So once again we have survived.

Bad Moon

tn_badmoonHoly shit! There’s another good werewolf movie! And it’s from the ’90s. This is not really one of my favorite subgenres, but there’s definitely a couple good ones of this type. Obviously AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is one of the greatest horror movies of all time and still the most perfect specimen of the scary/funny balance. Then I like THE HOWLING 1&3 and GINGER SNAPS is pretty good with decent sequels by DTV standards (even if they were theatrical in Canada). And DOG SOLDIERS I remember enjoying. The end.

But now I’m happy to add BAD MOON on there too. From writer/director Eric Red (after he wrote THE HITCHER but before he flipped out and crashed his car into a bar killing 2 people), this is a story about a woman, her son, her dog, and her brother who she doesn’t know is a werewolf. It’s primarily just those characters and mostly confined to their house, yard and nearby woods, but it doesn’t feel small or cheap. Just intimate.

But it starts on an expedition in Nepal, where Ted (Michael Paré) and Marjorie (Johanna Lebovitz) have a run-in with a (in my opinion you know where this sentence is going)  werewolf. It’s a vicious fuckin beast, and Ted manages to shoot its head off (great effect) but not before it kills his girlfriend and bites him. So he’s got some rough days ahead.

Then we pick up months later at Janet (Mariel Hemingway)’s home. She’s a lawyer and single mother of Brett (Mason Gamble – one-time holder of the coveted Dennis the Menace mantle and little sidekick in RUSHMORE). They’re excited to get a call from Uncle Ted to come visit him in his trailer out in a national park or somewhere. He’s the cool uncle and the cool brother who’s manly and smokes and is one with nature and shit. They don’t get to see him enough because he’s always traveling around the world having adventures or, in this case, isolating himself while he tries to figure out if it’s possible to cure werewolfism. He has to do it himself because he’s probly a freelancer and doesn’t have health insurance.

mp_badmoonTed is a tragic figure. He lost his girlfriend and has to pretend like they just broke up. He doesn’t know what the fuck to do. And it turns out being a werewolf is even worse than we’ve heard – in this movie they turn wolf every night, not just on a full moon. So he has to rush Janet and Brett away as it’s getting dark and then go chain himself to a tree. (I’m not sure how he gets out of the chains in the morning, that part is not explained. Maybe he has the key on him the whole time but werewolves don’t know how to use keys.)

Well, the self-leashing method has some security holes, he ends up eating a guy. When the body is found the authorities assume it’s an animal attack, but he’s still panicked so in desperation he accepts Janet’s offer to go park his trailer in her yard for a while. He has this theory that family love maybe cures wolfthropy. Who knows?

So the movie is about what happens as he’s living there, trying to hide why he goes out into the woods at night, trying to restrain himself from eating everybody. And little Brett is suspicious and finding clues, and Janet is worried about him and trying to be a good sister, and this is all very dramatic. But what makes it great is that the main tension is between Ted and Thor, the family’s beloved German Shepherd. Because of his Canine-American heritage Thor is able to sense what’s going on here. He has dogdar. He doesn’t have to sneak around in the trailer and find a book about werewolves to get suspicious about Ted, he just smells it or hears it or something.

Thor is actually the title of the book the movie is adapted from, it’s written by an author named Wayne Smith. Apparently he told the story from the dog’s point of view. That’s not the case in the movie, but Thor is definitely a main character, in my opinion the hero of the movie, and he does have scenes where he goes off without the humans and you follow what he’s up to. He’s trying to protect the family but he’s fucking up what Ted’s trying to do, so they become rivals. And although Ted started out as a sympathetic character he turns into kind of a dick during this conflict and, sorry dude, the audience is going with the dog. The full time dog.

You know Thor is the hero because there’s actually a part where he gets framed for murder. And you know this is a unique movie because there’s a point where Janet suspects that either her brother or her dog has committed murder. One or the other, she has reasons to suspect both. They say this couldn’t possibly have been done by a human, but the idea that Thor did it doesn’t feel right either. She doesn’t know what to believe.

SPOILER. I think this is historic, my first (but hopefully not last) urination spoiler. This is a great moment in the movie so skip over this paragraph unless you’ve seen it or aren’t sold yet. At one point in the movie Thor goes over and pisses on Ted’s trailer. I assume he’s deliberately trying to mark his territory, to protect the family from this werewolf, drawing a line in the sand. But Brett just thinks he’s being a dumb dog. When Ted comes out of the trailer he looks over and sees that the tire is wet, probly smells it. Just a little reason to be annoyed with the dog. Ted knows that the dog knows about him and it grows into a whole rivalry, he sort of has to get rid of this dog to protect himself, and eventually succeeds when he tricks Thor into attacking him in front of Janet so everyone will believe the dog really is out of control and send him away. You can understand Ted doing this for self protection, but he also kinda hated that fuckin dog, so he’s real pleased with himself that he’s won this little competition. So what does he do? He walks over to Thor’s dog house and pisses on it.

