1/30/07

904 Werewolf

(1996, Horror, color)

My wallaby means a lot to me.

Rating: ****

In a nutshell:

Puncture wounds from an ancient werewolf skeleton infect a writer with lycanthropy.

Summary:

Though it's never explicitly stated, we must assume that Sam the Keeper takes care of the place while the master is away.Native American workers toil in the Arizona desert, enduring the curses of a psychotic and unintelligible archeologist named Yuri. One of the workers cuts himself on some old bones, provoking Yuri to beat the living daylights out of him. Yuri’s fellow archeologists—the lovely but even less intelligible Natalie, and the feyly dressed but Thank-Goodness-English-Is-His-Native-Language Noel—arrive to break up the fight and finish recovery of the bones. They take the oddly shaped skeleton back to the laboratory, where they discuss the ancient Native American legend of a vicious anthropomorphic creature that sleeps “nose to anus.” (Sadly, I did not make that up.)

Meanwhile, the injured worker slowly lycanthropizes through the night and next day. One of his coworkers accidentally lets slip about his condition to Yuri, who sneaks in and out of the hospital for a furtive blood sample. The worker awakes shortly thereafter for his obligatory wolfish rampage. He ambles home, where his coworkers await him with rifles and silver bullets.

Alleged writer Paul Niles has inherited a large, uninhabitable house with an only barely habitable attic. Upon arrival, he meets his groundskeeper Sam (a full-bearded militant survivalist) and his realtor Carrie (a sultry young woman with no pants). Carrie invites him to a birthday party that evening, where Yuri beats him soundly for attempting to defend Natalie. Noel sends Yuri outside to cool down while Natalie and Paul make heavily accented small talk. Somehow this leads to a make-out session in front of Paul’s house, under Sam’s ever-vigilant stare.

Meanwhile, Yuri has enticed an elderly security guard into his laboratory, plied him with drugged champagne, and injected him with the previously acquired werewolf blood. The groggy guard staggers away under the third consecutive night of the full moon. He transforms while driving and eventually loses control of his car, slamming head-on into a stack of highly flammable oil barrels.

The next day, Yuri walks in on Natalie showing the werewolf skeleton to Paul. He flips out and assaults Paul with the skull. Several implied days of sweaty interpretive dance and tender, unintelligible dialogue pass, and finally Paul turns into murderous werewolf, stalking the night for horny teenagers and snooping realtors. Eventually he lycanthropizes in a pool hall front of Yuri and Natalie, and runs off to savage random passers by. Yuri runs off to announce his werewolf discovery to the world while Natalie runs off to warn Paul. Wolf-Paul heeds her warning and flees into the Arizona wilderness. Yuri follows on foot, and is soon mangled to death by the vengeful Paul. Later, Paul meets Natalie in his moonlit attic apartment and—ta-da!—they’re both werewolves.

Introduction:

What's Mike gonna do with all those salad spinners after he recovers?Due to accidental head trauma, Mike has donned a false beard under the assumption that he is Actor’s Studio host James Lipton. He shuffles index cards while attempting to interview Ray Liotta (i.e., Crow). Tom goes to the fetch the clown hammer.

Host Segment One:

The clown hammer jars Mike from his delusion, so he strips off his beard and continues his escape attempt. Throwing a rope ladder down from the Satellite, he climbs all the way down to Earth, only to discover he has arrived in Castle Forrester. Brain Guy doesn’t even look up from his breakfast cereal as he conjures a lit cannon to chase Mike back up the ladder.

Host Segment Two:

Inspired by the performance of Joe Estevez (brother to Martin Sheen, uncle to Charlie Sheen and Emilio Estevez) Mike and the ‘Bots think of other actors they would like to see in a werewolf movie. Mike comes up with fictional brothers to real celebrities (e.g., Spike Knotts) while Tom thinks of fictional brothers to historical figures (e.g., Chip Hitler). When pressed, Crow can only suggest Ray Liotta.

Host Segment Three:

Mike and the ‘Bots don wigs and poodle skirts to form a ‘50s girl group. They sing the tender love ballad, “Where, Oh Werewolf.” Sings Mike, “My mother and pop, they disapprove / But no one can stop us, for it’s true loov!”

