By Giallo Julian & Zane Whitener
What is it about werewolves that people find so interesting? Is it the duality of man and beast, an innocent person forced to live out primal desires every full moon? Is it the fear that someone isn’t always who they seem, a wolf in sheep’s skin waiting for the perfect opportunity to shed the wool and reveal their true selves? Or is it because it’s so much fun watching a ravenous monster rip and tear its way through victim after victim?
Lycanthropes are one of those cool creatures that always pose a threat and look incredibly intimidating. At least, that’s the case when it’s done properly. You know the classics: An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, Dog Soldiers, Teen Wolf Too, the good stuff. It would be nice to discuss such movies and the influences they had on the genre…but that’s not the case today. Nope, today we travel to the deep jungles of the Amazon (Prime Video) to observe the local lupines and see how they differ from their more well-known kin. Seriously, there’s way more werewolf flicks on Prime than I thought there would be, and I haven’t even heard of most of them (though some familiar snouts did pop up). So, it was decided to select four of the pack for closer observation.
However, it’s dangerous to face multiple werewolves on your own, let alone one. That’s why I asked Zane Whitener (of the YouTube channel In Praise of Shadows) to accompany me into these dark woods so he may assist in any potential canine combat. With that said, load up your silver bullets and hold onto your wolfsbane, because we’re about to have a howl of a time!
Zane’s Pick #1
Howl (Directed by Paul Hyett; Starring Elliot Cowan, Rosie Day, Calvin A. Dean; 2015)
“When passengers on a train are attacked by a creature, they must band together in order to survive until morning.” – via IMDB.
This entry focuses on a late-night train traveling across England that unexpectedly stops deep in the woods for a mysterious unknown reason. What initially appears to be a deer caught under the tracks quickly unravels into a trap perpetuated by werewolves who want to feast on the stranded train’s passengers. If you’ve seen Jeepers Creepers 2, then you have a pretty good idea of what is going on here. Just substitute the bus for a train and the Creeper for werewolves. That isn’t a bad thing, though, as what is presented here is a lot of fun and surprisingly graphic at times, which is always a plus in a creature feature. There are a few scenes involving an older woman that genuinely surprised me with how far they took the carnage. Unfortunately, there are also a few things holding this back from being as great as it could have been.
Firstly, I will say that the film is a little too dark. I get that it takes place at night and that they were trying to highlight the fact that the exterior scenes were supposed to be lit only by the moon, but there are whole sections that take place outside where I couldn’t tell what was happening at all. This lead to feeling more frustration rather than the tenseness that they were going for. Also, the sound design uses the same stock wolf howls heard before over and over again, dating back to the days of Scooby Doo. They are very recognizable from appearing in so many things over the years, and for a movie called Howl, that was a bit of a disappointment for me.
Visually, the monsters themselves are really well done, and are what make the film worth seeing. This is in addition to the great cast who bounce off each other rather well. A big issue for me is that werewolves on-screen very often look like large bears walking on their hindlegs, but that isn’t the case at all in this film. Here they are tall, slender, muscular creatures with long intimidating arms and fingers with bent dog-like legs, filmed almost entirely in silhouette with glowing pale eyes. The effect is very well done in my opinion, and the few shots of them that are brightly lit (such as when their arms reach through the train’s windows) allude to a monster better created within our minds.
The soul of the film is not only humans fighting for survival against nature, but also against one another, and the lust for life that can breed the most selfish of actions in these moments of utter desperation. It’s a solid movie that does some clever things surrounding a pack of werewolves working together to eat a train full of people, and I would definitely recommend checking it out.
Watch on Amazon Prime here.
Giallo’s Pick #1
Pounce (Directed by Keith R. Robinson; Starring Kelly Wines, Lucy Clarvis, Jordan Murphy; 2015)
“Silverhide (Pounce) is a horror/thriller film about a group of conspiracy theorists that are secretly watching a Top Secret military base in the desolate Welsh mountains…they suddenly discover a Top Secret and highly lethal creature…whose fur has the ability to turn invisible in moon light…they are hunted both by the creature (which the Army has nicknamed “The Silverhide”) and the military who will stop at nothing to keep their classified specimen a secret.” – via IMDB.
There’s something about me to know before we discuss this flick, just so you’re aware of where I’m coming from. I tend to be extremely forgiving of a film when I can tell it had heart and the creators were having fun with the project. This is relevant because Pounce checks both of those boxes for me.
Is it a fantastic movie? I can’t honestly say it is, but it is really fun. Can I say others will find it to be a good time? That all depends on how much they are willing to let slide. The “Silverhide” (which is a werewolf in all but name) is done completely practical, and I love that. It tears people up and there’s no shortage of blood to be had. On the other hand, I can see the argument that the starring monster looks a little… goofy. It’s essentially what would happen if a Muppet was cursed with lycanthropy. Which I dig the hell out of, but my tastes might not be the same as everyone else’s.
The story is pretty basic, and whatever twists there are don’t have a great amount of urgency to them. Whether that’s from the relatively average writing or the just-as-average acting is debatable. The effects as a whole (other than the Silverhide) aren’t particularly mind-blowing either, but they didn’t take me out of the movie, personally.