Now that’s a fuckin movie right there! I’ve never seen that in a movie before. But I guess there aren’t that many human-dog rivalry movies. Maybe you don’t need a dog in there. Maybe they could do it in a movie where two dudes fight over a girl. But so far I think it’s only in BAD MOON.

So I love it for its uniqueness, but also the things that are in every werewolf movie are well done. For example, of course they gotta have 1. an old werewolf movie on tv and 2. a discussion about the rules of werewolves. But I like the way it comes out, with Ted explaining how it works but playing it off like he’s just joking around.

Some people might consider the monster effects clunky. They’re no AMERICAN WEREWOLF but I think they’re really cool. Although post-JURASSIC PARK this was still early enough that computer animation wasn’t very affordable, so other than a scene with some unfortunate “Black or White” type morphing it’s all done with good old fashioned puppets and costumes like the Lord meant it to be. You can tell the wolf heads have a limited range of expression so it’s great that the state they chose to focus on is mouth wide open, eyes crazed, the height of viciousness.

This also has one of the best reactions to a werewolf attack I’ve ever seen. When a guy sees the wolf coming at him he doesn’t just scream in terror, but also confusion, like: “wha-uuuuUUAAAAAHHHHH!?” It’s funny because it’s so true, it’s not only being attacked by a huge animal but also having your entire world tipped upside down.

I wonder, was that werewolf in the opening scene Nepalese, or some dude from somewhere else traveling around trying to cure himself, like an Incredible Wolf? If he was Asian does that sort of make Ted part Asian, now that he’s become wolf? Or is he Hindu now? I don’t really know how it works in the werewolf culture. Maybe because of this werewolves are above racism. Everybody’s got the same wolf in them. But I guess that’s why they focus their hatred on vampires. Or probly they would focus it on cat people if that was more of a thing. I wonder if they hate mail men? I guess probly not unless they were forced to live in a yard where the mailman comes every day. I don’t know, I guess until you’ve been in their paws it’s hard to imagine what their life is like.

What I do know is I highly recommend this one. Please spread the word ’cause as far as I can tell it doesn’t have much of a reputation.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Saturday, November 19th, 2011 at 4:05 am and is filed under Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

45 Responses to “Bad Moon”

  1. Vern, was this review meant as a reaction to the newest Twilight movie?

  2. I think they are re-adapting the book to a movie again right now.
    It’s been a while since I saw that one (when it came out on VHS), but I remember really enjoying it.

  3. A. Cool poster. B. Sounds good! How’d I miss this one? Gonna check it out C. While we’re on the topic of werewolf movies, let’s hear it for Stephen King’s SILVER BULLET!

  4. On it. Thanks for the nudge. This thing has been sitting on the Netflix queue as long as the Netflix queue has existed. Now it’s cutting the line…

  5. Great review.

    To be honest, if all you’d written was “Michael Pare plays a werewolf”, that would’ve been enough to make me want to see this.

  6. Preciate the spoilers warning, Vern. I skipped the shit out of those 2 paragraphs, so I remain a BAD MOON know-nothing while I know that it must be really good. Excellent.

    While I wait to see this one, I’ma go count the bodies & collisions from the brilliant traffic pileup at the end of John Landis’s werewolf movie again. That scene never gets old. It is still shockingly funny and perfect, no way BAD MOON can touch it.

    I wish the new Twilight had some decent werewolf action to recommend, but it doesn’t, just 1 1/2 scenes of consequence-free PG action. There is a funny part where the wolf gang “talk” to each other in growly autotuned voices. It was a HOMEWARD BOUND homage, I think. And then the leader asserts dominance over a dissenter in one of those Discovery/NatGeo Channel displays of force & fang, forcing the weaker wolf to submit and rub his own nose in the ground, which I consider the wolfen equivalent of a bitchslap.

    Sorry, enough about all that. I’m going to the Abrams household to wait for the mailman now.

