BAD MOON (1996)
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1996 Werewolf flick is a sadly overlooked movie when folks talk about this particular horror sub-genre. It opens effectively in the jungles of Nepal where photo journalist Ted Harrison (Michael Paré) and his lover (Johanna Lebovitz) are attacked by a vicious bipedal wolf creature. Ted is bitten but survives and moves back to Seattle to be close to his single mom sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) and her son Brett (Mason Gamble). This proves a mistake, as Ted now transforms into a wolf-like creature at night and the only thing standing between the lycanthrope and his sister and nephew is the loyal family german shepherd, Thor (Primo).
Film is written and very well directed by Eric Red (writer of Near Dark) from the book Thor by Wayne Smith. Bad Moon is a very tense and effective thriller that sets up an interesting situation as dog Thor is the only member of the family to first know Ted is a werewolf, but is mistakingly blamed by authorities for his actions. While there are victims of Ted’s wrath/hunger, such as an obnoxious con-man (Hrothgar Mathews) that hassled Janet earlier, the film focuses on the growing tension and suspicions between Ted, Janet, Brett and, of course, Thor. The werewolf attacks are surprisingly vicious and Bad Moon has some very effective and abundant gore. Not only are Ted’s attacks quite gruesome, as is the vicious opening sequence, but his climactic battle with Thor is quite bloody…and that is no spoiler, as the whole film is setting up this fur-flying confrontation. The only drawback with the make-up FX is Ted’s fanged alter ego is shown quite a bit and in full view and the suit is somewhat rubbery. Also, it is obviously a stuffed and fake stand-in for Thor during some of the battle moments. It takes away a bit from the illusion of reality, but not enough to hurt this intense and effective chiller all that much. It’s got a brisk pace, at a trim 80 minutes, and by opening the film with a bloody attack right off the bat, it sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The characters are likable, including Ted at first and this helps the audience to care about them and thus the proceedings. Shame this flick never caught on in it’s initial release.
The small cast are very good and help make this more intimately staged werewolf flick work all the more better. Michael Paré is effective as Ted in that he is both tragic and a bit villainous. He is both aware of his transformation and tries to protect others against it, while not above letting Thor take the blame for his killings. Paré shows he had star potential. Mariel Hemingway is good as Janet. A lawyer by profession, she’s tough and smart and very protective of her son, even if it means seeing their loyal…and wrongfully accused…dog separated from her family. Young Mason Gamble is very effective, with his Brett being a bit of a tough kid and not one to scare easily. He has good chemistry with movie mom Hemingway and an interesting dynamic with his uncle, as he begins to suspect something is up with Paré’s Ted. As for Thor, four legged actor Primo does a wonderful job creating a character with barks instead of dialogue. The animal is very expressive and is a strong hero, playing basically the character no one believes when evil is afoot. Makes this film work and work well.
Overall, this film sadly underperformed in 1996 when released and it is a shame. It’s not perfect, but is a tense and gory little movie with a solid cast, especially it’s canine star. The film adds an interesting dynamic by giving it’s werewolf a four legged thorn in it’s side and adds an interesting element as the family dog takes the fall for werewolf activity. It builds to a violent and effective confrontation and doesn’t spare the the blood spurting and savaged limbs, despite a family element to it’s story. Not a great movie, but one that should be included when talking about the werewolf sub-genre in general. If you haven’t seen it, Bad Moon is streaming free on Tubi and available from the great folks at Scream Factory on blu-ray.
Rated 3 (out of 4) full moons.