Sunday, February 17, 2008

Bark at the Moon

Another movie from the Sci-Fi "classic" collection.

Moon of the Wolf (1972)
Auteur/Perpetrator: Daniel Petrie
Star of Shame: David Janssen
Monster(s): Werewolf that resembles Pink Floyd's Roger Waters

Ah, the 1970s. Cars were as big as houses, houses were as big as cars, and big actors from previous decades found themselves in cheesy, low-budget movies. Today’s case in point: David Janssen. No longer pursuing the one-armed man (in TV’s 1967 hit series The Fugitive) and yet to revive his career as Harry O, he took time in 1972 to star—uncomfortably, by the looks of it—as Sheriff Aaron Whitaker in the made-for-TV movie Moon of the Wolf, a pretty much by-the-numbers-but-not-really-wretched werewolf movie that only gets really goofy in its last moments. (Bradford Dillman co-stars, looking almost as uncomfortable.)

For the record, just to get this out of the way right here at the beginning: the werewolf in this movie did not have a Chinese menu in his hand, nor did he walk through the streets of Soho in the rain. He was not looking for the place called Lee Ho Fook’s, nor was he going to get a big dish of beef chow mein. The werewolf was also not drinking a pina colada at Trader Vic’s. He was, however, heard howling around a kitchen door and although several people were in fact mutilated, a little old lady was not one of them. There; I feel better getting that out of my system. Rah-hoo!

Based on a novel (out of print, not surprisingly), Moon of the Wolf is set in Marsh Island, Louisiana, your standard-issue swampy bayou country. It is supposedly a highly Francophone area (called Frenchtown), although it turns out that only two people there actually know how to speak French.

The movie opens at night—shot not so much day-for-night as impenetrably-black-for-night—and outside the run-down bayou-ish shack of Tom Gurmandy (Junior and Senior), they are awakened by the sound of dogs barking. Tom Senior sounds exactly like Gabby Johnson, the grizzled old prospector from Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles, which is to say that it is impossible to understand 99% of what he is saying. Jr. and Sr. take their shotguns and try to find out what the dogs are barking about. They come across the mutilated body of Ellie Burritos (I think that’s what he said her name was). “Mumble muffle mumble mumble...taste of human blood...mumble...mumble muffle...Ain’t nobody gonna be a-safe in their houses...mumble...mumble...” OK.

Jr. calls the sheriff and it takes until daybreak for him (Janssen) to show up. He is not happy. Tom Sr. explains what happened, which means that no one will have any idea.

Dr. Druten is examining the body and is not happy about it. He crankily suggests they take it to the hospital for a proper autopsy. “Do you think that can be accomplished by the neighborhood clods without obliterating any chance of discovering the cause of death?” What a grouch.
Ellie’s brother lives in Frenchtown, where only the preacher has a phone, and it isn’t too long before Lawrence, said brother, arrives. He is played by Geoffrey Lewis, who is Mr. 1970s Horror Movie Character Actor and I could swear he was also the “Hamburger isn’t chopped ham” guy from the old A1 Steak Sauce commercials. (I could probably do a search on YouTube but that would be really pathetic. It’s bad enough that I remember this as it is.) He is, as you can imagine, upset, the lack of proper condiments notwithstanding. He is told that his sister was killed by wild dogs. David Janssen briefly lapses into a southern accent.

At the hospital, the sheriff asks Dr. Druten if it was in fact the wild dogs. “Show me a pack of wild dogs that know where to hit you on the side of the head to knock you unconscious.” It was a reasonable question, Mr. Grouch. She was struck by someone strong and left-handed. “You’ve got a murder, sheriff.” “Just what I need.” Why do all sheriffs in these moves always say “That’s just what I need”? Do they teach those things at the police academy?

