Werewolf: The Beast Among Us
Every cinematic monster periodically enjoys a renaissance and the werewolf is long overdue for his. There have been a lot of low rent efforts in recent years but the technical challenges faced by a film that requires make ups and elaborate transformations can be insurmountable. Not that studio big budget efforts have fared much better: 2010’s Wolfman remake showed that even with megastar talent and an unlimited budget, making a great werewolf picture is still a difficult task. I pretty much hated Joe Johnston’s Wolfman, so you can imagine my expectations when I heard about a low budget DTV spinoff.
Imagine my surprise when barely a few minutes in I found myself having a good time. If that surprised me, then I was utterly shell-shocked by the time the film was over and my high spirits weren’t totally dashed. Sure, there are a few bumps in the road, but Werewolf: The Beast Among Us might just be one of this years’ most pleasant surprises.
The Romanian town of Dravicu is besieged by a werewolf. The desperate townsfolk hire American werewolf hunter Charles (Ed Quinn) and his multiethnic team of slayers (including Scarface’s Steven Bauer) to rid them of the problem. Charles in no stranger to the damage a werewolf can do having lost both his parents in a savage werewolf attack twenty five years earlier. Now he and his group wander the European countryside dispatching supernatural terrors with a battery of weapons and improvised anti-personnel devices.
In Dravicu, the local Doctor (Stephen Rea) and his assistant Daniel (Guy Wilson) are knee deep in corpses. Daniel is a budding forensic examiner and, as the slayers set off to trap the monster, he offers his services to the band. He is certain his forensic analysis can provide the hunters with valuable information about the best. They turn him down but he persists and, impressed with his moxie, Charles agrees to let him tag along despite the protestations of erudite knife thrower Stefan (Adam Croasdell) and much to the chagrin Daniel’s sweetheart, Eva (Katherine DiPillo).
The creature attacks the local brothel, tearing through a pile of johns and whores. With the slayers unable to quickly dispatch the creature, which is smarter, faster and more cunning than any werewolf they have ever hunted, the townspeople take matters into their own hands and round up a group of eight suspects, including Eva’s father and Daniels’ mother Vadoma (Nia Peeples). Their plan fails to reveal the identity of the creature and innocent townsfolk wind up dead, including the sheriff. With no lawman around to rein them in, the hunters kidnap a local poacher and use him as live bait to draw the werewolf into a final confrontation. However, things don’t go as planned when the true identity of the werewolf is revealed.
Director/co-writer Louis Morneau is an alumni of the Roger Corman school and he brings a similar sensibility to this picture. Along with the generous helping of gore served up, the film also has a cheeky, self-deprecating attitude. A running gag about a two-legged horse is beautifully set up and then unexpectedly paid off. It’s a silly joke that will probably make most people groan, but it never failed to make me snicker. There’s a good deal of camp (though I can’t say all of it is intentional) and some fairly sly references to other wolf themed works like the Russian fable of Peter and the Wolf. There’s even a funny reference to Quint’s proposition to the townsfolk of Amity in Jaws. It’s never enamoured with its own cleverness though and doesn’t try to show off by rubbing the references in your face, which is exactly how it should be.
Werewolf was made in the run-and-gun style that made Corman’s output so prolific. While Werewolf’s visuals transcend its hasty shooting, the script certain shows signs of being constructed in haste. According to the audio commentary Louis Morneau was handed a pre-existing script that the studio wasn’t entirely happy with and told to rewrite and shoot in short order. That explains why a lot of elements, especially a romantic rivalry, aren’t well established and the plot is murky and occasionally hard to follow. Unfamiliar lore, such as the wurdulac, is introduced but never explained – a bad move when a major character is revealed to be one in the last act. In any low budget movie it’s inevitable that there will be a lot of unclear plot points that result from the short shooting schedule and the need to film scenes quickly. Those kinds of flaws are forgivable to a point... Werewolf comes just a hairs’ breadth from crossing the line where the muddled plot becomes a serious hindrance to the enjoyment of the movie.
With little time to make a movie and so much attention being paid to the action and effects, something is inevitably going to fall through the cracks. In this instance, it’s the performances. Leading man Ed Quinn is just fine as Charles, a pretty transparent mash up of Quincy Morris and Quint from Jaws, though the role is pretty one-note. Other cast members aren’t even so memorable as that; Steven Bauer is almost unrecognizable under an eye patch and fur hat, though he at least gets to deliver the film’s best joke. That’s in direct contrast to vet Stephen Rea, who looks like he was woken just before the cameras start to roll. Relative newcomers Guy Wilson and Katherine DiPillo seem understandably lost in the films’ poorly handled romantic scenes. A highlight of the cast is Romanian actress Ana Ularu, playing what would obviously be the Jessica Biel or Kate Beckinsale role were this a bigger production. She’s fun, though again, she has very little to do besides look cute and wield and 19th century flamethrower (seriously).
