Tuesday 22 January 2013

Blood of the Werewolf

Directors: Bruce G Hallenbeck, Kevin J Lindenmuth, Joe Bagnardi
Writers: Bruce G Hallenbeck, Kevin J Lindenmuth, Stephen C Seward, Joe Bagnardi
Producer: Kevin J Lindenmuth
Cast: Tony Luna, Mia Borrelli, Sasha Graham
Country: USA
Year of release: 2002
Reviewed from: UK DVD

I found this one at the Post Office. At the Post Office!

There’s a rack of cheap DVDs on the counter and I occasionally flick through them as I’m waiting to post a letter or buy some stamps. Mostly they’re crap, which isn’t a problem with me except that they’re mostly mainstream crap. The few that might be described as ‘cult’ are generally films I’ve already seen.

But last week I was in the Post Office and spotted a werewolf movie. I picked up the disc. Blood of the Werewolf. That rang some bells. Wasn’t this a Kevin G Lindenmuth movie? I checked the credit block and indeed it was. And is.

Lindenmuth is an indie film-maker who carved out a name for himself in the 1990s (and into the 2000s) by overseeing anthology pictures. He would team up with a couple of pals - people like Ron Ford and Tim Ritter - and they would each direct one segment before bolting them together. Lindenmuth made some non-anthology features too although even on those he often shared directorial duties. These things evidently sold okay. Back in the pre-digital 1990s Lindenmuth was one of those directors whose name became known even if you hadn’t seen his movies, like JR Bookwalter or Scooter McCrae. In fact all three gentlemen had films released in the UK through the good old Screen Edge label.

The Addicted to Murder trilogy was about vampires, the Alien Agenda and Alien Conspiracy trilogies were both about, well, aliens. But I was surprised, on checking the fellow’s filmography, to find how many lycanthrope films Lindenmuth has made. Starting with Rage of the Werewolf in 1999, followed by this one and then Werewolf Tales and Bites: The Werewolf Chronicles. Nowadays he mostly seems to make medical documentaries.

There are three unconnected stories in Blood of the Werewolf of which one works. It’s not the first one, 'Blood Reunion', which was written, produced and directed by Bruce G Hallenbeck. Despite running to a full 35 minutes of the movie’s 82-minute running time, this is a flat nothing of a story, so dull and unimaginative that I had actually forgotten it before the movie ended. Seriously. As I near the end of a movie I start toying with ideas about what angle to take in my review and how to start things off - and I realised that I could not remember anything about the segment which I had watched a mere 40 minutes or so earlier. I really had to wrack my brains.

The apparently pseudonymous Tony Luna plays Edward Sparrow, a successful horror novelist who returns to the nowheresville town where he grew up to seek out an old flame, Jane Bradford (Mary Kay Hilko: The Temptress, Shadow Tracker: Vampire Hunter). He asks directions from the three town drunks (Bill Chaput, Ron Rausch and Hallenbeck himself, who were all in Joe Bagnardi’s anthology The Edge of Reality, as was Hilko) who not only recognise Sparrow but also helpfully point him to “the old Radford place” (well, duh).

Jane lives with her grandmother, played by Helen Black (writer-director of, good grief, The Erotic Diary of Misty Mundae) in a grey wig whose evident youth is explained by the need to play herself thirty years younger in a flashback to Jane’s rather unconventional and bloody birth. Granny Radford is a bible-thumping Christian fundamentalist who didn’t let Jane have boys round when she was in school and isn’t about to start letting her have men-friends drop by now. She also has a large, metal cross on the wall with a suspiciously sharp point at the base. I wonder if that will become significant.

Sparrow checks into a local motel where he is visited by the town sheriff (the aforementioned Joe Bagnardi, also credited as DP). Several dogs and cats have been slain and the cop wonders whether the visitor knows anything about this. “Horror writers aren’t in the habit of murdering cats and dogs,” explains Sparrow, patiently. The sheriff is back when one of the drunk guys turned up murdered. “Something either cut off or tore off his ear,” explains the law enforcement official. Look, I realise that you probably don’t get many murders in your little town but if you can’t tell the difference between a cut and a tear...

