Thursday, October 03, 2013

“Its not considered good medical practice to perform autopsies in the middle of swamps surrounded by howling dogs and scratching rustics.”

Who’s up for a 1972 werewolf movie made for TV?

Set in the Deep South!

Wait! Where are you going? Come back!

Moon of the Wolf starts with a mumbly old redneck and his son finding a dead woman in the swamp outside of Marsh Island, Louisiana. A swarm of people, including the sheriff, town doctor, and the woman’s brother arrive and make a fuss and initially wild dogs are suspected as the cause of death. After an autopsy, the doc informs the sheriff that a strong blow to the right side of her head is what actually killed her, before being dragged out into the swamp to chewed on by wild dogs. The sheriff suspects murder, the dead girl’s crazy old cajun father keeps ranting about loogaroo, some deputies and a suspect get mauled by a “Wildman,” and an old crush of the sheriff’s returns to town.

Sheriff Aaron Whitaker: David Janssen is our main character. Interesting that a gruff, grumpy, middle-aged man is the protagonist of a movie, but it’s a nice change of pace. Sheriff Whitaker is a fundamentally decent guy, who tries to keep order in his town and doesn’t like that people are getting killed by what is ultimately a werewolf. He’s also shy and awkward around his old crush at first when she come back to town, which is a good touch of characterization.

Louise Rodanthe: Barbara Rush plays the sheriff’s love interest. She’s Old Money and her great-grand daddy established the town. Louise was away in New York living with a “socially unacceptable” man until he left her and she came back home. She’s a nice enough character and has some decent chemistry with the Sheriff.

Andrew Rodanthe: Bradford Dillman plays Louise’s brother. He’s lived in town all along, and like all good movie Old Money, doesn’t like talking about his family’s problems in public because certain things are not discussed in public. He’s also a bit possessive about his sister. And he drives a Rolls because he’s RICH. Outside of that, he’s not a terrible person, and once people start getting murder-mauled, he’s the only one who volunteers to become a deputy for the Sheriff when nobody else wants to.

Dr. Druten: John Beradino plays the town doctor and is an old friend of the Sheriff’s. He discovers the cause of the girl’s death was murder, and then becomes a suspect, because he’s left-handed and was having an affair with the dead girl.

Lawrence: Geoffrey Lewis plays the brother of the dead girl (Ellie). He’s a sweaty, scruffy swamp-dweller with a mean temper and doesn’t take his sister’s death well at all. He’s also left-handed and did hit her at least once in the past, which makes him a suspect, right up until he gets mauled to death in his prison cell while he’s supposed to be cooling off for the night.

Directed by Daniel Petrie, it’s a 70’s made-for-TV movie and looks as such. The Louisiana setting is a nice change of pace and fortunately the mystery keeps the pacing moving forward without dragging too many scenes out. The werewolf is only seen at the film’s climax, and it’s a wolfman in a button down shirt and slacks. It looks cheap and goofy, but at least the poor lighting works in his favor.

Teleplay by Alvin Sapinsley, based on the novel by Leslie H. Whitten. The script was surprisingly competent, even good in places. Given the title and description, I knew going in that it was a werewolf movie, so the big reveal isn’t a surprise (nor is who the werewolf actually is). What the script really does well is build the mystery of Ellie’s death and presenting suspects and possible motivations for it. It does this for the first half of the movie until the town learns a monster stalks the streets on a full moon, but it makes sense for the Sheriff to be investigating all these leads.

Original Music by Bernardo Segall. It’s not very memorable, but gets the job done in a made-for-TV 70’s way.

The Verdict
Moon of the Wolf is a surprisingly decent early 70’s made-for-TV movie. I know that isn’t saying much to recommend it, but it recycles your werewolf plot elements well enough and makes the Deep South setting work. I’m not giving it a wholehearted recommendation, but you could do a lot worse than a Southern Sheriff investigating werewolf killings.

…And now I want a police procedural with a werewolf who’s a loose cannon but a damn good cop.


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