  7. This one was also a nice surprise for me when I saw it on VHS lo these many moons ago. Werewolves are easily my favorite monster but there is such a dearth of decent werewolf movies out there. There’s the handful of classic and then a bunch of flawed but somewhat entertaining tripe. The problem is that while people tell all kinds of stories about vampires, most people only try to tell the same basic werewolf story, which is basically just a superhero origin story where the superhero dies at the end right when he’s getting interesting. That’s why I was so excited when Renny Harlin was rumored to be directing WEREWOLVES ON THE MOON a few years back. It’s always a full moon on the moon, so you’d pretty much be fucked. That’s some genius level shit.

    I will defend THE HOWLING 2: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, though. As far as really shitty werewolf movies go it at least has the good sense to descend into utter anarchy and hysteria instead of just feeding us the same ol’ “the beast within” crap all over again.

  8. “Obviously AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is one of the greatest horror movies of all time and still the most perfect specimen of the scary/funny balance”
    I think that movies overrated, personally. It’s not bad, but the very abrupt and anticlimactic ending is so poor it brings the rest of the movie down for me. Not that I can really name any werewolf movies I think of as better. My favourite treatment of Werewolves is actually in the original UK version of the show BEING HUMAN.

  9. Oh and this isn’t your first urination spoiler, Vern. You already had one in the SEE NO EVIL review when you described the final shot.

  10. AAWwIL might be a tad overrated overall, Stu, but that ending is brilliant. The abruptness is the best part.

    How would you end it? *Not* with dozens of innocents slaughtered by vehicles? Bollocks.

  11. Vern you forgot Teen Wolf and Teen Wolf Too as far as werewolf classics.

  12. I don’t know how I’d do it, but I just don’t like it for the choices the main character makes. He finds out about his condition, and knowing he’s going to turn again and kill more people, he just…holes up somewhere and waits for it to happen? No attempt to do something about it, like chain himself up, or even kill himself to save others? Just letting it happen… just because? How am I supposed to sympathise with that? It doesn’t even work as a tragedy because I think to be really tragic there’d have to be a glimmer of hope that gets destroyed, and there’s not. There’s just a sequence of events that he lets play out. It’s not succumbing to the inevitable, it’s just illogical don’t-give-a-fucktitude.

  13. I like “American Werewolf” okay, but the ending is a big let down for me too. “The Howling” is by far my fave werewolf film. I love the old stories of werewolves from Europe and wish more movies took the angle that the werewolves are people who want to change and can do so at will.

  14. Thanks to regular rotation on Cinemax in the 90s I can say I’ve seen BAD MOON at least 5 times, but never from beginning to end. I should try that out.

    I still think the decision to have Michael Pare sport that ridiculous adolescent mustache in STREETS OF FIRE is what cost the dude a bigger career.

  15. I would have thought that his sledgehammer fighting skills would carry him far in Hollywood.

  16. I will always have a soft spot for “The Beast Must Die”. It’s crap, but it’s entertaining crap, and Calvin Lockhart is great as the millionaire-turned-werewolf hunter. It’s actually a pretty good whodunnit, but without wanting to spoil too much, two major clues to the werewolf’s identity are given out FAR too early in the movie.

    One thing that always disappointed me about that movie though: the wolf-lore. Silver is not only toxic to werewolves if ingested, but the mere touch of it can kill a wolf, even if in human form? If they’re that easy to kill, it’s a wonder that there’s any werewolves left at all.

    I liked “American Werewolf in London”. The “visions” still creep me the hell out. Dunno if it’s the second coming like most people seem to say, but it’s still pretty damn good.

  17. “Preciate the spoilers warning, Vern. I skipped the shit out of those 2 paragraphs, so I remain a BAD MOON know-nothing while I know that it must be really good. Excellent. ”

    I laughed for a good 45 seconds at that.

  18. Good Werewolfmovies are a rare breed, and I can get behind the Choices Vern made, except for Dog Soldiers, which in my humble Opinion is a piece of Turd.

  19. I was on the fence with this when it first came out. I’m sure if I gave it another shot, I’d like it more now. Pare was excellent.

  20. Then those were the best 45 seconds of my day, Tawdry.

  21. Wait, what? The abruptness of the ending (I’m not sure how you could consider it anticlimactic) is the punchline to the whole movie. I’m surprised to hear somebody other than Paul would hate that. Isn’t that generally considered an all time classic horror moment, or is it just me?

  22. Oooooh, I thought about dropping the “You’re getting close to Paul territory there, Stu” line earlier, but I abstained from such cruelty.

    Yes, Vern & I are correct. Other opinions are wrong.

  23. Really dug this one, have owned it on VHS since it came out. Was hard to convince others to watch it over the years, strangely.

