Bad Moon (1996)
Release Date: November 1st, 1996 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Eric Red Actors: Mariel Hemingway, Michael Pare, Mason Gamble, Johanna Marlowe Lebovitz
he opening scene is hilariously outrageous, flagrantly over-the-top (or nightmare-inducing for youngsters), and bloodthirsty. It’s the perfect start to a bad B-grade horror movie. A couple are having sex in a tent on their last night in a densely forested camp in the Himalayas when a towering werewolf bursts through the tarpaulin, seizes the woman by the neck, and slashes her face apart with massive claws (before decapitating her completely with a powerful swipe). After it paws the man to the ground, he grabs a shotgun and blows the creature’s head clean off. And that’s just the introduction to the monster.
A flopsy book salesman, Jerry Mills (Hrothgar Mathews), approaches Janet (Mariel Hemingway) and her son Brett (Mason Gamble), hoping to agitate their pet German shepherd, Thor, into biting him. Janet reveals that she’s a lawyer and has prosecuted plenty of conmen before. Although a single mother, she clearly isn’t fragile or someone to be easily taken advantage of. A day later, Uncle Ted (Michael Pare) calls and arranges for them to meet him in the woods at his camper, near Timberline. Although he survived the werewolf attack (from the opening scene), his girlfriend Marjorie (Johanna Marlowe Lebovitz) did not. His intention to live in isolation in the woods hasn’t panned out, especially after he turns into a werewolf himself and slaughters a city worker. Although he routinely handcuffs himself to a tree during evenings with moons, Ted manages to murder hordes of hunters in the area while transformed. As the police close in, originally anticipating a grizzly bear, Ted realizes that Thor is also catching on to his nightly habits.
In an attempt to follow the perspective of the source material (the novel “Thor” by Wayne Smith), the camera frequently moves close to the ground with a stretched, distorted image to symbolize dog vision and werewolf tracking. But rather than lending to the story as witnessed from Thor’s point of view, the cinematography generally just embellishes jump scares and impending attacks. As an added, disappointingly coincidental gimmick, Brett and Ted watch a clip from “Werewolf of London” (though they believe it is “The Wolf Man”). And it doesn’t help that Hemingway’s acting is largely unconvincing, muddying the drama of paranoia, suspicion, and murder. The only truly new element introduced by “Bad Moon” is the werewolf metamorphosis initiating from any moon, not just the full ones, making the deadly strikes more recurrent. In conjunction, Ted’s behavior starts to demonstrate signs of doglike territoriality even when he’s in human form.
The werewolf costume, animatronic facial movements, and makeup effects are superb. These are accompanied by sudden, loud, pounding music. For younger viewers, the glaring eyes and snarling lips should prove quite terrifying – and a drastically improved realism over the stiff movements of Rawhead Rex or Pumpkinhead. It’s a shame these impressive cinematic accomplishments are spent on a pitifully executed, exploitation thriller. The final werewolf conversion is detractingly inundated with poorer CG, but the climactic battle is nonetheless highly entertaining. Though the themes of family, protection, and unwitting betrayal creep up with occasional poignant validity, it’s the violence that is truly grand. Mutilated bodies and splattered blood make for unsettling horror imagery, which is all that anyone is likely to remember or appreciate about director Eric Red’s (he also penned “The Hitcher” and “Near Dark”) lycanthrope foray.
– Mike Massie