From Here to Obscurity: Werewolf of Woodstock (1974)
PLEASE NOTE: The movies reviewed in From Here to Obscurity have either never been given an official VHS or DVD release, have been released on VHS but are long out of print and very hard to find, or are readily available in some form but have generally gone unnoticed by most of the general public.
Little known fact: werewolves hate hippies.
Strange, isn’t it? You’d think werewolves and hippies would get along seeing as how they have much in common with one another. Werewolves and hippies both tend to be excessively hairy. They both love the outdoors and being in tune with nature. They both put little value into fine grooming. They both have a tendency to wake up the next morning not completely sure what happened the previous evening, albeit for entirely different reasons. Both are prone to having mind-altering experiences, though again, for vastly different reasons. You’d think werewolves and hippies could peacefully co-exist, but that is simply not the case. Hippies tend to be pacifist vegetarians that are all about peace and love and werewolves are ravenous carnivores prone to hunting and mutilating victims. That’s pretty much a deal breaker right there. And have you ever seen a werewolf movie with hippies in it where the werewolf didn’t target the hippies at some point? I’m hard pressed to think of a single pro-hippie werewolf movie myself. No doubt about it – werewolves hate hippies.
One of the most notable entries in the ongoing war between lycanthropes and flower children is a made-for-TV obscurity from 1974 called The Werewolf of Woodstock. Produced by Dick Clark of all people, the telefilm premiered on the ABC television network back in 1974 as part of a short-lived late night Friday program called “ABC’s Wide World of Entertainment,” a weekly rotation of comedy specials, celebrity roasts, Playboy mansion parties, and monumentally schlocky made-for-TV movies such as this. No sane person will ever confuse The Werewolf of Woodstock for quality filmmaking. The film is so incredibly cheap looking, poorly directed, and abysmally written that it’s practically mind-blowing to know that this was not only produced by one of three major television networks of the time but that said network was still willing to broadcast it after seeing the finished product. I do believe that was the first and last time it was ever broadcast so I have no clue where prints of the film have come from. Thank goodness somebody salvaged it from bottomless pit of cinematic obscurity.
As bad as the movie is, and believe me when I tell it’s quite bad, it’s still impossible to deny the film’s historical value. You heard me correctly; I said historical value and I’m not kidding either. Over the course of The Werewolf of Woodstock’s 70-minute running time you will see the first werewolf movie ever shot on video (it has the picture quality of an early 70s soap opera), you will hear the single loopiest explanation that has ever been given for a man to transform into a werewolf, you will see the inspiration for Donkey Kong years before the video game was ever conceived, and most importantly, you will bare witness to filmdom’s first ever werewolf carjacking. The Werewolf of Woodstock’s a howler all right.
1969: In the days following the now legendary Woodstock concert, an angry old man named Bert (Tige Andrews, best known for playing the Captain on “The Mod Squad”) sits in front of his TV watching a news report about the monumental rock concert that was held just a few miles from his home. Bert hates hippies. I mean Bert really, really, really hates hippies. Bert especially hates that those “miserable freaks” had the nerve to come into his backyard to put on their little freakfest. His hippie hate having finally reached the point of meltdown, Bert drives out to the darkened field and attempts to rip the remnants of the Woodstock stage down with his bare hands. The only thing Bert actually succeeds in doing is getting electrocuted.
Instead of winding up in the Intensive Care Unit like any other person would after receiving a gazillion volts of electricity, Bert’s doctor simply prescribes bed rest at home, his hands and face bandaged up like a mummy wrapped by 8-year olds, while his wife plays doting nursemaid. Keep in mind that this is despite the electrocution being so severe that the family doctor couldn’t even believe Bert survived it.
But Bert has bigger problems than just getting well for his electrocution has cursed him with lycanthropy. Now every night when there’s a thunderstorm, poor Bert transforms into a werewolf, rips off his bandages, changes clothes, and runs amok killing animals, hippies, cops, and pipe-smoking town doctors that prescribe bed rest as treatment for massive electrocution before returning home where he changes back into his original clothes, rebandages himself, climbs back into bed, turns back into a human, and either pretends not to know what happened to himself the night before or just prefers not to talk about it. No expense was spared on the werewolf effects because there was no expense to begin with. We’re talking about a guy in flannel clothes wearing a cheap drug store werewolf mask and rubber werewolf hands. The whole movie has the production values of a school play.
