Movie Review: Dino Wolf (2011, dir. Fred Olen Ray)

WARNING: If you don’t like spoilers, do not read any further. This review is gonna be full of them. I’m sorry, but that’s just how I roll.

I discovered this movie last year from Fred Olen Ray’s facebook page. He had the trailer up for the first time. The title did nothing for me, since it had that Syfy vibe to it, but the static image of a little boy being watched from the bushes by a lupine beast reminded me of the werewolves from THE HOWLING, which intrigued me enough to make me want to watch the trailer. When I did, it was nice to see that the werewolf-like beast was a product of good, old-fashioned, practical special effects (i.e. a man in a suit), rather than computer generated technology.

It isn’t that I have something against CGI created critters if there’s enough money available to make them detailed and believable. It’s the low-budget ones I have a bone to pick with. For the most part they come off looking unreal, and in the worst cases just downright terrible. The Syfy channel has pretty much cornered the market on unreal to terrible looking CGI created monster movies, but I am happy to say DINO WOLF is not one of them, nor is it a SyFy production. Thank God.

The jist of the movie is that it’s not a werewolf flick either, but a science run amok one where scientists, looking to “re-create” the extinct dire wolf, do so through genetic manipulation of long dormant DNA found in their fossils. They do it one better, or so they think, by adding human DNA, in hopes of making it the perfect killing companion to soldiers on the battlefield.

Do they succeed? Pretty much, but like all science run amok movies the science runs amok, and starts killing just about anyone it comes into contact with, which, in this case, is what it was designed to do all along.

As I mentioned before the creature looks, basically, like a low-budget version of one of the werewolves from THE HOWLING, expertly created, for a Fred Olen Ray budget movie, by SOTA FX. SOTA FX is a company you don’t hear much of anymore, and it was breath of fresh air when their name popped up in the opening credits. Actually, after listening to the commentary, the inspiration for the “dire wolf” costume was the series WEREWOLF, which ran on FOX back in the late 80s. The one Chuck Connors was on. It’s got that same ape-like posture and walks on all fours like those werewolves did too.

The movie starts off in a lab, which the construction of had me thinking about the Nostromo from ALIEN and the sets from GALAXY OF TERROR. This is good, mind you, very good. Now as the movie progressed I was reminded of several things, some of which were confirmed in the commentary—science fiction movies from the 50s, and when the gore kicked in, horror movies I used to see late night on cable in the mid to late 80s.

By the way, the gore is plentiful, for when the beast attacks it simply rips you to shreds. Rib cages are exposed, (ala HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), intestines are pulled out, a hand is ripped off and half a security guards face is slashed in half, though you don’t see that particular atrocity happen, the body that’s found later simply shows the left side of a man’s face completely opened up.

For some odd reason, it was also reminiscent of the kind of novels Dean Koontz used to write in his prime, when he was focusing on scientific government projects going astray and claiming lots of lives. Specifically, it had me thinking of his novel WATCHERS, for the plot is vaguely similar. There are two “FBI agents” that are dispatched to handle the escaped beast, but they aren’t really FBI, just posing as such to get in good with the local authorities. I seem to think WATCHERS had themes like that, too. Agents who weren’t who they said they were. I may be stretching it though, I haven’t revisited that book for decades..

There are three noteworthy actors in the movie. Gil Gerard (BUCK ROGERS), in a small role as an army general who sends the faux agents out to take the beast alive. Maxwell Caulfield, (SUNDOWN: THE VAMPIRE IN RETREAT, “Cellmates” episode of MONSTERS) who plays the local sheriff. Lastly, Ian Patrick Williams (RE-ANIMATOR, in the prologue, TERRORVISION, the cop who gets his hand eaten off, and as the douchebag father in Stuart Gordon’s suberb DOLLS), who plays the “mad scientist” who created the beast.

The tone they took with the sheriff’s character is memorable, and I didn’t understand it until I listened to the commentary, but, apparently, he’s got OCD. He’s got some nice, quirky moments, throughout the movie, when he’s interacting with the other actors. In this regard it does help to listen to the commentary once you’re done with the movie.

Aside from the man-in-a-suit monster, this flick is also unique for having no swearing and no nudity. Yes, there is T&A but only in tight clothing and a bikini for one unlucky chick, who later gets her guts ripped out.

The acting is good from the young up-and-comers and always spot on with the two veterans, given the parameters of the material they have to work with. Basically, what I’m trying to say is I didn’t detect any “bad acting” in the movie.

The beast is dispatched back at the lab in a scene that homage’s Howard Hawks’ THE THING FROM ANOTHER PLANET. Nice touch.

The DVD is released through Fred Olen Ray’s Retromedia Entertainment label, and comes in a nice anamorphic 1.85:1 transfer. Extras on the disc is a very informative commentary where Ray, co-writer, Dan Golden and editor, Randy Carter talk, among other things, how they made it in 10 days, how he was dissuaded from making the Sheriff’s adopted son an Indian, how he was urged to not go with the man-in-the-suit technique, and that Echo Bridge will eventually be releasing DINO WOLF, but in a compilation, and under it’s original title, DIRE WOLF. There’s even some informative talk about what cameras are best when shooting a movie. A trailer for the movie and a behind-the-scene featurette, which runs, like, five minutes and covers only two scenes, round out the extras.

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