MOON OF THE WOLF is a movie that really finds its stride about ten minutes before it ends. It stumbles behind the audience setting up a mystery that we’ve mostly figured out, and then rushes to catch up to the monster-movie portion that we’re watching it for to begin with, and yet it almost just sort of manages to entertain. I was kinda dreading this one upon figuring out that it, like SNOWBEAST, was a made-for-TV movie, as I anticipated another slow, bloodless, sexless trudge through cliché, but while this film’s almost as threadbare, it at least has a bit of atmosphere and manages to hold together as a story, putting it solidly above the three other films in this little marathon. It’s sad that I have to type that, but here we are.
Two hunters in the Louisiana bayou come across the body of a young local girl. Wild dogs are blamed at first, but Sheriff Aaron Whitaker (David Janssen) discovers she was knocked out beforehand, and starts canvassing for suspects. The dead girl’s brother blames the local doctor (John Beradino), who did in fact impregnate the girl shortly before she died, but then it could have been the brother, or Andrew Rodanthe (Bradford Dillman), part of an old-money family living up on the hill over the bayou, and meanwhile the girl’s senile father keeps babbling about something which sounds a bit like “lougaroo”. The brother is killed while in prison for assault, and so is the deputy, and the bars have been torn out of the window, and at some point it becomes obvious that the old guy really means “loup garou”, or werewolf. The question, then, is who the werewolf is.
Of course, we know from the very start that this is a werewolf movie; the mystery is almost redundant, and strangely enough the film also gives a pretty conclusive clue as to who the werewolf is well before the characters figure it out. This means that we’re pretty far ahead of the action for a while, and the one real mystery is why they’re taking so long with this (apart maybe from a misguided fidelity to the novel this is based on.) Sure, werewolf makeup costs money, but more could have been done with the creature stalking and lurking as opposed to being entirely absent. The mystery part of the story can only be stretched out so far, and even at a mere seventy-four minutes the film has some slow stretches.
That said, it’s not like the mystery is uninteresting. There’s a strong Southern Gothic feel to it, and it brings in the class differences between the aristocratic Rodanthes and the poor bayou folk and everyone in between. There are a couple of good red herrings, and even though one scene in an instant makes it clear who the werewolf is, it’s still something of a surprise. The murder investigation plot works, there just needs to be less of it.
Also helping pass the time are the two leads, Janssen as the sheriff and Barbara Rush as Louise Rodanthe, a love interest who may be on target to be the wolf’s next victim; the two work together to try and solve the mystery and have a nice chemistry with each other. Most of the acting is quite good, at least as far as reinforcing the reality of the situation goes; the similarly understated direction, though par for the course for old TV movies, also works in the film’s favor. It’s a straightforward tale of murder and werewolves, with no stylistic flourishes undermining its plausibility.
So, it takes a while for this story to get going. One weird artifact of this is that there is no interim period in which people express surprise at the existence of a werewolf in their midst; they go straight to forming a hunting party. It’s an odd transition, but hey, it saves time. And I have to say, the final portion of the film makes up for a lot. I won’t spoil much, but it’s moody, atmospheric, and suspenseful, and I think it redeemed the picture for me. A good werewolf rampage is worth the wait, I guess.
Despite many problems, MOON OF THE WOLF ends up working on the level it intends, which in the end seems to be more than I can say for any of the other films in this collection. It’s been a bit of a chore in the long run writing about these, but I got myself into it. Nonetheless, it’s sort of interesting what you can dredge up from the bottom of the barrel.
From the novel by Leslie H. Whitten
Written by Alvin Sapinsley
Directed by Daniel Petrie