Saturday, December 7, 2013

Moon of the Wolf (1972)

          For about three-quarters of its brief running time, the TV movie Moon of the Wolf unfolds like a bland but professionally made murder mystery, combining smooth performances with a fair amount of Southern-fried atmosphere, befitting the setting of a small island community in Louisiana. During the last quarter of the picture, however, Moon of the Wolf remembers that it’s actually a monster movie, and the quality of the piece drops precipitously, thanks to hackneyed situations and substandard makeup. So, while it’s accurate to say that Moon of the Wolf is a bust as a creature feature, the movie works fine as an undemanding thriller that simply happens to contain a very silly conclusion involving a rampaging lycanthrope. David Janssen, all disdainful crankiness, plays a small-town sheriff investigating a series of brutal killings, which the unsophisticated locals blame on wild dogs. Over the course of his investigation, the sheriff uncovers tawdry secrets about a wealthy landowner (Bradford Dillman) and his beautiful sister (Barbara Rush); the sheriff also digs into the lives of a physician (John Beradino) and a tempestuous redneck (Geoffrey Lewis).
          As directed by Daniel Petrie, a reliable professional with an enormous résumé that includes such respected projects as the award-winning telefilm Sybil (1976), Moon of the Wolf is crafted with more care than the forgettable material deserves (although the monster stuff at the end seems half-hearted). Petrie gets especially good work out of Rush, an elegant beauty who has primarily worked in B-movies and small-screen fare; playing the wayward daughter of a moneyed clan, she invests her part with dignity and poignancy. (Never underestimate an actor who refuses to accept the limitations of the movie in which she’s been cast.) Dillman has some fine small moments as well, playing an aristocrat who’s mortified to have his privacy invaded by circumstance, and nobody does bug-eyed rural rage quite like the versatile Lewis. If all of this praise seems excessive for an obscure TV movie about werewolves, rest assured the goal here is not to suggest that Moon of the Wolf is by any measure a good movie; it’s not. But in the realm of schlocky ’70s horror, thoughtful storytelling is a rarity to be praised when found, even if that’s not the element one actually wants from schlocky ’70s horror. Still, better some decent performances than a bunch of mindless gore, right? Right? On second thought, don’t answer that one.

Moon of the Wolf: FUNKY

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