Well, I say that, but there is some pretty bad CGI fog that I found distracting. And the part with the CGI lightning. And there was that part with the CGI blood… listen, I enjoyed it because I could tell that the crew had their hearts in the right place, and just wanted to make a schlocky flick about an invisible werewolf. It’s not trying to be high art (at least, I hope it isn’t), and for what it is, it’s pretty alright. If you like low-budget creature flicks, or just need something to put on in the background while you do more productive things, then I’d say check it out.
Also, side note. There are two versions of this movie on Amazon Prime: the regular one and the “Black & Silver Moon Edition”. What’s the difference? One’s in color, and the other is in black-and-white. Because I love each and every one of you, I watched both versions so I could compare the two. Now, I’m a sucker for black-and-white, but in this case I have to go with the color one. Mostly because the black-and-white print has a very noticable fake film grain to make it feel “older,” I guess. It didn’t work, and just brought down the experience.
Check it out on Prime here.
Zane’s Pick #2
The Beast Must Die (Directed by Paul Annett; Starring Calvin Lockhart, Peter Cushing, Marlene Clark; 1974)
“Eight people have been invited to an island estate for the weekend. One of them is a werewolf. Can you guess which one?” – via IMDB.
This film is a detective story in which you are the detective; the question is not “who is the murderer?”, but “who is the werewolf?”. A group of people are gathered to the large home of a big game hunter. Upon their arrival, he announces that one of the guests in attendance is a werewolf, and that he intends to kill them. What follows is a 70’s action/ horror whodunit that leaves you constantly questioning the motives of everyone on screen, and at a few points is able to throw genuinely unexpected turns that you might not see coming.
Amicus Productions made a lot of strange movies in the 60’s/70’s, and this is certainly one of them. From the really fun and stylish score provided by Douglas Gamley, to the obvious day for night action sequences and the over-the-top dramatic acting decisions, this is very much a product of its time. Yet I feel that’s what makes it so fun to watch, as it has a certain charm to it. Is it kind of goofy? Absolutely, but the overall product is really memorable, which I think goes a long way. Like, you can’t be mad at a movie that pauses itself thirty seconds before the killer’s reveal, just so the narrator can tell you to make your final predictions of who you think the monster is. It’s campy, it’s weird, and it’s all together a unique way to present a werewolf narrative that separates itself from the rest of the pack.
The cast all does a really good job here. The whole film hinges on their believability as an ensemble, and even though they’re all going for very large performances, it really works and is the film’s standout aspect for me. Calvin Lockheart, Peter Cushing, and Marlene Clark are particularly good in my opinion, and a very young Michael Gambon makes an early film role as one of the attending visitors. Overall, for a werewolf film that focuses on building up to the reveal rather than the creature itself, it does a really good job at being a fun, stylized, entertaining story despite having very little wolf action in it.
Watch on Amazon Prime here.
Giallo’s Pick #2
Sheep Skin (Directed by Kurtis Spieler; Starring Ria Burns-Wilder, Bryan Manley Davis, Jamie Lyn Bagley; 2013)
“A group of punk rockers kidnap a business man because they believe he is a werewolf.” – via IMDB.
The premise alone completely sold me on this flick. I love punk rock, I love werewolves, so both of them together should be great! Like The Return of the Living Dead, but with lupines instead of zombies! Hell yeah, sign me up! I’m first in line, baby! I want to see a wolfman get whacked in the face by a guitar while the band’s drummer plays a sick solo!
Maybe mentioning The Return of the Living Dead was a bit too high of a bar. Despite that, I can sincerely say that the first three quarters of this movie had me hooked. While not the most unique tale, it’s an effectively told one. The acting was a lot better than I thought it was going to be (especially from the main punk dude), which really helped sell the story. I’d even say that some of the performances were pretty damn good.
However, the whole “punk” angle they were advertising is criminally underused. I don’t know whether it was from budgetary restraints or they just couldn’t fit the concept into the script, but the only punk parts of the movie were the opening and closing credits. I mean…why make them punk rockers if there’s not going to be any sort of punk rock during the actual course of the story? That’s pretty shallow of me to say, I’ll admit. The characters being punk was just for flavor, and that’s okay. I just… I just like my punk rock, y’all.
That’s not my biggest grievance with the film, though. That “honor” goes to the werewolf itself, and boy…what a downer it is. It literally just looked like a rented out Halloween costume. Now, if the film had been a mess before the reveal of our lupine friend, I wouldn’t think anything of it. But the fact that it was an engaging narrative (for a low-budget flick) that actually had me interested, only for the payoff to be so underwhelming, did make me a bit sad. No, not sad. Just disappointed.
Still, overall, it wasn’t a bad movie. If you have nothing better to do on a Friday night, I’d say it’s worth a watch.
Check it out on Prime here.
Man, we barely got out by the skin of our teeth, but we made it! A very special thanks to Zane for sticking it out with me through this ferocious voyage! Without him, I’d definitely be in some hairy beast’s gullet. Now, it’s time to make our way home as the sun begins to rise. Be warned, though. It’s only a matter of time before the next full moon, and the wolves never stop stalking from the shadows. Until next time, friends. Ciao!
Check out Zane Whitener’s YouTube channel In Praise of Shadows here. He does fantastic retrospectives and analysis on various horror media!