Werewolves are frustrating. They’re some of the best movie monsters to have ever graced the screen. Legends of humans turning into wolves have persisted for thousands of years. There’s clearly something about them that speaks to us on a deep, primal, even personal level. Werewolves aren’t just snarling creatures that howl at the moon and look really cool. They’re us. They’re the id literally run wild. They reflect humanity, the same way that every great monster does. That’s why they’ve lasted so long and why we’re clearly still so interested in seeing them.
The problem is that unlike vampires or zombies, werewolves require a lot of visual effects work to really pull them off successfully. More than any other monster, great werewolf features can be hindered by creatures that don’t work as well as they should. Conversely, some films can have great looking effects, but just fall apart when it comes to the overall story.
As a fan, it can be so frustrating to get excited for a werewolf movie only to be ultimately disappointed. There are so many little details that are hard to get right. It didn’t help as a kid to have so many preconceived notions of what a werewolf should and should not look like. That’s another thing that really gets people into trouble, everyone goes into a werewolf flick with different expectations.
Not every werewolf movie is destined to be a classic on the level of Wolf Man, Howling or American Werewolf. Most of the enjoyable ones fall into the realm of “pretty good.” Sometimes pretty good is all you need. It certainly suffices for an evening’s entertainment.
But sometimes it’s hard not to look at some of these decent werewolf flicks and think about how easily they could have been on the same level of the classics, had it only been for one or two changes.
The number one thing Bad Moon has going for it is an absolutely terrific monster. This is one of the best werewolves ever committed to film and, as I’ve pointed out, that’s no easy feat. That’s not to say that the creature is its only strong point. The overall story’s pretty great as well. Bad Moon is basically Fright Night if Charley Brewster was a dog. The set up is the same. Family dog knows that the kind-but-distant uncle who’s moved into a trailer next door is actually a werewolf.
The movie gets a lot of mileage out of the dog’s acting. But there is a bit of a low-budget atmosphere to the whole thing. And really, that’s what it comes down to. The only thing keeping Bad Moon from being a classic is money. With a bit more time to enrich a couple of the performances and get the best out of the locations, it could have been something truly special.
There’s one moment in particular that serves as the only glaring weakness. It’s a transformation sequence. And a bad one. In a movie filled with great practical FX work, bad CGI really stands out. Some more money put into that scene in particular could have made a world of difference.
I know, I know. Wes Craven’s Cursed feels several steps away from being a masterpiece. But when you step back and look at it, you’ve got Wes Craven reteaming with Kevin Williamson after the huge success of Scream and Scream 2. You’ve got a great cast including Christina Ricci, Michael Rosenbaum and Jesse Eisenberg in an early role. There’s so much in this film that feels like a recipe for success.
So where was the success? Why did the movie turn out so badly? It kind of comes down to the studio. Cursed was shot beginning-to-end at least twice, with the grand total being something closer to three times before all was said and done. Dimension let Craven and Williamson do whatever they wanted, assuming they were going to get something similar to Scream.
Of course, the writer/director duo didn’t want to retread old ground, so they came up with something totally different and that was what they shot the first time around. How different? The original version was a siege picture and Ricci and Eisenberg’s characters were not even related. I have no doubt that if Dimension had simply let Craven complete the film he’d shot in the first place, Cursed could easily have been something amazing.
The problems facing The Wolfman are essentially the same ones that ballooned into the major issues facing monster movies today. There’s a need for spectacle. There’s a need to treat classic horror characters as icons on the same level as Batman and Spider-Man and to turn them into dazzling action franchises. This is Universal’s current model in place for building its cinematic monster universe. It didn’t work for Dracula Untold and the jury’s still out on The Mummy, but it began with The Wolfman.
One of the biggest problems with the movie is that you can see how it turned from a straightforward gothic horror film to a horror/action hybrid through extensive reshoots and editing. But the number one issue, which is an extension of that, is that all of the great practical FX work created for the movie was just tossed aside. We get a few bits here and there, but for the most part the focus is on generic CGI creations.
This was the film that caused Rick Baker’s decision to retire. He’s not shy about admitting that. The man who won the very first Oscar for special makeup FX—for a werewolf movie, no less—got into the business with dreams of one day doing the remake of The Wolfman. When that time came, most of his work was replaced. Had the movie focused on being the FX-driven, moody horror it was designed to be, the results would be much more memorable.
Technically, Underworld is also a vampire movie, sure. But it’s a werewolf movie too. For many people, the Underworld series is everything that’s wrong with horror today. It’s big budget, CGI-heavy, defies its indie roots, it’s not attempting to be scary, it’s just loud dumb fun. That doesn’t do much for most fans. But as much as I complained about action/horror, there’s a place for it. There’s a resurgence in campy large-scale action right now that’s kind of great. I think the problem with Underworld, speaking strictly to the original, is actually that it’s not big dumb fun.
Because it’s not any fun at all. A Matrix rip-off centering on a war between vampires and werewolves has all the ingredients for a gleeful, popcorn-munching good time at the movies. But Underworld takes itself so, so seriously. It doesn’t want you to enjoy it. It doesn’t want you to have fun. Sure, it looks cool. But it’s so dark and dreary and the story is just so dense. Levity could have meant everything for Underworld.
A bit of humor or just a simple sense of fun would have balanced out some of the really serious moments and made them work that much better. The twist is honestly kind of brilliant and the main cast is great. If we’d been allowed to have a little fun with it, that would have made all the difference.
I’ll admit this right out of the gate: I love Silver Bullet. It’s one of my all-time favorite werewolf films. It’s got a great, surprisingly touching story. Gary Busey gives one of the best performances of his career. Corey Haim is a genuinely likable, sympathetic young lead. He’s a handicapped hero who’s not defined by his handicap. He brings an appreciated wit to a role that could have been too serious in the wrong hands. It had a quaint, small town atmosphere that I related to as a kid. It felt so similar to the town I grew up in.
The movie handled the mystery elements way better than Cursed would wind up doing. Most werewolf flicks stray from a whodunit structure, but it’s always been one of the best things about Silver Bullet for me. It’s a small town slasher where the villain just happens to be a werewolf. So what’s the problem?
Well, it’s the monster. It’s bad. It’s really bad. Frustratingly, it looks great in the quick glimpses we’re treated to throughout the first two thirds. The general shape suggests one of the best werewolves of all time. The silhouette is great. Even the close ups on the teeth, claws and eyes work very well. And then, when it’s revealed in full at the end, it just falls apart. The mystery dies. It’s a shame, because it’s genuinely the only thing holding it back from being one of the all-time greats.