Sheriff Janssen heads out to the Burritos home, which is guarded by Sarah, a very mannish nurse who is looking after old Hugh, the Burritos family patriarch who is dying, and very loudly. Lawrence is still unhappy. And again one could hardly blame him. Janssen asks about old Hugh. “You wanna pay your greetin’s?” asks Sarah., “That would pleasure me,” says Janssen. Um...yeah... Old Hugh is moaning “Mon Dieu” and “Loup Garou” over and over again, and sounds exactly like Chochem from Santa Claus Conquers the Martians. No one knows the “word” loup garou and thinks he has been saying “lookarook.” Loup garou is, of course, a “werewolf.” A1 Steak Sauce Guy says that Ellie has been “having trouble” as in “man trouble” (and not finding a quality condiment for her beef products), and with someone up on “Pecan Hill” (?), “Marsh Island snobbery.” “I could read her face like a newspaper,” he says of his relationship with his sister. I wonder if he ever got ink stains on his hands. A1 admits that he had struck his sister in argument, and it turns out that he is left handed....

Anyway, the Marsh Island snobbery to which A1 had referred is the “Rodan” clan, specifically Andrew Rodan, who is not a giant mutated pterodactyl that destroys Tokyo but is instead Bradford Dillman, scion of the exceedingly wealthy and snooty family that originally settled Marsh Island. Andrew rides up in a white horse as the sheriff pulls up to the stately Selznick International Pictures-like house. It turns out that the body was discovered right across the Rodans’ grove. The sheriff asks where Rodan was between 8 and 9 the previous evening, and Rodan says not that he was demolishing a large Japanese city but was in fact in bed with a case of malaria, which passed by 1 or 2 a.m. Ah, one of those 4-hour malarias.

At that point, Andrew’s sister Louise (Barbara Rush) comes out of the house. She has returned to Marsh Island after having been away for a long time. She admits that she had a crush on the sheriff in junior high school, and he admits the feeling was mutual. Sure, they went to the same school. Uh-huh. Louise provides the background on the Rodan family and prattles on endlessly. She was apparently vaccinated with a phonograph needle. Rodan wisely shoos his sister inside; he tells the sheriff that she has been ill, which is why she has returned (and also explains the plaid outfit). The sheriff then ambles off, while Rodan stares at him suspiciously.

The sheriff is walking along the bayou and finds a locket in the mud, and he is met by Gabby Johnson and his son, which means that none of the dialogue is remotely intelligible. The upshot is that they both have alibis for the night Ellie was killed. “Why are you askin’ us things?” asks Jr. “Warn’t it wild dogs that done it? You sayin’ it warn’t wild dogs?” “There’s more than one kind,” says the sheriff and gets in his car.

In town, he meets the mannish Sarah, who is buying some supplies that old man Hugh sent her to get: assiphusteen (I have no idea) and sulfur; “for the ‘lookarook.’” Can you get sulfur at a small town’s general store? Sarah says that she knows who killed was the man who made Ellie pregnant, which she doesn’t know (?). “Find the man that got her pregnant, and you’ll find who killed her.” Da Dum! Moon of the Wolf will be right back, after these messages...

We’re back from commercial, and Janssen is grilling Dr. Druten about not telling him that Ellie was pregnant. “I was performing an autopsy. Pregnancy didn’t cause her death.” “Well, I’m not so sure.” Zing. In an awkwardly blocked scene, Jannsen sits while Druten rises and it looks like a seesaw. “Doc, if she was pregnant, someone got her that way.” That’s why he’s the sheriff. Dr. Druten pours himself a drink; it turns out he was the father. Janssen stops acting for a moment and swigs the whiskey directly from the bottle. It turns out that Druten had a date with Ellie the night she was killed. Druten wanted to abort the child, Ellie wanted to get married and have it. She never showed up for their date, so he went home. Ah, so that explains why he was so cranky at the crime scene. He reiterates that he did not kill Ellie. The sheriff asks him what he would use acifederen (?) and sulfur for. “Nothing, not any more,” he says, adding that his grandmother used to use those items to keep wolves away. Boing.

