Dog Days of Summer Horror!
By Kristin Battestella
Well, well. What better way to usher in the Dog Star than by releasing our inner lycanthrope viewing pleasures?
Viewer’s Best Friend
Brotherhood of the Wolf – Yes, the dubbing and/or subtitles in this 2001 French action/horror/period Le Pacte Des Loups will automatically turn off some folks. However, the voiceovers and onscreen readings aren’t hokey at all, and the internal narration helps instead of hinders here. On form stars Vincent Cassel (Eastern Promises) and Monica Bellucci (Under Suspicion) do their own English tracks, and director Christophe Gans (Silent Hill) smartly filmed with little close ups to ease the dub matchings. Beautiful landscapes and photography, lush interiors and costumes add more than enough visual spice; the atmosphere, period music, and candlelight do wonders. The hearsay and speculation builds delightfully along with the mix of American Indian natural beliefs versus French hypocrisy and politics of the time. Though there is a serious overuse of slow motion stylings, 18th century mullets, and too out of place Fu fight choreography, the nudity and brothel scenes do serve a purpose. True it’s not full on horror, uber scary, or that gory. There’s actually little wolfness in the first hour, the beast CGI is iffy, the 2 and ½ hour runtime is a little long, and though both are well done, the period mystery and supernatural cult action are a little inconsistent with each other. Nevertheless, it’s all damn entertaining for a foreign action/horror/period film. Who knew?
Curse of the Werewolf – Oft Hammer director Terence Fisher (Horror of Dracula) helms this 1961 Spanish styled wolfy starring a creepy but tragically tormented Oliver Reed (Gladiator), the caring Clifford Evans (The Kiss of the Vampire), and the sad but buxom Yvonne Romain (Circus of Horrors). As usual, the Spanish portrayals are somewhat stereotypical or plainly English barely disguised as Spanish. The plot is quite slow to start as well, with plenty of boobs, nasty nobles, injustice, murder, and illicit pregnancies all before we get to the titular plight. Yes, what we get is dang good; it just seems as if we restart 3 times before finally getting to where the film is going. Thankfully, the 18th century style, costumes, and carriages look sweet and colorful. All the expected horror smoke, mirrors, and perfectly cued music and thunderclaps do their part. The notion of a cursed child battling for his youth against a wolfish soul is also unique- none of this modern rugged and roguish teen dream business. Religious subtext and medieval fears also add an extra dimension and it all makes we wish Hammer had done more werewolf pictures.
Dog Soldiers – I love this 2002 wolf warfare treat from writer and director Neil Marshall (The Descent, Centurion). Kevin McKidd (Rome), Liam Cunningham (Hunger), and Sean Pertwee (Cold Feet) are delightfully good fun along with the well-paced but no less intense action and slow-brewed but no less scary horror. There’s lovely photography-both confined, claustrophobic interior camerawork and wide scoping vista displays- to balance the horror siege and guerilla action style. It’s all natural, too- not over saturated with digital designs. Though perhaps subpar compared to the fancy effects we expect, the wolfy styles are also sweet. Marshall leaves no time for big 3D panoramic wolf risings when the intimate fighting is on. Why should he? The peril gets across better when you don’t immediately see the werewolves in all their glory, and the paranoia and performance play is allowed the spotlight instead. The humorous nods to the audience, thick accents, harsh language, Brit slang, and disturbingly good gore might be bothersome to some. However, there’s much more good to be had here than any such American hang-ups. Even knowing what happens, this movie gets me every time- and it looks great on blu ray, too.
She Wolf of London – This 1946 short has a would be were-lady running amok in turn of the century England- and yes, it still looks good! All the hallmarks are here: the disbelieving law, legends of cursed parentage, great button up rigidity hiding the doggy truth. June Lockhart (Lost in Space) is our lovely distressing damsel-or is she? However, it’s Sara Haden (Andy Hardy) as her Aunt Martha that’s so juicy, jealous lesbian-esque, and just a bit too wicked stepmother to really be so kind. The dialogue is perhaps too mid century for the onscreen action and it’s all probably too angry chick and not meant for male fans. Although I suspect that was the point; I never saw a werewolf wear such great frocks and veils! It’s interesting that we don’t see the lycan hysteria as in today’s films- it’s all mostly off-screen attacks and fear of the beast that drives the suspense. Yes, there’s more obvious mystery fun than true horror. However, the plot is tight and nicely paced, the silver palette crisp, and the angled and crooked photography atmospheric. Beat that!
Werewolf Hunter – Subtitled The Legend of Romasanta stateside, this 2004 Spanish production boasts a nice cast, smart editing, and lovely 1851 style and decoration. Sinister as always Julian Sands (Warlock, A Room with a View) is his usual sexy and scary self, of course. The suspense and mystery are well paced; the intercutting between wolf attacks, various points of view, and investigative tactics add uniqueness compared to the typical American herky-jerky contemporary filmmaking. There’s a great wolf to human transformation, too, and a good dose of implied kink with nudity, naturally. Tension, scares, disturbing deaths and horror despite no seriously overwhelming gore- even if this isn’t truly a 100% werewolf film, everything’s done right here. After seeing this and Agora, I don’t know why we aren’t receiving more films via Spain.
Werewolf of London –Universal’s 1935 lycanthropy tale stars Henry Hull (Lifeboat) as our tormented scientist turned wolfy. Yes, it’s a bit heavy handed on the ‘good Christian England’ versus these exotic evil afflictions and abominations! The Tibet action is a little stereotypical and ill made, and the wolf makeup is not as good looking today. Thankfully, the scares and screams shine through. The premise is still intriguing, and other onscreen laboratory tricks and period décor look smashing. The women are perhaps too thirties and in some scenes downright annoying for modern viewers, but again, the juicy moral anguish wins. Sure, it is probably too Jekyll and Hyde, but so what? The examination of man against beast and science versus morality works 75 years on. Who’d need CGI if we could still make gems like this?
Be Leary of thy Neighbor’s Pet
Red Riding Hood – The fine cast in this 2011 thriller meets fairytale- Amanda Seyfried (Mamma Mia!), Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker’s Dracula), Virginia Madsen (Candyman) and Julia Christie (Don’t Look Now)- overall aren’t too bad. I dare say the classy elder players are even on form and beyond. The photography also looks perfect, with rustic medieval village designs and lovely snowbound mountainscapes. It was fun to guess at director Catherine Hardwicke’s (Twilight, big surprise) wolf mystery, suspect and identify the townsfolk, and call all the obvious red herrings whilst keeping in mind all the standard “What big eyes you have…” staples. Unfortunately, this entire wolf teen dream triangle in the middle ages ala Twilight thing is getting waaayyyy old. Snoozer boys, blurry action bam boom werewolf designs, and a dumb ending stemming directly from this Twihard mess not only taints the tale but undoes all the positives for audiences who don’t want to be fed more googley eyes. The Company of Wolves was better.
Van Helsing (2004) – Fans of Hugh Jackman (X-Men), Kate Bekinsale (Underworld), and David Wenham (Lord of the Rings) can enjoy parts of this vampire, wolf, and other random monster menagerie from writer and director Stephen Sommers’ (’99 The Mummy good, good Lord no G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra). Tragically, the rest of this overly CGI mess looks like someone forgot to clean the crap out of the cage. What could have been something morally dark, seriously scary, and religiously anchored in the spirit of the Universal Monster predecessors is instead dumbed down to vampire eggs, fake flying chicks, bad accents, and worse jokes. I can’t believe they thought this was going to be a franchise. What’s ever scarier: I attempted to read the novelization. Shudder. Stick with Dracula: Dead and Loving It if you want camp.