, at least, baffling. Take our main character, a wheelchair bound young boy played by Corey Haim in the movie. His crazy uncle, played by an unhinged Gary Busey, designs a motorcycle powered wheelchair for the kid, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that could play in text, but not visually. It just seems kinda silly on screen. There’s a dozen things like this in the movie. At one point, the werewolf beats someone to death with a baseball bat, instead of, like, doing the usual werewolf shit. Just perplexing stuff.
All that said, the film does at least manage to capture some of King’s narrative drive, and the story progresses naturally with small revelations and events that pull you along (unlike the previous two films in this post). There’s also a decent cast with folks like Terry O’Quinn, Everett McGill, and Lawrence Tierney putting in solid supporting performances. There’s something undeniably corny about the movie, and it’s not strictly good, but there’s some charm to be had here. **1/2
Two weeks down, four to go. Stay tuned for some 50 from 50 action, and next weekend: Exorcism! Plus, much, much more…