A Tale of Two Shit-Kicking Werewolf Movies
I love werewolf movies. I love the American Southwest. Do I love werewolf movies set in the American Southwest? Do cowboys keep extra copies of Larry McMurtry novels in the outhouse?
THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING (1995)
I would very much like to know what Clive Turner was thinking when he wrote, directed, and starred in this sixth sequel to Joe Dante’s werewolf masterpiece, THE HOWLING.
NEW MOON RISING, to this day unreleased on DVD or Blu-ray, is a very, very interesting film. It’s a completely baffling - one might even say stupifying - film — but it is interesting all the while. What makes THE HOWLING: NEW MOON RISING so damn interesting is its complete and utter lack of willingness to be a werewolf movie — despite the fact that it is the seventh film in a movie franchise dedicated to werewolves. Owing more to a Robert Altman comedy than any type of monster flick, the movie seems to prefer to be more of a leisurely-written love letter to honkey-tonk culture than any kind of sequel to Joe Dante's original film. At the same time, NEW MOON RISING undertakes the gargantuan - and completely unnecessary - task of building continuity between the four latter HOWLING sequels — creating a mythology that is as tediously explained as it is convoluted.
In NEW MOON RISING, a mysterious Australian (is there really any other kind of Australian?) named Ted (played by Turner) breezes into a quiet western town looking for work. Coincidently, a rash of violent deaths begins to occur, with all evidence pointing to some kind of super-wolf as the killer. Trying to piece together the truth is the world’s laziest detective. Seriously, the movie spends nearly forty minutes on exposition because the detective character constantly needs to take breaks as he undergoes his investigation. He’ll stop an interviewee mid-story because he needs to visit the closest bar or take a nap.
As previously stated, though, the movie treats the werewolf mystery as more of a subplot then any real driving storyline. Instead of a special effects-laden werewolf hullaballoo, the movie chooses to burn nearly ninety percent of its running time on slice-of-life observational scenes featuring the small town’s cast of motley citizens. There are nearly half-a-dozen country-western musical numbers, over ten minutes of solemn line dancing, almost half-an-hour of assorted montages featuring the wacky antics of the local bar’s patrons and only approximately thirty seconds of new werewolf footage. In fact, most of the film’s special effects are taken from clips from previous HOWLING sequels. One is led to believe that NEW MOON RISING's budget consisted of thirty dollars and a Slim Jim.
I am a huge fan of werewolf movies. More so, I am a huge fan of the HOWLING series. I’ve watched each of the seven movies in the franchise multiple times. I’ve seen the films deal with marsupial werewolves, European soft-core porn, gothic murder mysteries, and carnival sideshows. I’ve seen the best and worst that the HOWLING franchise has to offer. NEW MOON RISING is a beast of a different species.
An exercise in testing audiences’ patience, NEW MOON RISING manages to suck out whatever joy could possibly be gleaned from a werewolf movie and instead forces audiences to suffer through some of the worst attempts of barroom humor this side of ANDY CAP.
I can appreciate extensive dialog and a slow pace in my movies. In fact, you might even say this is my kink. NEW MOON RISING, with its unwillingness to show any actual werewolf carnage until forty-five seconds before the film ends, is a monkey's paw situation - showing what can happen when the things you love in movies are taken to excess. NEW MOON RISING is a film that can only be really enjoyed by those on extensive horse tranquilizers.
Seriously, Clive Turner, what were you thinking? I really, really, really want to know.
DARK MOON RISING (2009)
DARK MOON RISING, retitled and released in the United States by Lionsgate as WOLF MOON, is a movie I appreciate more than I actually like. The film, written and directed by Dana Meenie, is a melodramatic attempt to do for romantic werewolf movies what TWILIGHT did for vamp-mance. The film is completely earnest in its intentions - it literally ends with the movie's hunky werewolf hero tearing off his shirt, dropping it onto the middle of the desert highway and walking off into the sunset, sweat glistening off his back muscles. Its blatant attempt to deliver a movie for the same audience that made TWILIGHT a worldwide phenomenon on a fraction of the budget and even less talent actually becomes charming after a while. DARK MOON RISING is a "naked male torso"-wielding crotch magnet of a werewolf flick, and there's nothing wrong with that. The world could use a few more of that kind of movie if I'm being honest.
