Of all the classic monsters of mythology that have their own series of films, the werewolf is my favorite. Something about the concept of a man shape-shifting into a wolf (or man-wolf,) appeals to me on some basic, almost primordial level. I remember when I was a kid I had this Wolf Man costume that was stored down in our cellar. Every once in a while I’d go down, put on the plastic mask, and run around the cellar pretending I was a monster.
Oddly enough, I was never a fan of Lon Chaney’s The Wolf Man (1941). The beast I was really pretending to be was 1935’s Werewolf Of London. And, then, many years later, when Chiller Theater came along, I got a taste of what a full color, bloody version of the werewolf myth was like through Hammer Studio’s Curse of the Werewolf (1961). I did not see the entirety of this movie until the mid-90s, if you can believe that. Those Hammer movies always did a number on me. I wasn’t used to all the blood and the gothic atmosphere rendered in gorgeous color.
I think we can all agree the two werewolf movies that came out in 1981 took the mythology to new heights of wonder and carnage. Yes, I’m talking about The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, which, in my opinion, are the best takes on the werewolf mythology ever committed to film. Since then we have had no equal. Some have come close (Ginger Snaps, The Wolfman remake), but I have seen nothing that ranks up there with Joe Dante’s and John Landis’s movies… and I would have loved to have added an ‘…until now!,’ but I can’t. That’s not to say director, Louis Morneau’s, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us, isn’t a worthy addition to the mythology.
Set in the 19th century, a band of roaming werewolf hunters led by Ed Quinn (whom you all may know from SyFy’s Eureka and Starship Troopers 2: Hero Of The Federation), come to the aide of a small town in Romania that is besieged by a rather unique lycanthrope. It does not need the full moon to transform, but can shape shift during any phase of the lunar cycle, it also was not a victim of a werewolf bite, but born to be one, and given enough time, it will be able to control its transformation and become a monster any time it chooses.
Vampires figure into this new creatures M.O. as well, but only peripherally. Any victim who survives this beast’s attack becomes a wurdulak, if I’m recalling the term correctly. A creature that is part werewolf and part undead, and they are able to roam the land in the light of day. Two of these are encountered in the Romanian woods but are quickly dispatched before they can attack. Upon my first viewing I had no idea what these growling, weird looking dudes were, and the term is mentioned but not elaborated on, which made the finale somewhat of a head-scratcher, but not knowing exactly what they were will not destroy your enjoyment of the movie. The commentary educated me on what the hell a wurdulak was. An actual, folkloric term, I might add.
If you think Ed Quinn’s outfit is very similar to the one Hugh Jackman wore in Van Helsing, you are right. In the commentary, Morneau confirms it was a nod to that movie. The gore level is quite high but only in the aftermath of the attacks. I think, there’s only one person the movie shows get ripped apart, all the gore is in some nice tight shots of the ravaged corpses. The first time we see the town under siege it’s after a recent onslaught, and there are bodies and body parts strewn all over the town’s square, and people going about their usual, everyday business as local doctor/undertaker, Stephen Rea (Company of Wolves) cleans up and attends to those who are wounded.
And, as a doctor, what do you do when a couple comes in looking for aid, the husband showing a nasty wound on his arm, and claiming it’s a piece of farming equipment that did it, but you know he’s lying when you pull an animal nail from his gash? You have your assistant bring you a gun and then you calming shoot him dead right there in the office.
From what I gleaned from the making of material, a practical werewolf suit was used a lot, but was replaced with a CGI one when they deemed it wasn’t working. And I have to say I’m glad they did that. In this case, the computer generated wolf looks more convincing, and it succeeds because of the expert lighting, keeping it in shadow and not showing it a lot, save for some bits and pieces, one major attack sequence, and in the finale.
The blu-ray transfer (1.78:1) is exquisite to look at, with deep blacks and crisp detail in the lighted areas. There are two versions on this disc, as well as on the standard DVD, the R-rated and the Unrated, with only a full minute to distinguish them one another. According to the commentary, most of the cuts come in one scene where human bait is needed and the bodies in the “morgue” are gutted, chopped up and gathered into buckets.
Special features are the same on both formats and are as follows: Deleted Scenes (3:55), which are nothing special, nothing crucial to the tale was taken out; “Making The Monster” featurette (9:22), which is essentially interviews with cast, crew, etc., on how the project came out about and filming it; “Transformation: Man To Beast” (6:13) featurette, which documents the practical and CGI FX used and finally the “Monster Legacy” (3:58) featurette, where the cast and crew talk about what being in a Universal monster movie means to them.
A commentary with director, Louis Morneau and Producer, Mike Elliot is very informative, and recorded only days after they finished putting the movie together. They actually filmed on location in a small town in Transylvania, and Morneau didn’t mention the name of the movie when the title came up because he wasn’t sure what the studio was going to call it. I had heard this was supposed to be a direct-to-video remake of The Wolf Man, but when news came out of what they were going to call it, it led me to believe it was just going to be another werewolf movie Universal decided to make. There is no connection at all to any other Wolf Man movie, and the werewolf isn’t really a “wolf man,” it looks more like a nod to Rob Bottin’s beasts in The Howling.
Like I said, it doesn’t rank up there with Dante’s or Landis’ cult classics, but it doesn’t scrape the bottom of the werewolf barrel either. The ending is obviously set-up for a sequel and I wouldn’t mind seeing where this series goes.