Also, the loss of an ear is not normally fatal. But never mind.

The sheriff’s suspicions stem from his knowledge that Sparrow has come to see Jane Radford and that Radford is frequently teased by the drunks for being a sexless virgin. Although to be fair, any murder in a population that small would throw suspicion on whatever stranger(s) happened to be in town.

Later, Jane drops by the motel and Sparrow finally convinces her to stand up for herself and not have her life ruled by her grandmother. They then have sex which is not shown although in the next scene we see them dressing, Jane seems remarkably blasé for someone who has finally lost her virginity after more than thirty years. On the way back to the old Radford place, Sparrow and Jane pass through a cemetery where they are waylaid by the two remaining drunks, convinced that the couple were responsible for their friend’s death. They grab Sparrow and threaten him with what appears to be a small fruit-knife or possibly a potato-peeler. Quite why a fit young man can’t defend himself against two overweight, inebriated bums who can barely stand up is yet another mystery.

Sparrow tells Jane to run but instead she transforms (off-camera) into... a werewolf! So that’s what Granny Radford was on about when she said there was a curse on the family. So that’s why she wasn’t allowed to have boyfriends. Good grief. I really didn’t see that coming. Not after sitting through half an hour of a film called Blood of the Werewolf, featuring a character who won’t let her grand-daughter lead a normal life because of an unspecified curse. Well I never.

When I say ‘werewolf’ I mean that the actress dons a wolf mask and the character apparently manages to rip open the throats of both town drunks without getting a drop of blood on her dress. I do wish that film-makers, when planning scenes like this, would go to the trouble and fairly minimal expense of buying two or three identical dresses so that they can actually get them bloody. As it stands, this looks like a case where the need to do multiple takes has required this ravenous she-beast to bloodily attack two men without getting a drop of the red stuff on her. That’s assuming that the film did involve multiple takes of course.

As the she-wolf-in-a-pinafore attacks Sparrow, Granny Radford suddenly appears from nowhere and plunges that pointed metal cross through her grand-daughter. Sparrow realises what was going on and, well, that’s about it.

The whole thing looks very, very cheap with ghastly skin-tones indoors and masses of extraneous noise outdoors which very audibly changes from shot to shot. The acting’s not up to much and nothing happens that we’re not expecting. Yet despite being so basic, the story is also flawed because if, as implied, Jane’s sexual awakening unleashed her inner monster, who actually killed the first drunk guy (and the cats and dogs)?

Christy Lee Wilsey plays Jane’s mother in the flashback. According to the IMDB this is Christy Lee Hughes who was a featured extra in Spielberg’s War of the Worlds and has made a bunch of respectable indies. If it is the same actress, she keeps Blood of the Werewolf well off her CV. Erika Dietz plays a hooker in a brief epilogue.

Moving on, we come to 'Old Blood', the shortest of the three tales and easily the best. While the quality of the photography and sound is not much better than the first story (or the third), this middle instalment has a considerably better script with decent dialogue plus interesting, believable characters and a story which is both clever and original. I’m not even going to tell you how it ends, it’s that good. Well, it’s that good by comparison with what tops and tails it. Kevin J Lindenmuth directed and produced this one himself, co-writing the script with Stephen C Seward (who also collaborated with Lindenmuth on segments of Goregoyles and Beyond the Lost World: The Alien Conspiracy).

Where 'Old Blood' really scores is in the acting by Mia Borrelli and Sasha Graham who are streets ahead of anyone else anywhere on screen in this film. What is more they portray, in defiance of B-movie tradition, a realistic, non-exploitative lesbian couple. I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen this before in a low-budget horror movie, with the sole exception of Vampire Diary.

Roberta (stage actress Borrelli in her only screen role) is a ‘shapeshifter’ - it is notable that the word ‘werewolf’ is never used anywhere in the whole feature film, although ‘lycanthrope’ is used on one occasion - while her girlfriend Charlene (Graham, who was in Polymorph, Bloodletting and Psycho Sisters as well as several Lindenmuth movies but seems to have given it all up after this one) is human. But Charlene longs for ‘the gift’, romanticising the idea despite the cautions of Roberta who keeps her feral nature in check through regular intravenous injections of some unspecified substance, raising an intriguing parallel between lycanthropy and drug addiction.