  24. Mr. Majestyk – it also doesn’t hurt that Howling 2 has Sybil Danning’s boobs and a pretty kickass theme song

    and Stu, the abrupt ending to AWIL is awesome in just how mean it is, I mean it shows *SPOILER* poor Jenny Agutter crying her eyes and then BAM it cuts to the happy, upbeat doo wop version of Blue Moon, that’s the kind of asshole ending only John Landis would have done, I can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t like it

  25. I do kinda get all that, but I still can’t get past the aforementioned non-action of David at the end once he knows for sure what’s happening to him. If he’d actually been trying to do something proactive about the problem, only to get screwed over by fate or some other character and lead to that ending, then yeah, I might like it more. But he literally just spends the last 15 minutes of the movie sitting in a movie theatre doing jack. Although this does kinda fit the general casual tone of the rest of the film, where the character just seems to go along and let all this stuff happen to him, it’s still unsatisfying to me, especially since the supposed added weight that’s brought by his victims compelling him to get himself killed is ultimately pointless as he transforms anyway. It’s like Landis only had a rough idea of what he wanted to do in the film, and never really put as much thought into the ending as he did the key scenes and build up.
    I mean the finale is a good climactic scene in a (unsure how to put it) technical way? It’s visually impressive and stuff escalates, but in terms of story, it’s not a good climax because the tragic end I’m supposed to be getting from it feels unearned because there’s a bit of a disconnect between David’s discovery and this happening.

  26. My world is turned upisde now! I had never, ever, even for a second entertained the idea that this could be good. To the point of, before this movie came out, I read a small description of it in a promotional pamphlet from the lobby of the local theater and I was certain it was not going to be awful. Not worth watching, and I watched a lot of crap at that time in my life.

    At that time, I was young and trying to discern the difference between good and bad movies. It probably mentioned Eric Red and Michael Pare but I didn’t know who they were yet. It definitely didn’t mention the dog.

    In the intervening years, I’d never read anything about it. And I like Eric Red. I lend people my copy of Blue Steel*. But everytime I saw this mentioned on his filmography, I’d gloss over it. Heard it sucked. Where’d I hear that? Myself, apparently.

    So I’m a little disappointed in myself on the one hand. On the other, I’m pretty excited about watching this one now.

    * Which I bought when I found it cheap because I read about it here. Thanks.

  27. Guess I’ll hafta give this another chance. Bought it for Red, (along with BODY PARTS starring DOURIFF & FAHEY, which is great), but was let down. I’ll try again.

    Also, WEREWOLF IN LONDON < HOWLING.

  28. “Vern: I’m surprised to hear somebody other than Paul would hate that.”

    DO NOT BRING ME INTO THIS, PLEASE. I know a bad ending when I see one, and “An American Werewolf In London” wasn’t a bad ending. Like I said, I really liked it. Dunno if it’s an all-time horror classic, but it’s still pretty damn good. I’m a LOT closer to you than I am to Dan and Stu (although now that they mention it, I can see why some people would have a problem with the main character’s actions. I didn’t, but I can see why they would irritate some people.)

    Look, I’ve just seen “Trollhunter”. I know what a massive blow to the rest of a movie a bad ending can be. (Actually, I seriously think Trollhunter might have the worst ending of any otherwise good movie that I’ve seen. It’s SO fucking obvious, so nonsensical, so outright dumb, such an obnoxious cop-out, and so unnecessary, that it spoilt the rest of the movie for me.) There’s no way “American Werewolf” is anywhere close to that level of bad.

    Surfinerd – what was wrong with Dog Soldiers? I liked it. It had its problems, but none of them was a dealbreaker for me.

  29. I don’t need to justify myself to you! I’m not the only person who thinks this about the ending. At least Roger Ebert has my back…

  30. I actually agree with Stu about the main character’s lack of motivation in solving his little people-mauling problem. I don’t see it as a flaw in the movie, though. That’s just the character and the tone of the movie. It’s not a tragedy about a good man who becomes a monster, it’s a black comedy about a self-centered dope who can’t be bothered to not become a monster. He lets all these people die, he mopes about it, he gets killed in an alley. The end. Life is brutish, nasty, and short, and so is AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. It’s a mean-spirited masterpiece.

  31. Stu – whoa, whoa, whoa. Wasn’t having a go at you. Was having a go at Vern for saying “Nobody but Paul could dislike the ending” or something like that, when I didn’t. I think you have a point about the main character’s actions, it just didn’t put me off as it evidently did for you.

  32. Or to put it another way – I agree with Majestyk.

  33. I wasn’t addressing you there Paul, just the haters hating on my hate…well…dislike. I should reiterate I don’t think AWIL is BAD. It’s good, but I don’t think it’s great.

