Written by: Richard Matheson (teleplay), David Case (story)
Directed by: Dan Curtis
Starring: Peter Graves, Clint Walker and Jo Ann Pflug
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďThey bear some resemblance to the tracks of a wolf..."
Dan Curtisís career is sort of invariably tied to vampires due to this most famous works, Dark Shadows and The Night Stalker; even The Norliss Tapes and an adaptation of Dracula donít do much to dissuade you from the notion that Curtis really liked vampires, and I just imagine how pleased heíd be at todayís landscape (it would seem that his early 2000s attempt to reboot Dark Shadows arrived just a little too early). But Curtis occasionally did branch out from bloodsuckers. Case in point: 1974ís Scream of the Wolf, another made-for-TV creature feature that tackles werewolves instead of vampires.
Said werewolf is supposedly terrorizing the outskirts of rural L.A., as evidenced by the opening scene, which sees a motorist get attacked and killed by something. After the credits--scored by reheated cop drama music--have sped by, Peter Graves is called to the scene and is baffled along with the police. Then it feels like someone hit the loop button on your DVD player because pretty much the same thing happens--a random character with not even a modicum of introduction gets savagely murdered before Graves again shows up to investigate. Already, you can feel a sense of padding setting in. Eventually, Graves (who is playing a local adventure writer) turns to his old hunting buddy, Byron (Clint Walker), to give him a hand in solving these crimes.
The names and details are a little different, but Scream of the Wolf finds itself in that same sort of Dan Curtis supernatural-procedural groove. This one hits that groove quickly, too, and sufficiently spins its wheels in it. You can practically set the ďvictim-gets-attacked-and-Graves-investigatesĒ pattern by the cycle of the moon, and the only thing that really breaks it are some occasional romantic interludes with Jo Ann Pflug. Besides offering Graves something else to poke around besides crime scenes, Pflug also is the voice of reason that says exactly whatís on everyone elseís minds by pointing out that Byron isnít just shady--he might as well walk around draped in a lampshade.
Sheís right, of course, and Walker is delightfully contemptuous here; if his characterís on-the-nose naming didnít tip you off, heís a typical Byronic asshole, filled with delusions of grandeur that are quite incongruous with the fact that his big claim to fame is killing helpless animals. He doesnít see it this way, of course, and likens it all to a spiritual experience for both himself and the animals, neither of whom are ever really alive until theyíre on the threshold of death. Walker is forced to say this and other ridiculous things, and he plays the character with such machismo that he solves problems with arm wrestling and cocks his leg in the background when nobodyís even looking. That heís a sniveling, oily-looking asshole isnít in question--but does that make him the murderer? Scream of the Wolf paints itself into a corner by making him so obvious, and, like many murder mysteries that do the same thing, leaves itself only two choices: either stay in the corner by following through with the obvious or get out of it by introducing something out of the blue at the end.
Scream of the Wolf indeed does one of those two things; I obviously wonít say which one, but I will say that the eventual reveal deflates whatever the movie has going for it--which isnít a whole lot to begin with since itís kind of a drive-in movie masquerading as a TV movie. Not only is it roughly photographed (complete with random zooms), but it generally feels a little trashy, what with a werewolf supposedly roaming around gnawing peopleís faces off. Only you never see it, of course, as the attacks are always interrupted by a well-timed commercial break, and all of the chewed up corpses manage to stay off screen due to TV restrictions. Curtis attempts to compensate for this by shrouding some landscapes in fog and having a wolf howl in the distance, something Iím an easy mark for. If you have that in a movie, I will at least note that as a good thing, so itís got that. However, even these scenes are often punctured by the ill-fitting funk soundtrack that sounds like it was fished out of a stock music lab.
One of Dan Curtisís more forgettable efforts, Scream of the Wolf doesnít howl so much as it yelps with mediocrity. Itís neat to think that there was once a time when someone like Peter Graves would show up for a horror flick on ABC, but Curtis would end up doing better work over the next couple of years. This one eventually found a home on Brentwoodís Vault of Horror set, where it canít even claim to be among the best of the bunch. Itís a good set to have if you donít already have the likes of Night of the Living Dead, House on Haunted Hill, or even Snowbeast; after making your way through the better stuff, treat Scream of the Wolf like an extra, especially since itís presentation is nothing to write home about--it looks to be sourced from a VHS dub, and the mono soundtrack feels like itís coming from a tin can. Nothing to scream about, certainly. Rent it!
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