No, DARK MOON RISING's biggest problem is that it's just too dang long. At 124 minutes, the movie is awfully indulgent for a werewolf flick that only infrequently delivers on the werewolf action. I like Billy Drago-narrated flashbacks as much as the next guy but there has to be a ratio of black and white exposition scenes to scenes featuring werewolves howling at the moon when it comes to movies called DARK MOON RISING.
Chris Divecchio stars as Dan, a mysterious drifter who wanders into a small town in search of work. A few days after arriving in town, he meet-cutes Amy, a local girl played by Ginny Weirick. In no time, Dan and Amy are in l-o-v-e, the two experiencing their very own little love montage set to toe-tapping, partner-swinging dancehall country tune. Things turn hairy, though, when Amy discovers Dan’s dark secret: he’s a werewolf. Dan also appears to be fifteen years older than Amy, despite the swoopy emo bang haircut he sports - but the werewolf thing is the bigger issue.
Yes, who could have guessed that the pouty-lipped car mechanic who swung into town the same night livestock started showing up mutilated happens to be a werewolf? It seems Dan is the recipient of a curse passed on by his dear old dad, an even more mysterious drifter played by Max Ryan. When the moon turns full, Dan and his pa Bender turn into bloodthirsty killing machines. Will Amy and Dan's romance survive a serious case of daddy issues?
Rounding out the cast of DARK MOON RISING is Maria Conchita Alonso as Sam, the town’s sheriff; Chris Mulkey as John, Amy’s father; Billy Drago as Charles Thibodeaux, a cop turned werewolf hunter; and Sid Haig as Crazy Louis, the town rabble-rouser and resident badass. Half the film's cast are also listed as producers on the movie, which might explain why certain supporting character roles are in the movie a lot more than the plot might seem to dictate. If you're an independent horror movie and you land Sig Haig, of course you're going to have him tangle with a werewolf - even if it means your movie runs an extra fifteen minutes longer than it needed to.
It's obvious that Meenie takes his werewolf stories seriously - delivering a heavy serving of gravitas as he digs into the meat of the film's plot. Characters expound emotional turmoil over shots of whiskey and, in one scene, a character does a dramatic reading of the lyrics to Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London." This is heavy stuff, dude. Unfortunately, it's often also frequently boring stuff. DARK MOON RISING tries to do too much against the constraints of amateur actors and low-budget special effects. While the film is enthusiastic in its approach to lycanthropy, it's that enthusiasm that is its own undoing.
If the film had scaled things back a bit and concentrated on its main story, it could have been effective. Unfortunately, flashbacks, sub-plots, and redundant character actions muddy the water and turn what could have been a cool southwestern creature feature with a twist of romance into a tumbleweed of tedium. I’m all for giving horror film characters emotional weight and, if that means adding some romance into the equation, go for it. In the end, though, the film has one romantic subplot too many. In addition to Amy and Dan's love story, there is also a romance between Amy’s father and Maria Conchita Alonso's sheriff character. This sub-plot fails to add much to the overall story nor is it an effective counterpart to Amy and Dan's story. In the end, it just means more time where audiences find themselves waiting for the werewolf to show back up again.
Speaking of werewolves, I will give the film props for trying to bring a full-fledged wolfman to the screen. I’ve always preferred my werewolves equal parts wolf and man and the lycanthropes of DARK MOON RISING deliver that quite nicely. Instead of piling on a lot of rubber and excessive prosthetics, DARK MOON RISING's creature designers put together a monster that is streamlined enough to jump around but hairy enough to not be mistaken for a mime. Black body paint and strategically placed tufts of hair get the job done in communicating werewolf. The filmmakers may have gone a bit overboard with the fangs, though. The film’s monsters have some serious overbite.
DARK MOON RISING seems to have been the only movie to date from writer/director Dana Meenie. He is a filmmaker who is obviously influenced by the works of Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino and his approach to werewolf films is different enough from most of the other stuff out there that I can recommend DARK MOON RISING to shapeshifter fans. Is it a perfect movie? No, unfortunately, it is not. But it's a movie where a werewolf shoves an entire hardcover book down the throat of a deadlock sporting Lin Shaye - so who cares?