After Bert begins wreaking havoc and the only witness claims to have only been able to identify the killer as having long hair, the local police put the blame on this lousy hippie rock band (including a very young Andrew Stevens) that have shown up to record a demo album on the site of the world famous concert with hopes of tricking record execs into thinking they actually performed at it. As much as WereBert may hate hippies, he still can’t resist the allure of a wavy gravy hippie chick in the form of band-aid Becky, who he abducts and takes to an old abandoned mill. Since she’s all about harmony and has a soft spot for furry creatures, Becky takes pity on the wolfman, so much so that she doesn’t even bother trying to escape from the mill even after he returns home. Three separate occasions she chooses not to leave, instead preferring to just take a nap in the hay and await the beast man’s return the next day.
Investigating the strange goings-on of the past few days are the crotchety old police captain and two cops visiting from Los Angeles that have been in town surveying the Woodstock festival in case something of that magnitude is ever held in Southern California. They are detective Moody Silver (Michael Parks, who actually had a real career going at the time so I don’t what the hell he was thinking when he took this role) and police psychologist Candy Byron. Much of the movie has the trio sitting around the one-room police station set discussing just how strange these mysterious slayings that appears to be the work of a large animal are. Apparently, they aren’t used to having crime in these parts seeing as how the captain has a kitchenette set up in there so that he can teach Moody how to make his famous five-alarm chili while discussing the facts of the case.
It’s here that the very blonde psychologist Candy Byron tosses out a crackpot hypothesis as to what is going on. She begins by reciting some scientific mumbo jumbo about study done where high yet non-lethal doses of electricity caused excess hair growth in lab rats and then states that she believes this is what has happened to Bert, and every time there’s a thunderstorm as there has been every night since Bert’s accident (although it never actually seems to rain), poor Bert grows this excess hair and reverts to a primal state. Never mind the fact that this wouldn’t explain his also growing a snout, fangs, and claws too; the others quickly accept the possibility that this ludicrous theory sounds just plausible enough to explain what has been happening the past few nights. And keep in mind that this preposterous theory was the very first hypothesis she came up with. Strange animalistic murders… Old man electrocuted… Thunderstorms… Why there must be one of those electric werewolves on the prowl!
So how does one stop an electric werewolf? Why you just overload its senses with loud noises, preferably a combination of deafening hippie rock music and blaring police sirens. The police get the hippie rock band to set up on the Woodstock stage and crank their amps up full blast while they disguise their vehicles in the field with plans to lure WereBert out and subdue him through sensory overload. It almost works too, but he manages to get away, snatches Becky again, and goes running off into the wood. With the police in pursuit, WereBert soon comes across a guy standing next to his dune buggy, bitchslaps the dude, and performs cinema’s very first werewolf carjacking. It’s a thing of beauty I tell you with the werewolf even defiantly shaking his fist at the coppers upon driving off.
Oh, and did I mention that all this is taking place in broad daylight with not a single cloud in the sky and yet Bert is in full wolfman mode? By this point there’s no longer any reason to ask why about anything.
The slow speed chase ends up with WereBert dragging his hippie hotty hostage to a nearby power plant. With nowhere to go but up, it is here that we will witness the birth of Donkey Kong. Armed with only his “Where’s Waldo?” beanie cap, Michael Parks makes like Super Mario running up flights of metal stairs to rescue the girl from the hairy beast that has begun tossing empty barrels at the cops down below just like a certain video game gorilla. Did the folks at Midway see this movie and use it as the inspiration for the classic video game? Well, probably not.
Just when you think you think there isn’t anything the film can possibly do to top that, Parks and the werewolf square off for some freestyle girder hopping atop the power plant. Down below, the police captain, the same one that had spoke of capturing Bert alive just minutes earlier because he felt it wasn’t Bert’s fault that this happened to him and he desperately needed medical treatment for his monstrous condition, receives the silver bullet he ordered and promptly guns down Bert with a high powered rifle; an impossible shot for which he not only had no line of sight but the bullet would have had to either travel through several layers of steel or made more than one 90 degree angle in order to hit its target. A mannequin in a werewolf mask plummets to its slow motion death and the closing credits roll over the image of the lifeless werewolf’s face slowly reverting back to human form. The end. Bless you, Dick Clark.
The Werewolf of Woodstock will never be confused with a good movie, not by a long shot, not in your wildest dreams; but if you have any affection for cinema “so bad it’s good” then this is a very hard-to-find movie that’s well worth seeking out just to marvel at the knowledge that something this bad was actually a network television production long before anyone even conceived of the idea for the Sci-fi Channel. Forget the werewolf, the only thing that will be howling are the viewers. And with that, let me leave you with this:
Even a man who is pure of heart
And says his prayers by night
Can become a wolf when the acid rock blares
And the lightning flashes are bright.
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