What I Am Watching: Werewolves, 80s Fantasy Movies, and a little Taboo.

I love werewolves and I hate that, aside from yet another Underworld movie, they are mostly left to the back burner or watered down as the Zombie craze continues to capture the current main stream horror imagination.

I love werewolves so much, in fact, that I spent nearly two hours of my life finally getting around to watching New Moon – the second movie in The Twilight series and one of the main culprits in the watering down process. My review of this movie is short and sweet – if you are into hot, muscular, semi-nude young men running around, then this is a cinema classic. It wasn’t an impossible movie to get through and there is an awesome Tom Yorke song to be found on the soundtrack, but I came dangerously close to the passing the limit of brain cells I have allowed myself to turn off for a movie experience.

After finishing New Moon I went in search of other werewolf movies that might scare the pants off of me and which included a little less teen angst. I searched a few online forums for titles and spent a weekend binging. Here are some of my take a ways.

The Wolfman (2010)

Production-wise this movie was great. It’s an homage/remake of the original Wolf Man (1941), starring Lon Cheney Jr., while adding some modern day visual spark. The problem is that neither the story and even the great Benicio del Toro and Sir Anthony Hopkins were enough to entertain me for the full running length of the film. The movie tried too hard to be epic while it should have just focused on practically – it would have been shorter and scarier to boot.

After a bit of a stutter start with The Wolfman I then ran through some 80s werewolves movies because the 80s was the heyday for werewolf cinema culminating with An American Werewolf in London and Teen Wolf – I skipped both for this little foray.

I began with The Howling (1981).

This is a movie about a reporter that goes to a secluded retreat to try to recoup from a traumatic ordeal with a stalker. It ends up that the people at the retreat get a little wild on a full moon. This movie looked and felt dated and I honestly can’t remember much from it. The werewolves weren’t particularly scary nor were the set ups for when they showed up. Although the transformation sequence is alright, it’s nothing one hasn’t seen a million times before. I would skip it unless you are a werewolf film historian.

Silver Bullet (1985)

This was a slightly better film, but not by much. It’s based on a Stephen King novela and like in even the worst of Stephen King movie adaptations, it manages to have some bits of intrigue – just not enough. The movie does star Gary Busey who manages to be entertaining only because he looks as if he showed up for the paycheck and a few drinks. The hero is an annoyingly geeky kid in a super power wheel chair he calls the Silver Bullet. Halfway through the movie I felt like putting a rock on the road where this kid tread – I sincerely hate movies that try to endear us to characters who go beyond curiosity and instead enters the realm of stupidity by foolishly veering themselves into danger (in this movie rather literally by way of pimped out wheelchair) at every turn. The werewolf is scary in parts, but looks very cheesy in others.

Last, I watched an Angela Lansbury vehicle from the 80s called The Company of Wolves (1984).

It’s actually not one long story, but a series of vignettes about classic fairy tale themes – albeit with a sinister twist. The werewolf story is the first and it’s short, bloody, and sweet. This movie looks completely aged but it is worth watching for the werewolf fanatics

Although most of these 80s movies probably had scare power back in their day, they mostly felt aged and corny. Their pacing was also ridiculously slow. And though I love practical effects, some of them left me with too much of a “guy in a suit” effect.

I sprung out of the 80s and into a few more modern tales.

Skinwalkers (2006)

This is a low budget movie that tries to marry Native American lore with the werewolf myth – it fails miserably. I managed to get through about thirty minutes of this flick before getting distracted. Apparently the bad werewolves have to capture some little boy who is the key to continuing the werewolf bloodline while some good werewolves would rather be done with the whole werewolf curse business – there’s a gun fight and there is a chase and then there was me falling asleep. It’s total B-movie cheese but without enough “so bad it’s good” charm to be interesting.

Now there were some better werewolf films in my little binge.

Red Riding Hood (2011)

This was not a great movie and their werewolf is just a regular big wolf with werewolf transformation powers, but it was earnest and didn’t try too hard to be something more than it was – which, essentially, is a visually fun movie with likeable characters fashioned for the teen crowd. The soundtrack and smart action sequences makes it worth the hour and half you’ll spend dazzled by the colorful village. Oh, and Gary Oldman shows up – that can almost never be a bad thing.

Dog Soldiers (2002)

This is a British film set in Scotland that trumped most of the American ones I had seen when it came to pure scares and fun. It follows a group of British soldiers who end up getting more than what they bargained for while training in the thick highland forest. The first half of the movie had me totally hooked, but as the werewolves begin to show up in greater number, the movie tends to fall apart a little and plays off of a more campy horror angle. It’s still pretty good though, and it offers enough ridiculously funny dialogue and creative swearing from these no nonsense soldiers that I recommend it.

