Shot in 2009 as DARK MOON RISING, this werewolf pic underwent a title change on the way to its June 22, 2010 direct-to-video release, apparently in an effort to make it sound more like THE WOLF MAN. Ironically, the real source of inspiration is not Universal’s 1941 classic, nor the 2010 remake, but the TWILIGHT films, with a lycanthrope replacing a vampire as the romantic male lead. Poor pacing and weak continuity prevent WOLF MOON from being any kind of sleeper success, in spite of production values that are occasionally impressive for a little movie that apparently came out of nowhere. Fans of TWILIGHT will probably find the story too derivative and the violence too graphic, while general horror fans will be put off by the attempt to cash in on the teen-romance elements of the popular franchise. Fans of the cast’s familiar names and faces may be the only ones interested.
Story has drifter Dan (Chris Divecchio) wander into a small desert town, where he meets Amy(Ginny Weirick). Initially he rebuffs her advances because he has a dark secret: he’s a werewolf. After he changes his mind, a romance ensues, but Amy’s dad John (Chris Mulkey) disapproves; he even asks the local sheriff, a woman named Sam (Maria Conchita Alonso) to run Dan out of town or at least scare him off. John’s over-protective attitude seems a tad less paranoid when a series of cattle killings and murders take place in the area. Is Dan responsible, or is it the work of a second lycanthrope? The question is soon answered when ex-cop Charles Thibodeaux (Billy Drago) shows up, hot on the trail of a serial killer named Bender (Max Ryan), who killed Thibodeaux’s wife. Bender, it is no surprise, turns out to be Dan’s werewolf-father, and rather like Darth Vader, he urges Dan to turn to the dark side, which in this case would consist of abandoning cattle mutilation in favor of human victims. Eventually, Dan, Amy, John, Sam, and Charles team up with local hothead Crazy Louis (Sid Haig) to confront Bender in a midnight showdown outside of town…
The pleasant surprise is that, unlike many low-budget horror efforts, WOLF MOON actually strives to service its characters – not only the young lovers but also the older actors who have obviously been hired to add some name value. Mulkey (TWIN PEAKS) and Alonso (THE RUNNING MAN) get actual roles to play, not mere walk-ons, and they do a decent job. As an extra, added bonus, exploitation regulars Drago and Haig show up in supporting roles, and they, too, get enough screen time to justify their presence.
The unfortunate downside is that this screen time adds up: WOLF MOON runs a leisurely paced 2 hours and 4 minutes. This might have been forgivable if the script had used the time to weave its characters into an intricate story; however, the narrative is loaded with gratuitous violence and marred by ridiculous lapses in continuity. Characters disappear for so long that when they reappear you have forgotten what they’re up to; numerous scenes that do not advance the plot introduced and then promptly forgotten as if they had never happened.
Most of these have to do with the predations of Bender, as if we need constant reminding of just how horrible he is. At one point he kills a psychic who has given Dan and Amy some useful information; the woman’s death never registers on the plot, and since Dan and Amy had already learned what they needed to know, Bender’s murder of the woman achieves nothing. Even worse, Bender later chokes Sheriff Sam in broad daylight, threatening to killer her if she pursues her investigation. (Apparently Bender is not a homicidal maniac who likes to keep a low profile, but since when is he a killer who issues warnings instead of killing someone when he has a chance?) The warning literally has no effect: next time we see Sam, she is doing just what she did before, apparently without telling John or anyone about what happened. You could cut the scene and it would literally make no change in the story.
Continuity lapses are not the only script problem. John’s concern about his daughter’s involvement with Dan is mishandled. On two occasions Amy is roughed up or hurt, and Dan rescues her. When John later notices Amy’s condition, he mistakenly blames Dan. In response, Amy goes full retard (and everyone knows you don’t go full retard): Not only does Amy fail to correct her father’s misunderstanding; she makes vague replies that seem to confirm his suspicion.
The story’s one interesting innovation is portraying its werewolf as a serial killer, which makes his predations somehow more believable and creepy. Max Ryan, as Bender, is appropriately sinister, but director Dana Mennie allows his to go too far over the top – he’s like the funniest guy at a party, who drinks too much and gets too loud, and none of his friends have the heart to tell him he’s worn out his welcome.
WOLF MOON uses old-fashioned makeup and prosthetics for its werewolves. The creatures are seldom seen clearly, probably because there is little lupine in their appearance: in long shots, the furry bodies suggest apes; facial closeups suggest bats or demons rather than wolves. At least the low-budget prevented an excess of computer-generated imagery, which works in the film’s favor: the CGI transformations are mercifully brief, which makes them surprisingly effective (well, the first once or twice anyway; after that, the digital origins become too noticeable).
WOLF MOON’s chief strengths lie in its cinematography and its soundtrack. Desert landscapes are used to establish an effective atmosphere far removed from the misty moors of Universal Pictures THE WOLF MAN, and several original songs add to the ambiance. (You get the feeling that director Mennie should be working in documentaries and/or music videos rather than narrative films.)
With numerous helicopter shots of mountains and wide open space, WOLF MOON suggests a sincere effort at making something bigger and better than the usual direct-to-video thriller – probably intended as a calling card that would open doors in Hollywood. Too bad the ambition is undermined by an excess of violence and a misguided screenplay that awkwardly leaves the door open for a sequel (once Bender is defeated, which should severe the werewolf bloodline and leave Dan normal, Dan inexplicably leaves town like a Western hero riding off into the sunset, instead of settling down with Amy now that there is no impediment to their romance). It’s not likely many viewers will be waiting for this Dark Moon to rise again.
One final note: not content with credits for directing and co-writing the film, Dana Miller also takes a “created by” credit for the film.
WOLF MOON (a.k.a. DARK MOON RISING, 2009; home video release June 22, 2010). Directed by Dana Mennie. Written by Ian Cook and Dana Mennie. Cast: Max Ryan, Maria Conchita Alonso, Chris Mulkey, Sid Haig, Ginny Weirick, Chris Divecchio, Billy Drago, Lin Shaye, Arielle Vandenberg, Rikki Gagne, Michael Hirshenson.