Roberta talks the situation through with an ex-boyfriend, Luther (Lindenmuth regular Tom Nondorf, also a stage director) who is also a shapeshifter. This ‘gift’ can be transferred but Roberta will then lose it and become human once again. If she gives the shapeshifting power to Charlene, she will lose not only her own power but probably also Charlene too - that’s assuming that Charlene can control her urges and not kill Roberta.

You see what we’ve got here? We’ve got an original, well-thought-out situation raising moral questions and requiring our central character to make a potentially life-changing decision. You won’t find anything like that in the other two tales here. I will leave the resolution for those who have yet to see 'Old Blood', pausing only to note that Fangoria’s own Mike Gingold has a cameo as a victim and Debbie Rochon is credited as Luther’s girlfriend but I honestly didn’t notice her.

Last and very much least is 'Manbeast', a tedious twenty-minute film about two hunters, whose faces are never seen, chasing a man whose voice-over tells us that he has changed into something and featuring a twist ending so obvious that you have probably guessed it while reading this sentence. Good grief, this must be the most clichéed pile of rubbish I’ve seen all year (though to be fair, it is only the second week of January). This is the sort of ‘twist’ story that most people write at school when they’re about eleven.

Writer-director Joe Bagnardi lays on the ‘irony’ with a trowel but none of it has any clever double meaning because we know precisely what is going on and have done so from the very first shot of the two hunters framed from the neck down. Dan Bailey (also in The Edge of Reality) and Ron Rausch (again) play the hunters with Bruce G Hallenbeck returning the acting favour as ‘the man’ and Helen Black (again) in a different grey wig as ‘the woman’ - whose face we also don’t see - in whose house the quarry seeks shelter.

The dialogue (and monologue) is awful - "Boy, we sure do live on a strange world..." - the acting unbelievably bad even by the standards of these things, the camera-work as shaky as ever and the whole film is scored with a series of bad, bland and monstrously inappropriate rock songs. Rarely have I heard music which so signally fails to match the image in any respect. It’s like trying to watch a film while your neighbour plays a compilation of Europe B-sides too loudly.

Frankly, 'Manbeast' makes 'Blood Reunion' look good. It’s just an embarrassing, overlong, self-indulgent waste of the viewer’s time. I was really thankful when the credits kicked in with six minutes still to run, time that is required to list in great detail all the rock bands featured, most of which seem to be Italian.

Bruce G Hallenbeck’s wife - variously credited as Rosa Hallenbeck, Rosa I Hallenbeck and RI Hallenbeck - provided the make-up effects here, which seem to be based on the flat-faced Lon Chaney-style wolf man. She also handled the longer-snouted ‘special make-up effects’ in 'Blood Reunion' and receives a ‘based on a story by’ credit for that film. Mike Strain Jr provided the beast-head seen briefly at the climax of 'Old Blood'; he worked on Lindenmuth’s other werewolf films and many other assorted Happy Shopper indies including Ron Ford’s big bug flick Deadly Scavengers. Someone called T Ranstill is credited with ‘additional effects’ and editing on this middle segment.

So Blood of the Werewolf scores one out of three. Actually I’ll give it one and a quarter because the film kicks off with a short, black and white prologue in which none other than moustachioed legend Ted V Mikels delivers a brief Lindenmuth-scripted monologue about being a shapeshifter. Gabriel Campisi shot this footage.

It is worth noting that the three sleeve designs - which all depict a full Moon and carry the tag-line ‘Things get a little hairy when the Moon is full’ - are meaningless as, although there are one or two stock shots of the Moon, not one of the films features an actual Lunar-induced transformation.

If you find a copy of Blood of the Werewolf - in your local Post Office or anywhere else - my advice is to watch Ted V Mikels, fast forward through 'Blood Reunion', watch 'Old Blood' and then press stop-eject.

MJS rating C-
Review originally posted 9th January 2009

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