Wer (2014)

This movie had me going for about 3/4 of the way until it falls apart under its own weight. It treats the werewolf myth as a real psychological illness as a defense attorney tries to prove the innocence of a man who has been accused of a brutal animal-like attack on a vacationing family in France. This investigation keeps you guessing as to where it will go for most of the movie – and provides enough tension for some legitimate jump scare scenes. When it all just falls neatly into predictable patterns it destroys what could have been a much edgier conclusion – but it was still the best of the bunch.

I did mention way at the start the I saw the new Underworld movie, Blood Wars (2016).

Watching Underworld sparked my binge so here is a little more of what I thought of the film. Although it brings nothing earth shattering new to either the werewolf mythology nor the Underworld franchise, it still manages to entertain and move along a steady clip. Selene is still one of the best movie heroes out there and  Kate Beckinsale, who plays the character, proves she still has the look and the moves to kick some serious butt. Different than the last few Underworld films, Blood Wars left me willing to see more.

There are plenty more werewolf movie to see, but I felt I was going to have a transformation if I didn’t switch modes, so I decided to go digging into movies I remember as a child or teen but had never actually sat down to watch start to finish.

My two victims were two 80s Fantasy movie: Willow (1988) and Legend (1985).

Willow came first as I only recalled seeing clips of it as a child, but I never had too much patience to sit and trudge it out. It seems my childhood self and my adult self haven’t changed much. It took me about a week to finish this movie with many pauses to go do something else in-between. I found it beautifully filmed and the costumes and set pieces charming – there is also little to fault in both Val Kilmer and Warwick Davis’ performance – but it seemed to be trying to built a universe that was lacking a main ingredient: real heart and real magic.

This article here gives a pretty good break down as to why Willow wasn’t a bigger hit in its day. It essentially boils down to George Lucas trying to remake Star Wars with dwarfs and medieval castles  – been there, done that, and most importantly, done it better even in Return of the Jedi. Ron Howard is behind the camera, and though I do like some of his films, this one lacks any central theme, style, or emotional buffer.

I know this movie has a cult following, but unless you really like to nourish your inner eight year old it’s a waste of film.

Legend was next. I used to catch this one late at night on cable and Tim Curry as the Satan-liķe, Darkness, would make me turn the channel – he is genuinely scary.

This movie is pretty insane. It’s a Ridley Scott film, so expect great set pieces and camera shots, but the story is all over the place and you need a bit of patience to get to the good parts. Mr. Scott overplays the start of the film a bit in trying to push the “goodness” and “innocence” angle so that the shadows of the latter half of the film have more zing to them – it makes for a boring “throw up in your mouth” beginning that is too sweet for its own good.

However, if you can get through the first twenty or thirty-odd minutes, the story manages to both scare and entertain. It also manages to be one of those 80s style kids movies that weren’t afraid to give the little ones genuine nightmares – I can value this movie on that aspect alone; kids are too soft these days.

Other notable parts of the movie are a young Tom Cruise, who is not embarrassed to show off his legs and crotch nearly every shot, and Oskar Matzerath (of The Tim Drum fame) who plays a sidekick elf named Gump which bad dreams are made of. Although he is one of the good guys, he upstages Tom Cruise at nearly every turn by being nearly as creepy and unpredictable as the movie’s main villains.

And of course there is Tim Curry who masterfully steals the show as Darkness. His rich voice and sly innuendo makes his splendid costume and make up combination reach devilish heights. He appears to be having real fun with the character and this movie is worth its lagging moments only for the pay off which is his appearance on screen.

I recommend Legend. It’s totally off kilter in parts – especially the start – but the practical effects, the sinister characters, and Tim Curry alone are worth the price of admission. It makes you wish kids movies had a little bit more balls these days – this movie goes a long way to prove that innocence may only be an illusion and that the temptation of darkness is right around the bend – welcome to adolescence kiddies!!!!

Finally, I recommend Taboo (2017) – although I have only watched the first three episodes.

This is a strange tale of a man who was thought to be dead but who has come back to London to claim his part of his deceased father’s will. What his father has left him is something of great import to the British – who are not so keen about letting him have what is legally his. The show is set in the early 1800s, in the midst of a conflict between newly formed America and the British, and it tows a fine line between the possibly supernatural to the strangely historic. Although I have not seen the last three episodes I am anxious to see what the pay off of this bizarre story of one man’s fight against the system to get what is properly his.

 

This has been a very long post! Stay tuned for more – as I have also spent some time watching some stuff that came out this year!

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4 Responses to What I Am Watching: Werewolves, 80s Fantasy Movies, and a little Taboo.

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