Coming out of the hospital, the sheriff runs into Louise, and they go to a coffee shop. There is some kind of awkward flirtation going on, artistically filmed through a pool game which doesn’t exactly heighten the intimacy of the scene. She is apparently on the wrong side of her tracks, and everyone stares at her. She drones on quite a bit about how important her family is, and that she was brought back from New York because she had been shacking up with someone (who was socially unacceptable) who then left her and “you don’t walk out on a Rodan.” Well, Godzilla would. As it turns out, Andrew has all the money and would have cut her off if she didn’t come back with him. Being wealthy, she has no skills it seems, and is unable to get a job. Andrew shows up and is not happy. Janssen looks like he was dozing off, when Andrew wakes him with news that the townfolk are organizing a posse to kill the wild dog population.

At A1 Steak Sauce Guy’s house, old Hugh stares at A1’s palm and starts screaming “lookarook,” “mon dieu,” and “chopped ham.” Dr. Druten pulls up in an immense car and sedates the old guy. “You might as well start thinking about him dying, Lawrence,” says the doctor, whose bedside manner needs some work. He again asks about “lookarook,” which still no one knows. Mannish Sarah is pissed about something. But what? After Druten drives off, Sarah tells A1 Steak Sauce Guy that Ellie had been pregnant with the doctor’s baby....

As the dog hunting posse is being organized, Steak Sauce runs up and slugs the doctor. The sheriff takes Steak Sauce away to the jail. the leader of the posse says they had better get going, “while we still have the light,” even though it’s about noon.

The sheriff is driving past the Rodan place when Louise spots him and beckons him inside. He had been looking for her but for some reason says he was just going to drive on by. Huh? She asks about the murder investigation. “Do you have a that the word?” She doesn’t know the word “suspect”? Jeez, hasn’t she ever watched a crime show? They sit down to lemonade, and for some reason David Janssen starts talking like Inspector Luger from Barney Miller. What’s in the lemonade? Their awkward flirtation gets even more uncomfortable. The soundtrack then starts playing the haunting “Love Theme from Moon of the Wolf.”

We then cut to a shot of the moon (actually, a crescent moon...I guess the werewolf doesn’t like to go out when there’s a full moon; you know, all the crazies are out), and a wolf bays off camera. Finally! At 38:00, something werewolf-esque is going to happen.

A1 is in jail which, by the sound of it, is located on the median strip of the Santa Monica Freeway. Oh, that’s not traffic noise; it’s actually a fan. It was a bold move on the part of the sound recordist to put the microphone inside the grating of the fan. They decide not to actually lock the cell that A1 is in. They’re all apparently on the honor system. Outside, we switch to standard horror-movie monstercam, in this case, the wolf’s point of view: shaky handheld camera, accompanied by asthmatic wheezing. It moves toward the jail, and the wolf’s eyes seem to have a problem pulling focus. The deputy guarding the cell hears a noise and goes off to investigate, so you know he’s doomed. To be safe, he locks Steak Sauce in his cell. Three guesses what’s going to happen. Steak Sauce hears some shots and the deputy screaming. Then, the “thing” walks calmly in the door, then rips the iron bars off the cell. We don’t see the creature, just a close up of A1 screaming (in a badly overdubbed manner) and complaining that if he’s going to be eaten, the creature could at least use good steak sauce.

Everyone comes running to the jail. Dr. Druten examines the remains of A1 and the deputy. “Who ever did this tore them both apart with their fingernails.” The sheriff points out that it wasn’t wild dogs this time, and then ambles off muttering (in a strange accent) about not having any suspects. He then takes volunteers for deputies. He gets no takers. He then seems to think that old Hugh is the next victim and wants to post a guard around Hugh’s house.

The next morning, the sheriff is out wandering around town, when Rodan pulls up in a Rolls Royce, which I’m guessing comprised 90% of the budget for this movie. Rodan volunteers to be the deputy, citing his giant leathery wings and ability to demolish entire cities. The sheriff asks “What happens when I have to give you orders?” “You’ll just have to forget who I am.” Jeez, what a snob. Shoot him now. (Three guesses where this is going, though.)

