VOLUME ONE - Night Wolf/13 Hrs (2010) and Bad Moon (1996)
: : : : : : 13 Hrs./Night Wolf (2010)
Let’s not go any further without addressing the first problem we encounter with this movie. Any title that’s a number followed by a unit of measurement is dog shit. Even when you heap meaning onto it, such as in the case of ‘7 Pounds’ when the producers kept the significance of the title a mystery to generate – I don’t know what…Turns out, Will Smith must give a pound of flesh Merchant Of Venice-style to seven people for each one he killed in a driving-while-texting accident.. And ‘21 Grams’ is the weight of your soul… It’s just good science.
Numbers are thoroughly forgettable as titles. Which brings us to 13 Hrs, a group of young people stuck in an isolated country house with something vaguely resembling a werewolf, I’m assuming 13 hours refers to the amount of time they’ll have to survive before they’re saved by daylight. But if that’s the case, the movie never brings it up. Which is maybe for the best – because why remind the audience that your characters have a way out just around the corner?
So, the producers decided to change the name. The reason seems obvious, but I don’t believe it was because they thought the title was uninteresting. I think it was to allow for more straightforward marketing. They certainly didn’t make the name more memorable, which seems almost impossible. It seems like they took some nouns and adjectives vaguely related to werewolves, and picked two from a sack.’ Night’ and ‘Wolf’, how about ‘Night Wolf’?
See, this is a non-werewolf-movie movie. The word werewolf is never uttered,. There are exactly zero cut-away shots to a full moon. There was speculation on werewolf-movies.com when the first stills of the monster were posted that the creature might be in mid-transformation. This was, unfortunately, not the case. If you like your werewolves quadrupedal and hairy , keep moving. The monster, while creepy enough when we finally get a good look at it, is only slightly more wolf-like than the ‘crawlers’ from ‘The Descent’ or the cat people from ‘Sleepwalkers’. I think for the sake of marketing they slapped the Night Wolf name on it to answer definitively the question of wether or not it was a werewolf movie at all.
This is, after all, from the producers of ‘Dog Soldiers’ the universally vaunted 2002 werewolf-action flick written and directed by Gary Marshall. I’m not as big a fan of ‘Dog Soldiers’ as some of the pack, but I can’t even call this film a ‘Dog Soldiers’ -minor, even though it’s so similar in premise: A group of people trapped in a house fighting off a werewolf. There’s even a break-for-the-jeep-in-the-garage scene.
Whatever you want to call this movie, it does feel like it was once a richer story. Maybe the screenplay was a lot longer. If you told me it was adapted from a book of graphic novel I might believe you. ‘Dog Soldiers’ feels taught like it was written for it’s running time, but Night Wolf, while ultra-lean at 70 minutes, feels like it wasn’t conceived that way, but rather got there by having parts removed later… Liposuction scars, if you will.
This is especially evident in the first and third act when the intended payoffs come and have little to no impact. There’s apparently a whole sordid family history here, but I’ll be damned if we know or care anything about it after spending only 15 minutes in a garage with these characters.
A line that appears in every synopsis of the film I read online goes ‘a dark secret so devastating that, in one night, it could wipe out the entire family. This line, coupled with one of the first scenes in the movie, make it obvious what the secret is, and who the werewolf is. So I didn’t expect that to be such a big plot point. But the filmmakers evidently expected your hair to be blown back, because its revealed in the last minute of the movie.
I have a few gripes about the directing. First of all, knock it off with the Werewolf-Vision. That’s when you’re told you’re in the werewolf’s POV because there’s a weird filter effect. It’s almost always cheesy, and it makes the audience sympathize with the monster – He’s not very scary when I’m looking at the world through his eyes. I know ‘Dog Soldiers’ used it to serviceable effect. .. More on this later.
Secondly, In these monster-in-the-house movies it’s really important, for the sake of tension, that the we the viewer have a solid grasp of where the danger is in relation to the characters. Jonathan Glendening’s directing left me unsure of the layout of the house and where exactly characters were in relation to each other during the films tensest scenes. Though, to be fare, this could be as much a problem with the editing. And on a side note, Glendening is doubling down on the werewolf genre with 2012’s ‘Werewolves And Strippers’ starring Robert Englund. So that’s something.
I’ve always been a proponent of what-you-don’t-see-is-scariest when it comes to monster movies (a rule that should have been heeded by our next film). But Night Wolf really tested my devotion to that principal. There is very little shown here in the first two and a half acts. Which would be great if we got a big gnarly werewolf at the end, but no. Also, the sound of the beast has to have gravitas if we’re not going to see it. ‘An American Werewolf In London’ (1981) created an amazing amount of terror with sound effects before we ever see the wolf. But I’m going to have to impose a moratorium on AWIL references.
Werewolf stories have built-in tension that should be simple to tap into. Tell us this character is going to turn into a werewolf at some point: instant tension. But surprisingly it was never really made clear in the movie if the characters who were maimed by the monster were going to transform into werewolves themselves. I suspect the filmmakers expected us to conclude from a character remarking that her wound wasn’t as bad as she thought, that her wound was healing super fast, and so she must be turning. But remember, at this point we’re not even sure this is a werewolf movie.
❍ ❍ ❍
You know what is a werewolf movie, though? ‘Bad Moon’ is a werewolf movie.
‘Bad Moon’ makes no bones about it. In fact, from the first two minutes to the closing credits I don’t think we ever go more than seven minutes without seeing a big gnarly werewolf on screen… And the creature design is in the upper echelon of werewolf designs in film history. ‘An American Werewolf In London’ (last time) being the zenith, and ‘Werewolf Of London’ (1935) (though I have a lot of love for the film) being the nadir.
