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MSRP $29.98 (I haven’t seen it for sale anywhere for more than $15)
STUDIO Dark Sky Films
RUNNING TIME 96 Minutes
• Director’s Commentary
• Making Of
• FX Featurette
The mythical seventh werewolf movie is here.
Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tom Noonan, Larry Fessenden
Blind war veteran Ambrose McKinley has recently moved to Crescent Bay, a seemingly peaceful community on the outskirts of a dense forest. On his first night in his new home, McKinley hears his elderly neighbor attacked by something he’s convinced isn’t human. When the creature kills his seeing eye dog, McKinley’s thirst for justice turns into a one-man vendetta against the monster that’s terrorizing his neighborhood. And when he’s stonewalled by both the police and his fellow residents, he decides to gear up and prepare to fight the beast one-on-one. Now it’s man vs. myth as McKinley readies himself for what could be his final battle.
I love werewolves. They are one of the coolest of the classic monsters and their existence and lore is pregnant with possibilities for thematic material. Unfortunately, most werewolf movies are bad or at least horribly mediocre. I’ve not seen every werewolf movie (full disclosure: haven’t seen The Wolf Man. I know, it’s hard to call myself a film nerd or a werewolf fan without doing it, I just never feel terribly interested when I get the chance) but I have seen a lot of them. While many are watchable or have at least good moments, I have found only six that I feel are worthy of continuous re-watch.
Before I go into this, I just want to preface my list by saying that I’m grading on a curve. Werewolf movies don’t have a Citizen Kane; every one is deeply lacking in some way be it in story, effects, characters, or acting so I fully admit all these movies have problems but succeed through sheer momentum of all their good qualities. Those six movies, in no particular order, are The Howling (best story), An American Werewolf in London (best transformation), Ginger Snaps (best thematic elements), Silver Bullet (best atmosphere), Dog Soldiers (best action/gore), and Bad Moon (best werewolf.) If I’ve left anything out, tell me, please, I need more good werewolf movies in my life. (Don’t recommend Wolfen, because that’s not actually about werewolves.)
That may seem like a pretty good ratio, but think of how many vampire movies you love. Think of how many zombie, ghost, or even Frankenstein movies are halfway decent. Now to be fair, werewolves are a lot harder to do than their monster brethren. Slap some fangs on a guy, you have a vampire, slap some blood on a guy and you’ve got a zombie. Werewolves require either expensive CG (which rarely turns out well) or very very good prosthetic that are hard to make both scary and lifelike. Of the six movies I just named, only three of them have werewolves that look like actual flesh and blood creatures and not rubber-suit monsters (Silver Bullet’s wolf-ape and London’s furry-dolly-with-a-werewolf-head puppet are particularly egregious examples.) To have the budget to get good wolves along with good actors and a good script that a studio is willing to fund involves a lot of hurdles that make this sort of movie prohibitively difficult to make and thus there are six.
I am now happy to say that I have found the seventh legendary werewolf movie (or 8th probably, I think if Wolf Man was all hype I’d know about it by now.) Late Phases, or Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf as it says on the waistband of its underwear, is kind of a mash-up between Silver Bullet, Gran Torino, and Bubba Ho-Tep.
Nick Damici (writer of every single one of Jim Mickle’s movies: Mulberry St., Stake Land, We Are What We Are, and the screenplay for Cold in July) plays Ambrose McKinley. Ambrose is a blind Vietnam veteran who is moving into a retirement community on the edge of a forest. On his first night in his new home his next-door neighbor is attacked by some sort of large creature that comes for him, he manages to survive but his guide dog is killed in the process of protecting its master.
The police, the neighbors, and Ambrose’s estranged son (Ethan Embry) all dismiss the incident as a wild animal attack but Ambrose doesn’t believe that and soon puts together that, despite how preposterous it may seem, his assailant is likely a werewolf. So Ambrose sets to work preparing over the next month trying to find out who is likely the creature, training, and preparing his house for the eventual confrontation on the full moon.
I can’t find any reliable source on how old Nick Damici is, but I would say he’s about ten years too young to be playing Ambrose McKinley. Amazingly, Damici pulls it off. The make-up isn’t perfect but it’s pretty good and Damici has the posture, mannerisms, and ticks of an older man down-pat. He seems to kind of lapse on the blindness occasionally but he does an incredible job of keeping his eyes from moving and and appearing to be unable to see.
Ethan Embry as Ambrose’s son is under-utilized here, as he is in almost everything, but he does have a good dramatic relationship with Damici. You can tell he loves his father but is simultaneously frustrated with his stubbornness and whatever shortcomings he had when Embry was a child. Ambrose’s failure as a father and a husband is the dramatic lynchpin of the film, along with some other stuff about post-traumatic stress, redemption, and mortality, and Damici wrings some genuine emotion out of what could easily be a very campy movie.
Speaking of camp, the werewolves here look alright (and the transformation scene is amazing, taking more cues from folklore than Rick Baker’s infamous transformation in An American Werewolf in London) but they seem to belong in an entirely different movie. The wolves look kind of goblinesque and would feel more at home in a horror comedy than a movie with as much drama and tension as this, their appearance devalues the movie a bit but there’s too much good to let it get in the way. It helps that the wolves are done practical and they look good, if cartoonish.
The gore effects are very well-done but this movie doesn’t use them a lot. The opening murder is fairly gruesome but director Adrian Bogliano (Penumbra, Here Comes the Devil) lets the movie build slowly in the month until the finale. The movie doesn’t get in a hurry to play out the mystery and delivers small bits over long periods, letting the characters (mainly Ambrose) keep the audience’s interest while it builds toward its climax.
The finale is one large action sequence, with Ambrose fighting multiple werewolves as they make siege on his home and though it gets a bit absurd (Ambrose does some physical feats that are a bit much for a man his age or with his disability) it’s a satisfyingly violent conclusion to the movie.
There is some tonal dissonance involved; the drama and the action seem to belong in separate films at times but there’s a surprising amount of depth to the performances and the story and the action is all very well-choreographed. If you’re a werewolf aficionado then you need to make Late Phases: Night of the Lone Wolf: Port of Call – New Orleans: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan: The First Avenger: The Owls of Ga’Hoole: Assignment: Miami Beach: Based on the Novel ‘Push’ by Sapphire: & Knuckles number one on your “must see” list.
Late Phases comes in a 2.39.1 aspect ratio with Dolby 5.1 and 2.0 sound, and has English and Spanish subtitles. The disc includes a director’s commentary, two featurettes, and a trailer.
This movie can also be found on Netflix instant.
Out of a Possible 5 Stars