  34. Ginger Snaps: Unleashed is a decent sequel by *any* standards.

  35. The thing about “Am WW in L”‘s ending for me is that I find all the car crashing too impersonal and disconnected from what had gone before. And I couldn’t figure out why he was just sitting in the theatre before that either. I don’t know, it just doesn’t work for me, especially after some of the great scenes earlier in the movie. Hammers’ “Curse of the Werewolf” has some great scenes too, but it just doesn’t have enough going on to keep my interest. When I was a kid the Universal films were on TV all the time and the wolfman was the scarest of the monsters to me. I really wish there were more good werewolf movies. I like “Ginger Snaps”, but I don’t know if its a real classic.

  36. American Werewolf: He can’t find the strength earlier to commit suicide and end the curse; then in the alley he snarls and lunges at Jenny, knowing the British SWAT team or whatever will shoot him. The End. Cue “Blue Moon”.

  37. That would imply he was in control of his actions during that whole last scene though. I’ll buy him finding her a calming influence, the way Betty does is for the Hulk, but not that he regains his rationality.

  38. This little debate seems to sum up the phenomenon of cinema as I perceive it. If you are invested in the characters or the story, then the little directorial choices mean more. If you are not, then those choices are rendered and appreciated but ultimately unnecessary.

    For the record, Werewolf in London is one of those that I cannot, no matter how many times I’ve watched it or how hard I have tried, find any hook to engage me in the story. This is one of those movies that I seem not to get. The direction is nice, the special effects spectacular, but the characters are not interesting to me. That means the movie is okay but far from great. I understand that other people love this movie and I am not saying that I am right. I just enjoy a movie where I am not calling the main character a douchebag a lot more than those films where I forget the character’s name and substitute “douchebag” in its place.

    That being said, I liked Bad Moon.

  39. Stu: I never said any of that. He’s obviously not in control of his actions, nor does he regain his rationality; but he doesn’t just attack her right away, which implies he at least recognizes her and responds to her. If anything is going to awaken his humanity, even for a moment, it’s gonna be her.

  40. “If you are invested in the characters or the story, then the little directorial choices mean more. If you are not, then those choices are rendered and appreciated but ultimately unnecessary. ”

    MDM, THIS is why I can’t say I “like” ANY Soderburgh movie other than “Traffic”, despite my acknowledging him as a great technical director. It’s also why some people don’t like “Lost in Translation” despite the fact that by every technical and aesthetic standard it’s probably the best live-action movie I’ve ever seen. If you can’t get behind the “affluent people with ennui” thing then it doesn’t matter how good-looking it is, you’re not going to get into it.

    I think that nine times out of ten, when people say they have a “subjective” reaction to a film, it comes down to this one thing.

  41. Vern,
    Keep up with Red’s ouevre and you’ll find one of the most fascinating bodies of genre work this side of Larry Cohen or George Romero. Like Cohen and Romero, Red is an idea man, playing in the sandbox of horror history. I know you haven’t already, so do yourself a favor and check out his (also) little-seen last flick “100 Feet”. Like “Bad Moon” it is a small, intimate horror picture, playing with genre cliches, this time the old haunted house tale. Michael Pare is in this one, too.

  42. I haven’t seen the last movie and only read the first book (which I hated), but I thought the third Twilight movie was okay. The first is way mediocre and the second is terrible, but the third one I thought was a pretty solid B-. When the entire series is done I’d like to see Vern take them on.

  43. Joey Joe Joe Junior Shabadoo

    November 21st, 2011 at 5:36 pm

    I remember reading Thor back in High School, then someone borrowed it and never returned it. Pretty cool book from the dog’s POV, had no idea it was turned into a movie (with Michael Pare no less). Have to check it out.

    Agree with there hasn’t been a great deal of good werewolf movies recently. Dog Soldiers probably the stand out.

    I did see a really cool werewolf short at Screamfest last month, called Bad Moon Rising, which used old school makeup. Supposed to be getting made into a feature maybe – but I think it is available to watch on youtube.

  44. I think we should give the guy a break. He does try to get arrested and besides, he’s bound to be a touch distracted later on, what with seeing his best mate go full meatloaf, getting lectured by his previous meals and being in the presence of those knockers from see you next wednesday. You can forgive a guy forgetting it’s feeding time. At least he tries to warn the usher.

  45. I remember seeing trailers for this in the 90’s on pay per view. always liked the poster.
    think i’ll finally track this down.

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