Luckily, Morneau pulls out all the stops to try and overcome Werewolf’s shortcomings.
I have no idea how much Werewolf cost to make, but I’d be shocked if its budget was one tenth that of the Wolfman remake. And yet, I enjoyed it ten times more than that bloated, mega budget snore fest. Morneau knows why people watch these types of movies and he does his best to fill it with enough puppetry and stunt work, as well as surprisingly decent CGI werewolf effects. When there isn’t action or effects keeping your attention, the screen is strewn with enough guts and mangled bodies to put an abattoir floor to shame. Add some pretty ambitious stunt work for a film in this price range and a brisk 90 minute running time and you have a solid, genre effort that manages to entertain despite its flaws.
As you’d expect from a production where budget is a factor, Werewolf was shot digitally. As such, this Blu-ray’s 1080p AVC transfer is struck from pristine source materials. The film has a desaturated color palette appropriate to the gothic material so there aren’t many opportunities for bold colours but fine detail is still strong even in night scenes. Day scenes occasionally have a contrasty, overly processed look. The recesses of people’s faces are sometimes too dark and actors eyes disappear in shadow. Night scenes are well lighted so background detail isn’t lost. Better yet, the film doesn’t have the cheap looking over lighting a lot of film sin the same price range have; hats off to DP Phillip Robertson for crafting smart looking visuals on a tight budget. Werewolf is a surprisingly good looking movie and this transfer does it justice.
Audio is usually where low budget films show their stripes and, true to form, the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio’s not nearly as impressive as the video. There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, but it lacks presence and punch. There’s not a lot of panning or other effects that add to immersion and even opportunities for a few well-placed stingers in the surrounds are missed. Sound mixing is expensive and time consuming and it’s not surprising that a lot of low budget films can give their audio the same kind of polish that bigger budgeted films can.
Director and co-writer Louis Morneau and Producer Mike Elliott collaborate on a feature audio commentary, but Morneau does most of the talking. Most of the time it’s easy to forget that that the participants are in eth same room; Elliott rarely speaks and the two don’t have much in the way of rapport. They do both seem to share the same sense of humour; corny jokes and bad puns abound throughout the 90 minute running time.
A small collection of Deleted Scenes (3:35) offer some brief creature action and little else of interest. Movies like this usually don’t have the shooting schedule to allow for the filming of a lot of extra scenes. Still, its admirable that the FX are largely practical so that there’s actually something watch in the deleted scenes besides green screens and animatics.
Making the Monster (9:23) is your usual fluff EPK featurette. Skip it.
Ostensibly a look at the effects work, Transformation: Man to Beast (6:13), spends far too much time with the actors and their impressions of the work and far too little with the actual technicians. The stuntman inside the werewolf costume really has presence and the clips where he deconstructs the werewolf costume is worth watching. Too bad he doesn’t have any lines in the film.
Finally, Monster Legacy (3:58) is little more than the cast pimping Universal’s line of classic monster movie DVDs, and perhaps deluding themselves into thinking that this film will be remembered in the same breath as those movies. They also use the word “legacy.” A lot.
I enjoyed Werewolf: The Beast Among Us but I want to be careful not to oversell it. It’s not a classic for the ages, a diamond in the rough or even a movie that you’ll much remember a half hour after it’s over. The story is sloppily put together and may require a second viewing just to puzzle out some of the finer details.
Still, if you’re a fan of werewolves and are in the mood for a fun film featuring lycanthropes and not co-staring sparkly vampires or filmed almost entirely in bullet time, then Werewolf: The Beast Among Us will almost certainly be worth your time... assuming you are willing and able to adjust your expectations accordingly. If you can manage that, you may just be surprised by how entertaining it is. Give it a rent this Halloween season.
I pretty much want to own every werewolf movie ever made so I just put in an order for this one. Glad to read your review, makes me a little more comfortable with this blind buy!
I enjoyed it! I wasn't even going to give this one a chance and didn't even bother reading your review of it but I just happened to notice that it is available on Netflix Instant so I gave it a watch. Maybe I've watched to much low budget-shlock fests but I didn't have a problem with anyone's acting in this one. I don't think I could recommend a buy on this one but defenitely rental worthy!
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