Host Segment Four:

Having tripped and cut himself on Crow on the way out of the theater, Mike is surprised to find he has sprouted a golden lacrosse net on the back of his head. A craving for salad spinners and an overwhelming feeling of moral superiority confirms it; he has become a werecrow!

Host Segment Five:

Mike is fully a werecrow now, having lost the use of his arms and sprouted a bowling pin beak. Tom arrives with a test tube filled with Essence of Mike to change him back. He spilled some on himself on the way there, so now Tom has blond hair, and the subtle, horrifying feeling of being from Wisconsin. Down in Castle Forrester, Pearl has decided to create a werewolf by injecting the essence of a wolf into a random peasant. Brain Guy finds a peasant easily enough, but all Bobo can come up with is a friendly spaniel.

Stinger:

“This is absolutely fascinating,” deadpans Natalie.

Thoughts:

The eponymous furry hand puppet.Hey, Rest Of The World. Do we look this ridiculous when we pretend to be you guys in the movies? Does Nicolas Cage as an Italian army officer make you shake your head in disbelief? Do you collectively cringe at Sean Connery’s Russian accent? Do you shudder at the thought of seeing Peter Ustinov in cartoonish Asian make-up, or listening to Peter Sellers’ mangled French?

Some of you probably do, but then, it makes up for a lot when you’re a skilled actor speaking intelligible lines in your native tongue. Sadly, the leads of Werewolf do not even have these redeeming qualities. Natalie could have been played just as well by a bag of sand with a mouth full of marbles, while Yuri could be replaced by an enraged Chihuahua, groomed between scenes by a schizophrenic hairdresser. A heavily sedated cat might stand in for Paul, though you’d have to substitute a rabid fruit bat for the werewolf scenes. These three characters hog ninety percent Werewolf’s running time, during which much of the dialogue has to be guessed at. My favorite line, Natalie’s “Ahm vary kinsurnd abat yer wallaby,” probably only translates to “I’m very concerned about your well-being,” but the conjured image of a lycanthropic marsupial sleeping “nose to anus” remains etched into my brain.

Of note: though Noel makes a big deal about the bones not belonging a “white man’s movie monster,” the ensuing werewolves behave exactly like every movie werewolf before them, complete with weaknesses for silver bullets and full moons.

Also of note: Flagstaff, Arizona is apparently something of a haven for lycanthropes, due to an astronomical anomaly that allows the moon to remain full three hundred sixty-five nights per year.

Also, also of note: in a bid for the title of “Least Imaginative Screenplay Ever,” variations on the line “What are you holding back?” are repeated ad nauseum. I’m not sure how many times we have to listen to it, but I’m sure that counting them would require the use more than one hand.

Also, also, also of note: in a bid for the title of “Least Convincing Native American Laborer Ever,” celebrity brother Joe Estevez guest stars. At least he speaks English.

Also, also, also, also of note: the lycanthropic security guard is played by none other than the director himself, Tony Zarindast.

My favorite host segments deal with Mike’s transformation into a werecrow, and the various personality flaws that accompany such a change. The “brothers of celebrities” sketch is a little lame, but Crow twists it appropriately at the end. Mike’s escape attempt works well too, largely because of Pearl and Brain Guy’s deadpan reactions. In fact, all of the host segments are all above average, though none of them really stand out.

The film segments are hilarious. Despite the film’s bizarre, unintelligible tone, the story is actually quite simple, which has the benefit of not distracting us from the commentary. During one of Yuri’s typically over-the-top line readings, Mike says, “They hired the Frito Bandito.” Crow subsequently describes Sam the keeper as “Dictator-For-Life Santa,” while Tom describes Paul as “Rent-A-Center Andy Garcia.” Later, as the be-wolfed Paul wanders the streets of Flagstaff, Mike says, “An American Werewolf in Traffic,” and later, “It turns out he’s not a werewolf; he’s just Greek.” The movie takes itself very seriously, but the commentary (helped in no small part by the inherent ridiculousness of the accents, events, and characters involved) makes it one of the goofiest things I’ve ever seen. This one’s worth repeat viewings.