Friday, March 24, 2017

156. Moon of the Wolf

156. Moon of the Wolf (1972)
Director: Daniel Petrie
Writers: Alvin Sapinsley from the novel by Leslie H. Whitten
From: Cult Cinema
Watch: archive.org

When a young woman’s body is found in a Louisiana swamp, the local sheriff initially thinks he’s dealing with wild dogs. After the doctor’s autopsy, though, he suspects it’s something more sinister.

This is a slow-burn, made-for-TV, werewolf cheapie, but not too bad for that. I say “slow-burn” because there are very few werewolf deaths. The first one happens off-screen before the start of the movie—the young woman, the Laura Palmer of the picture if you will—and the second and third happen halfway through. In the interim, the class and social dynamics of this small Louisiana town are built up.

The sheriff is investigating the death as a murder. He suspects the real backwoods guys who found the body, the woman’s low-class brother, and the doctor who told the sheriff she was murdered. Turns out she was pregnant with the doctor’s baby. He wanted her to get an abortion, she wanted him to run away with her to another town where no one would know them.

That detail makes the movie interesting. They couldn’t have a relationship in the town, that would be scandalous, but it’s not said why. The movie makes it clear, though: they’re not from the same class. The doctor is one of the rich hill folk, she’s trailer trash living near the swamp. It’s not an issue that he’s married to someone or would bring shame upon himself for being in this situation, it’s that people are supposed to stay at their level.

The same dynamic is reflected in the sheriff and Louise Rodanthe, the descendant of the town’s founder who’s returned from New York. Her brother serves as town royalty, but wants to keep the reasons she’s back from getting out. She was living with someone she wasn’t supposed to (the movie makes it sound like a poor or working class person, but the vibe is that he was black), and, to make matters worse, he dumped her. Slumming is okay as long as everyone knows their place. Louise admits to having had a crush on the sheriff when they were in high school and he says it was mutual. Her brother, though, keeps subtly, but clearly, pushing the sheriff away, telling him to know his station.

And that’s what makes the movie interesting, the way class permeates it. Sure, it’s a werewolf story, but that seems so secondary to what’s happening in the town. Plus, it’s so rare that I see that kind of recognition of class in modern films.

This is a werewolf movie, though, and the werewolf part is pretty weak. One big reason for that is the movie itself isn’t sure if it wants to be a werewolf movie or if it wants to be a murder mystery that, *shock!* turns out to have a werewolf twist. The first victim’s father is a bedridden man who only speaks heavily accented French. He keeps saying “loup garou,” but everyone mishears it and doesn’t know what it means anyway. So, for the first half, the movie’s trying to keep it subtle, but giving a wink to nerdy werewolf fans like myself.

Then the second and third deaths happen—the victim’s brother and the guard at the jail holding him. The werewolf literally tears the bars off the cell when murdering the two guys. So now there’s no pretense that it’s a non-supernatural threat, but no one knows or suspects that it’s a werewolf so we’re twiddling our thumbs as the old man’s nurse mixes up some werewolf repellent that ends up effecting exactly who you think it would. The movie tries to give you red herrings, but any sense of these stories’ formula will tell you immediately who it is.

In the end, we get the werewolf going on a full rampage, and the makeup is adorably terrible. He looks like he’s dressed up as a Shih Tzu for Halloween. In an interesting twist, the sheriff, who’s been the main character throughout the movie, isn’t the one to defeat the monster. Instead it’s the monster’s final target, but even that has a twist that’s a little bit stupid.

Overall, it’s an all right movie. There are curious production elements—there’s little to no background music except when the obvious commercial breaks are coming in and it’s very clearly structured for that commercial-break rhythm—and there’s shockingly little werewolf in this werewolf movie. However, I had a lot of fun mishearing “Rodanthe” as “Rodan,” the kaiju, and was waiting for them to sprout wings and start laying waste to this tiny Louisiana town. The movie moves well enough that you won’t get bored watching, but isn’t so dense that you’ll miss something if it’s on in the background and you’re just half-watching. Certainly riffable, but okay on its own as well. The movie is in the public domain and there’s an MPEG-2 copy on archive.org, so it’s free to view.

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