They drive round to Hugh’s house and, as they walk up the front porch, Rodan smells the sulfur burning, and has a seizure. Yep, saw that coming. No one makes the connection and he is rushed to the hospital. Dr. Druten has no idea what is wrong with him. “But you’ve been the Marsh Island doctor for 20 years.” “Yes, but not the Rodan doctor. I wasn’t good enough for them. They went to New Orleans.” Class warfare among three people? Jeepers. “This isn’t malaria,” is all the doctor can offer. The sheriff decides to interrogate Louise (like he needs an excuse) to find out what her brother’s problem is.

They meet inside the Rodan home and once again the sound recordist made a bold move by placing microphones inside David Janssen’s shoes, since their squeaking as he walks almost drowns out the dialogue. Louise says that weird seizures run in the family; her granddaddy used to have his “spells” that no one used to talk about. The sheriff notices a picture of Louise in which she is wearing the locket he found in the swamp. She says she had lost it, and he produces it for her. He then is determined to find out how Ellie got the locket, forgetting all about Andrew’s seizures. “Can I come with you? Oh, please?” begs Louise. Like she has to plead.

Andrew is awake, and admits that he gave Ellie the locket the night she was murdered. He is OK now, and the doctor is sending him home. Huh? I thought no one knew what was wrong with him? Anyway, Rodan gave Ellie the locket out of gratitude for the small “favors” she had done for him. No, not that, he hastens to add; he suffers from “Seibert’s syndrome,” an offshoot of black water fever (a kind of malaria) that is incurable. Ellie had been procuring for him the only drug that keeps the attacks under control. She had brought him the drugs shortly before she was killed. He admits that he neglected to take the drug that evening, having been distracted by how pretty Ellie was. The next thing he knew, it was 5:00 in the morning and her was taking a shower. Uh, too much information, buddy. The sheriff, clutching at straws, asks if Andrew is left-handed (he’s still on that track?). Rodan admits that he is ambidextrous. Of course he is. He boasts how it runs in the family, which is an odd thing to take pride in. To each his own.

In the waiting room, the doctor is discussing old Hugh and the “lookarook.” Louise overhears this and says that she knows French, and he asks for her help. The sheriff can find no other person in “Frenchtown” that speaks French? At Hugh’s, the old guy is still on about the “lookarook.” It takes Louise’s spotty sub-high school French to figure out that what is is saying is “loup garou,” or “werewolf.” He stares at her palm and goes nuts again and starts barking (?). We then cut to a close up of a hairy-handed gent in the hospital—yes, Andrew Rodan is the loup garou. Surprise!

Dr. Druten walks into Andrew’s room and Andrew is missing. He sneaks up behind the doctor and smacks him to the ground. He then charges into the reception area, revealing that more money went to renting the Rolls Royce than the werewolf’s makeup effects. Kind of looking like Roger Waters from Pink Floyd, he knocks some doctors and nurses around (while calling them "David Gilmour"), then jumps through a window.

The next morning, the entire town seems to know that Rodan has turned into a wolf and they are all organizing another posse to hunt him down. (Don’t these people have jobs?) Louise is upset and tries to convince them all that Andrew is merely sick and gets these seizures. They are not convinced. “He had fangs coming two inches out of his mouth.” No, he didn’t! Tom Jr. says, “It’s his sister. How do we know she ain’t gonna turn into a wolf?” Our bright young friend makes a good point. “You shut up!” retorts Louise with her rapier wit. The sheriff tries to stop them; however, the leader of the gang says that he is assuming the power invested in him by the Marsh Island charter and that Gabby Johnson is now in charge. Huh? How drunk were the town fathers—and, by the way, weren’t they the Rodans?—to sanction mob rule in the event of a crisis? The sheriff and Louise drive off while everyone else sort of ambles about cluelessly.

