0 out of 5 Skulls:
White House press correspondent Jack Whittier request a transfer to his paper’s Budapest bureau in an effort to gently break off an affair with the President’s daughter. When the Commander-In-Chief misinterprets the transfer as punishment from the editors for Jack’s sympathetic position toward the current administration, he offers the young man a lucrative position at the White House. Before returning to D.C., however, Jack has an encounter with a wolf in the Hungarian wilderness and is bitten. Soon he’s back in our nation’s capitol, trying to salvage the reputation of an inept administration while simultaneously battling his sudden urge to eat the political opposition.
THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON is a hopelessly misguided attempt to send up the Nixon administration and its handling of Watergate, the Vietnam War, civil rights, and just about every other problem facing our nation in the early 1970s. The trouble is, the movie starts out somber and deadly serious and doesn’t shift into full spoof mode until the halfway point, at which point it becomes both painfully silly and insulting to its audience. At first, Jack (played by future QUANTUM LEAP star Dean Stockwell) is tortured by both his lycanthropy and his fractured relationship with the First Daughter, and his initial werewolf attack (though improbably staged) is presented as a genuine horror scene. But just as the action is about to kick into high gear in the second act, we see Jack transform into the werewolf and crawl around on all fours like a dog, ripping up the furniture and sniffing everything in sight. Later, his transformation begins while bowling with the President (!), leading to a supposedly comedic bit of slapstick in which he and the most powerful man in the free world try to pull his swollen digits from the ball. The last 45 minutes of this movie are like a MAD magazine strip come to life – except they aren’t very funny.
Predictably, the President himself is played as an oblivious buffoon, and his administration is fully staffed with one-dimensional white, racist conservatives. Not only does the Attorney General immediately want to pin the brutal killings on a black man or the entire Black Panther organization, but the President himself proves to be little more than a puppet under the control of a Frankenstein-like midget scientist named (get this) Dr. Kiss! This oh-so-subtle jab at Henry Kissinger is essayed by B-movie veteran Michael Dunn, who actually befriends the werewolf as it runs amok in the basement of the White House. If there was any question that this film was intended to be a comedy, the scene in which Dunn pets the panting, hirsute Stockwell on his furry head and receives several friendly licks to the face in return should put all doubts to rest. Other attempts at levity at the expense of old Tricky Dick and his ilk include a flippant remark about a few dead college students in Ohio and the Attorney General’s closing comment to a black member of the press corps, “You won’t have Jack Whittier to kick around anymore.” Hilarious stuff, eh?
I consider myself pretty knowledgeable about politics and pretty laid back in my sense of humor. I can laugh at just about anything, no matter how serious. Certainly the hallowed halls of our government are ripe for the spoofing, regardless of which party holds the power. But, frankly, the Watergate scandal just wasn’t very funny. It destroyed any faith the majority of Americans had in their elected officials, transformed the already contentious climate in Washington into one of total paranoia and vicious partisan warfare, and cemented the foundation of the cynical, angry age we live in today. Not to mention the number of lives and careers it destroyed. At the time this movie came out, these events were even less humorous, as much of the nation was still in shock over the reprehensible behavior of the man they’d re-elected in a landslide less than a year earlier. Still, in the hands of a capable screenwriter and director, a biting satire of such a watershed national crisis might work. Unfortunately, Milton Moses Ginsberg was not the right man for the job. His ham-fisted attempts to equate Jack’s lycanthropy with distaste for his boss’ policy decisions are unsuccessful, to put it generously, and one has to wonder why he felt the need to try and make a corrupt administration look even more bumbling and incompetent than it had already proven itself to be in real life. If you’re going to poke fun at grave issues like crime in the Oval Office and the war in Southeast Asia, you at least ought to bring some understanding of how good satire works to the table. THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON is neither zany nor insightful enough properly lampoon its intended target.
This title is part of Shout! Factory’s ELVIRA’S MOVIE MACABRE line, coming to DVD this September. It can be purchased as a single title or in a two-disc set with the decidedly more right-wing THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE. Though neither film is very good, you’re probably better off picking up the double feature. It would be interesting to watch them back to back and contrast their opposing views of our government and the Communist Chinese. At least with the double disc set, you’ll get more of the lovely Elvira to distract you from the dismal films.
THE WEREWOLF OF WASHINGTON plays like an endless SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE sketch from the infamous “lost” season with Gilbert Gottfried and Denny Dillon. It drags on at the pace of a snail on morphine, taking itself seriously when it should go for laughs and cramming bad joke after bad joke into those moments which should have been played straight. Worse, it revels in tired clichés about politics, government, and the Republican Party, to the point that its filmmakers completely squander a genuine opportunity to parody Richard Nixon and his administration in any clever, meaningful way. Without a doubt, this is the worst of the MOVIE MACABRE titles to hit DVD so far. Unless you’re an Elvira completist or a masochist with a taste for truly awful political satire, cast your vote – and your money – elsewhere.