Bad Moon was released in 1996 and stars , you guessed it, Mariel Hemingway. More importantly it was directed and written for the screen by the formidable Eric Red (The Hitcher, Near Dark). Red adapted the story from the 1992 Wayne Smith novel ‘Thor’. And that’s the real star of the film, the family dog, Thor, played by veteran German-Shepard actor, Primo. The novel tells the story from the perspective of the dog, which is hard to pull off effectively in a film narrative without giving the dog an inner voice. Luckily we were spared that.. It’s a great premise, and respect to Red for trying, but the film ultimately fails. One of the biggest problems is that it’s hard to care for these human characters when this German-Shepard is so much smarter than all of them. And Red doesn’t totally commit to making Thor the central character. Mariel Hemingway’s character is still making the decisions and moving the story forward. Even though we spend a lot of time with Thor as he uncovers things, they’re details we’re already privy to and he’s helpless to change them anyway, so we can’t invest in him. So, Bad Moon’s unique premise, while making it memorable, is also it’s biggest sticking point.
The film’s opening scene, however, like the opening sequence of AWIL (really the last time) is the stuff of werewolf movie legend. Although it denotes the beginning of what will be another big problem with the film, the inciting incident will hook you in the first three minutes. The flip side of this awesome scene is the implication it has on the potency of the monster: It’s handily, almost comically, dispatched of with a shotgun blast to the face. That’s it. Bang! It’s dead. The film makes light of this later when little Brett suggests you need a silver bullet to kill a werewolf, and Uncle Ted says, ‘I think a shotgun to the head would do the trick just fine’. Now I ask you to imagine if, in the first act of Alien, the crew of the Nostromo descended onto LV-426 and immediately encountered a fully grown, adult alien, and promptly blew it’s head off with a shotgun. To say it would take the steam out of the story would be an understatement. But that’s essentially what happens here.
And from there the werewolf remains highly visible. Lots of satisfying full shots of the creature very early on in the film. And they only become more frequent, to the point where I would be legitimately interested to see who clocked more screen time, Eric Pare or the wolf costume. The wolf is never lurking. We’re never worried it’s going to jump out and tear us to shreds because, ‘Look, it’s over there’. By the third act, it’s just one of the family. It might as well be ALF. So seeing the monster so much, while satisfying at first, quickly diminishes it’s impact.
We don’t get Werewolf-Vision in Bad Moon, so much as just a werewolf POV. It’s not quite as silly, but it does create the same problem it always does: I’m not scared of the monster because I am the monster. So, again, please knock it off with that. But Bad Moon’s werewolf POV shots are uniquely problematic because no less than 10 minutes later we start getting Thor POV shots. Then we have to start wondering if we’re a werewolf or a German-Shepard. I’m looking at you Big Red.
Red’s adaptation seems like the entire second act is missing. The situation has barely been set up before we’re racing to the final confrontation. And so the film doesn’t have time to generate any suspense. To speed things along Mariel Hemingways’s character finds Uncle Ted’s journal, and we’re treated to some pure exposition in the form of Ted’s voice over. This scene is doubly repugnant because not only is this unforgivably lazy storytelling. But Mariel needs some more convincing even after Ted all but says he’s a werewolf, and responsible for the mutilated townsfolk. Hence, the dog is the smartest character in the movie.
And while I’ve touted the creature’s design, I want to clarify that I like the design specifically, and the make up effects by Chris Nelson (who’s done everything) and prosthetics by Charles Polier who went on to do what he could with The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (the Nickelodeon one, not the very different 1976 version) and Twilight. The werewolf as it actually appears in the film, is often very clumsy. I’ve always felt, whether bipedal or quadrupedal, werewolves should be stealthy. That’s part of what makes them scary. Like most animals, they’re faster than you. But the wolf in Bad Moon lumbers, and that’s probably less by design and more because there’s a man trying to move effortlessly inside of that 150 pound werewolf costume. Which brings us back around to the problem of the wolf’s visibility. Don’t show us so goddanm much! Okay, he just ripped someone’s face off, why do have to see him amble in to the bushes like it’s the goddamn Patterson-Gimlin film? A modicum of restraint, please. What happened to the art of omission?
Werewolf people tend to break werewolves into bipedal and quadrupedal, the majority seeming to prefer their monsters on all fours – more animalistic. The bipedal werewolf conjures images of a wolf-man which is decidedly less scary. But I think we need a category to describe the very effective design in movies like this and Dog Soldiers in which the wolves are bipedal, but hardly wolf-men. The creatures in Dog Soldiers and Bad Moon have heads with snouts that are all wolf, and huge upper bodies with long arms that might hang close to the ground so they can change postures like a gorilla. Which is about as close to a real life human-animal as you can find. So I always dug these kind of creature designs. Bipedal, Quadrupedal and Primate, perhaps?
The werewolf is mostly practical effects: Make-up, prosthetics and animatronics. Although there is an ill-advised use of mid 90’s CGI when the werewolf morphs. I say morphs because there’s no practical transformation. Just a static dissolve that looks like a T-1000 party trick.
Bad Moon is probably one of the least scary no-camp, straight-horror werewolf movies I can think of. Seeing the damn thing so much, always knowing where it is, really diminishes the scare factor, and because the truncated second act doesn’t allow the tension to simmer. But for all of it’s flaws Bad Moon has stuck with me ever since I first saw it in the mid 90’s. I always pointed to it as an example of a great werewolf design, and an undeniably original entry into the werewolf canon.