It is suddenly night. Louise is at her house reading up on lycanthropy. There is a knock at the door; she thinks he sees Andrew but it is only the sheriff. She then reads to him what she has learned about “lycanthropy-like diseases.” Apparently, there is a whole hitherto unknown medical literature dedicated to the subject. Being a werewolf is “a disease that you can take a pill to control.” There are some clinical studies I’d like to see the raw data for. I can also imagine the TV commercials pitching anti-lycanthropy drugs. Some celebrity comes on and says, “When I grow fur and fangs and crave the taste of human blood, I take Lycor. You may not be able to stop the family curse, but you can control it. Common side effects include headache, diarrhea, and random howling.”

Anyway, Lycanthropeia veritas, true lycanthropy, may also respond to the same drug as “quasi-lycanthropy,” but over time the victim builds up an immunity to them. Of course they do. “In true lycanthropy,” the book says, “the victim’s taste for blood turns him into a most powerful and deadly killer.” Hmm...I didn’t know Stephen King got his start writing medical reference books. Also, werewolves are rendered temporarily harmless by the smell of sulfur. Well, I think we’re all pretty much on board with that one. Some people can also—“without scientific proof”—claim to see the shape of a pentagram in the hand of the werewolf’s next victim. Ah, that would explain old Hugh. Or something. I don’t know which is worse: the existence of werewolves or the existence of predestination and the lack of free will. But I digress...

Suddenly, they are interrupted the loud baying of a wolf, followed by the frightened whinnying of horses. “He’s out there,” says Louise. Ya think? The sheriff closes the wooden shutters and locks the windows. Louise correctly points out that Andrew had torn iron bars out of cement. “He grew up in this house. Maybe he’ll have more respect.” Oh, that’s a reach. He’s torn apart three people and is suddenly going to be squeamish about breaking a window? The sheriff then goes off to hunt for him. “I don’t know what I’ll do when I find him but it won’t be what they’ll do.” Sounds like a plan! “If he has to be killed,” she requests tearfully and haltingly, “not their way.” What did she have in mind: slow torture? The gas chamber? Lethal injection? I think shooting him quickly would probably be the most humane. A moot point, though... The sheriff leaves, and she locks herself behind the safety of a set of louvred doors. She continues to read: there are only two methods of destruction (presumably of a werewolf): death by burning and death by shooting with bullets that have been “blessed.” Blessed by whom? A priest? Rabbi? Native American medicine man? Anyone in particular?

Andrew arrives at the house and uses every ounce of his strength to burst through the louvred doors. So much for that idea. Andrew also quickly figures out how to unlock the doors, what with having grown up there and all. Louise opens a window and escapes from the house. She runs to the barn and starts loudly calling for the sheriff. She locks herself inside and lights an oil lamp. Andrew is suddenly standing in the hayloft. Now how did he just appear there? Lycanthropy is one thing, magic teleportation is another. She chucks the lamp at him and he and the whole hayloft burst into flames. He flails around and howls a bit, then falls out of the hayloft and is engulfed in flames. Actually, it’s a cheesy process shot that superimposes flames over the scene of him flailing on the ground. She flees the barn which is now completely consumed by fire.

She goes back to the house and stares tearfully at a picture of Andrew, then ambles upstairs. There is the loud baying of a wolf again, and then suddenly, Andrew is in the house, without a mark or a singe on him. What?! How did he escape the burning barn? And I thought burning was one of the ways to kill a werewolf. She locks herself in a bedroom and takes a gun out of a desk. Andrew bursts in and she lets him have it, and down he goes. Meanwhile, the sheriff comes to the rescue...too late. The werewolf is now officially dead. Wha? “He knew,” says Louise tearfully. “He made me fire it. The bullets...he must have had them blessed.” Say what? Oh, come on! That’s a bit cheesy. One last shot of him shows that he has turned back into Andrew. He does clean up nice. And Louise and the sheriff walk off together.

End credits. Now stay tuned for your local news.

1 comment:

mistivelvet said...

I'm watching this w/ my husband. Googled "lookarook," found this blog. Hilarious!