Saturday, October 27, 2007

Forgotten TV Horrors vol.4, subsection 5: Horrible Halloween Howlings

Airing in 1972, Moon of the Wolf was one of the numerous horror programmers put into productions by the networks after the phenomenal ratings success of The Night Stalker in the previous year. Young, impressionable minds would have years of sleepless nights courtesy of classics like 1973’s Don’t be Afraid of the Dark and lasting until 1981’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow, the last truly great horror film made for TV. Moon of the Wolf is kept out of that rarified air mostly because of some very dodgy makeup effects (more on that later) and the hurry-up pacing in the final act to shoehorn the show into the tight 90 minute time slot (leaving time after commercials for about 74 minutes of movie), but does manage a few nifty takes on the traditional wolfman lore. Here the lycanthropic curse is actually a genetic had-me-down, half remembered by the victim’s adult children as those times when daddy was “having one of his spells”

After young Ellie Berrifor’s body is found mutilated in the quiet bayou community of Marsh Island, Sheriff Whitaker (David Janssen) is forced to conduct his investigation amid the rigid class structure of old world Louisiana – especially when it’s discovered that unmarried and dirt-poor Ellie was pregnant. While the mutilation is put off on a pack of wild dogs, Whitaker’s investigation leads him to the estate of Andrew Rodanthe (Bradford Dillman), the head of Marsh Island’s wealthiest family. Here the Sheriff rekindles an old crush with Louise Rodanthe (Barbara Rush), black sheep of the family after moving to New York and living in sin with a man beneath her social station. Meanwhile, Ellie’s enraged brother Lawrence (Geoffrey Lewis) blames Dr. Druten (John Beradino), the father of Ellie’s baby, for her murder. Lawrence’s broad daylight attack on the doc lands him in jail, but his stay behind bars is cut short when Lawrence and a deputy are brutally killed when a creature walking on two legs nearly destroys the jail to get to them.

It’s always a treat to watch Janssen, five years after finally capturing the one-armed man and just a year shy of "Harry-O", and his scenes with Dillman and Rush have a nice spark. In particular, the scene where Rush recalls her childhood crush on Janssen in front of an appalled Dillman is a nice little character moment of the type you don’t typically get in genre films. The great Geoffrey Lewis gives one of those epic, sweaty, Southern performances that actors love to be unleashed for, and look for Royal Dano and perennial TV baddie John Davis Chandler as townies who discover the body in the first scene.

If only the werewolf could have been photographed with just a bit more care, this picture could have been a real classic. Once the identity of the werewolf is “officially” revealed (trust me, you’ll figure it out after that character’s third line of dialog), director Daniel Petrie just can’t show it enough, and a close look at the makeup would seem to support the “wild dog” theory of the townsfolk.

Sadly, the film is only available via gray-market DVD editions (hense the poor quality screen grabs), usually bundled in those bargain bin megasets with fifty other “monster” pictures whose rights holders either can’t be easily found, or aren’t particularly litigation minded.