Written by: Michael Tabb, Catherine Cyran, & Louis Morneau (screenplay
Directed by: Louis Morneau
Starring: Steven Bauer, Nia Peeples and Stephen Rea
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďEven a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright."
Two years ago, Universal attempted to resurrect its classic monsters stable with The Wolfman, a film that never really had much of a chance after the studio delayed it a couple of times. Practically arriving dead on arrival, it was mostly met with disdain, but I kind of liked it. Thereís little doubt Joe Johnston brought an earnestness and grandeur that was befitting the property. Story criticisms aside, it felt very much like an update of The Wolf Man: moody, elegant, and treated with respect by its director (who seemed to care about it more than the studio), it was a solid redux that didnít hit much with audiences either, so those of us in the minority were left in the lurch as far as follow-ups go. Initially, Universal intended to meet us halfway with a direct-to-video sequel, but, somewhere along the way, it morphed into Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, a complete reboot that seemingly exists to only show audiences what a truly disappointing Universal werewolf movie looks like.
A prologue lays our scene in some vaguely 19th century Eastern European forest, where a girlís fleeing from a werewolf. She happens upon a house in the middle of the woods but only brings trouble with her. Everyone perishes, save for a small boy, who grows up 25 years later to be a enigmatic werewolf hunter (Ed Quinn). Heís happened upon a village thatís got a real wolf man problem, so much so that itís also attracted a ragtag gang of other hunters looking to collect the bounty on its furry head. But these guys arenít our leads! Instead, the focus shifts to a young medical student (Guy Wilson) and his teacher (Stephen Rea) who get caught up in the townís hunt for the mysterious creature thatís killed scores of locals.
At one point, Universal planned to make several DTV sequels to The Wolfman, and Iím wondering if most of them didnít get squeezed into Werewolf since the film is an overstuffed, herky-jerky affair that has a little too much going on to be truly effective. While the prologue seemingly indicates that Quinnís werewolf hunter will be the protagonist, the film skips around before finally settling on Wilson, who actually represents the dullest of all possibilities in this narrative. Whereas both Quinn and the pack of werewolf hunters offer a bit of a different dimension for a wolf man tale, Werewolf is eventually content to retread the same old tortured, ill-fated romance beats. Of course Wilson has a girl (Rachel DiPillo, who subtly reminds me of Diane Franklin) and of course he wants to embark on the hunt with Quinn and his buddies.
To its credit, Werewolf does attempt to continually surprise with various twists, but most of them are clumsy and telegraphed. The big mystery at the center is the identity of the werewolf, and the film tries its best to trick and swerve, but its various fake-outs and revelations are too obvious to impact with any force. Some of the hooks do dig in, though, as the story introduces a wrinkle to the werewolf mythology thatís intriguing, plus a couple more surprises await during the climax. If only they were at the service of a truly compelling story or even one that was sort of cool and surprising; instead, Werewolf trades in tawdry drama (DiPillo is seduced by one of the hunters, thus providing yet another subplot) and loud, slam-bang action sequences. The film is perpetually jittery, filmed with an over-caffeinated lens that attempts to bring faux immediacy to a film that canít genuinely create any through its characters or story.
Technically shot on location in Romania, this is more a happy accident than anything, as the financial motivations for shooting there rise more frequently than the full moon. Whereas The Wolfman featured a lavish and elaborate production design that thoroughly transported audiences into the Gothic recesses of the 19th century, Werewolf looks and feels like a modern day acting troupe playing dress-up out in the Romanian woods in comparison. Perhaps decent for a direct-to-video offering, itís still just a little too flat and uninspired, especially since the film isnít at all committed to atmosphere or suspense. Werewolf also canít boast Rick Bakerís Oscar-winning effects, and, our worst fears for that film are realized here, as the werewolf is usually a CGI creation that bounds about the often dimly-lit and frenetically-shot screen like a cartoon. Anyone who thought the previous film was a little light on gore may at least be pleased to find a bunch of it here, though itís a mixed digital and practical bag--the exploding heads (finally, a Wolf Man movie with exploding heads!) are unconvincing, but the disembowelments and eviscerations fare a bit better.
The serviceable cast is washed away in the river of blood, guts, and plot twists that don't ask them to do much. While he doesnít get top-billing, Rea is the most familiar face, and this actually represents the second time this year heís been wasted playing a scientist (with a secret!) in a werewolf movie. Quinn has the right edge for the lead werewolf hunter, while Adam Croasdell brings the smarmy, creepy element to the bunch. Thereís a requisite female component and a goofball in this group, too, which is fun enough, especially during the sequences where theyíre setting out to trap and kill the werewolf (one of the guys even employs silver dentures for close-quarters encounters with the beast). Iím not sure if Universal is still considering further sequels, but they definitely have an avenue to pursue here--think John Carpenterís Vampires, only theyíd be hunting werewolves instead. Given the quality of this one, Iím not so sure itíd turn out well, but Iíd be willing to give Universal a mulligan.
Maybe itís unfair to compare it to The Wolfman--after all, this doesnít owe much to either of the films carrying that title, save for the obligatory wolfsbane quote. In fact, it feels much more like an Underworld movie and even features a couple of references to Jaws (ďYouíre gonna need a bigger trap,Ē Quinn says). Direct-to-video fare has been much better and worse than this, but the Universal Monsters stable should certainly aspire for more. The Blu-ray release seemingly does all it can to deny its DTV roots, as the unrated version of the film insists itís been changed from its ďoriginal formatĒ (an R-rated version is included for whatever reason). Universalís presentation doesnít disappoint--the high-def transfer is crisp, pristine, and vibrant, while the DTS-MA track will rumble and disperse sounds throughout your room. Special features are quite abundant and include a 9 minute making-of feature that takes you on location and quickly details the filmís production, while a ďMaking the MonsterĒ feature delves into how the werewolf was created with both an on-set actor and the digital model thatís seen in the film. Three minutes of deleted scenes are also included along with a commentary from director Louis Morneau and producer Mike Eilliot. Lastly, a ďMonster LegacyĒ bit features the cast and crew espousing their appreciation and enthusiasm for the Universal the Universal tradition, which ultimately isnít done much justice here. Fans of that tradition will certainly be curious but should be forewarned that this is a generic werewolf movie looking to coast on that legacy. Rent it!
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