I sooooo wanted this movie to be amazing. And maybe it was and I just didn’t get it. I loved the concept, the idea of a woman werewolf, almost akin to 1942’s Cat People, in which by a curse, the person may transform into a large cat in the heat of passion. Movies like Cat People and The Curse of the Cat People and The Leopard Man (1943) are basically about suppressed sexuality and the notion of the time that if you explore such things you’ll be “transformed” by your passions to these lustful violent creatures. Maybe I had expected something like that with She-Wolf of London (aka THE CURSE OF THE ALLENBYS) because what is a werewolf story other than the idea of uncontrollable emotions coming out of us like wild things. I will give director Jean Yarbrough some credit in how he somewhat kept the “Greek tragedy” aspect in werewolf lore. Everything else seemed to fall flat. Painfully so. Even the very superb acting of June Lockhart, Don Porter, and Sara Haden could not salvage the film. There was too much expectation, and not enough fulfillment. But, these are just my own ramblings. Lets see what our honored guest has to say regarding She-Wolf of London.
THE FOGGIEST FOG THAT EVER FOGGED
By: Michelle Garza
As a little girl my mom would always watch the black and white Universal classics with me and my sister, it was my introduction to horror. Being a child of the desert (I was born and raised in Arizona) I was always fascinated by the scenes, though they were created in a studio, of foggy locations. She-wolf of London did not disappoint in that aspect. It was some of the foggiest fog that ever fogged. There was only one time that I had ever seen fog like that in real life and it was created by a fog machine at a death metal show.
The tale takes place in London at the turn of the century. It follows the story of a young woman named Phyllis Allenby, she is set to wed a wealthy lawyer by the name of Barry but as a murder starts killing and mutilating innocent people not far from her inherited estate it brings to light the rumors of a family curse…one involving lycanthropy. She believes that the curse has caught up to her. Phyllis tries to call off her engagement, keeps to herself and only talks about her worries to her aunt Martha at first. The aunt is a shady hag to begin with who treats her house woman, Hannah, like a total bitch and won’t let her daughter Carol have a boyfriend if he’s not rolling in the dough. “Aunt” Martha secretly admits to her daughter that she is not really Phyllis’s aunt and if the young woman marries Barry Martha and Carol could lose their home in the Allenby estate. All the while Phyllis spirals into madness truly believing she is the beast when her Aunt’s dogs try to attack her and howl all night long it only points to her worst fear being true. She keeps a lantern outside of her window to ward away evil as told by an old Scottish wives’ tale, yet she keeps awakening to find her clothes muddy and her hands bloody. The thoughts of herself becoming a beast and ripping people apart eats away at her.
Let’s talk about some things that might make a person laugh, those silly horror movie moments that in my opinion can add to the awesomeness of older flicks…the giggle factor. I am a lover of horror in all degrees from the super serious, scare the crap out of you, to the super cheesy b movies, to the classics that in their time were closer to the first mentioned, it was on these foundations that we built the majesty of the horror genre. For instance, she finds her shoes covered in mud, the shoes are super girly with heels, it made me laugh. If I was going out to eat people, I certainly would choose different footwear…yet I suppose the beast isn’t particularly worried about fashion or comfort when its howling to bust out and since it was the turn of the century that was the proper attire of a young woman no matter if a bloodthirsty beast dwelled within her. There are the typical investigators, one that thinks the killer is either an animal or deranged person while the second believes it to be a female werewolf, he meets a tragic end in his quest to prove the nonbeliever wrong. Carol, the supposed cousin, is in love with a man of lower station and so sneaks out during the night to tryst with him…leaving the audience thinking that she could be the she-wolf herself. It builds an old timey sense of suspicion, though later the ending doesn’t really come as a shock. What may come as a shock is you NEVER see a werewolf in this flick!!!!
Barry finally gets Phyllis to admit her worries, she confesses that she has terrible nightmares of pagan rites being performed and becoming a wolf. He won’t accept that his woman is refusing to get hitched because of some story about a family curse. He sits outside of her house one night to try to discover if she actually is a werewolf. He sees a woman draped in a cloak, her face is concealed. He follows her and loses her in the foggiest fog that ever fogged. A man cries out as he is attacked by a veiled woman, she escapes, he claims it was some psycho woman that growled like an animal, moments later Carol approaches the victim that happens to be her boyfriend and claims she was out to meet with her love in secret…even though there is a murderer on the loose.
This part struck a chord within my werewolf loving heart and I recalled the book the were-wolf by Clemence Housman, it tells the story of White Fell, a beautiful stranger that comes between two brothers, she was tall and fair…and happened to be a werewolf. I’m not insinuating that Universal copied the story, I’m just noting that they are parallel. She was cloaked and stunning much like our She-wolf of London, spreading terror throughout a community, killing children and inciting strife between loved ones. A tale as old as time…beauty concealing the beast.
The figure is shown a few times during the movie, actually in the goriest scene of the film the veiled She-wolf stalks a member of Scotland yard, Latham, the only guy that believes in werewolves, and slashes his throat open. Though it is black and white you can see that his neck is bloodied. He tries to scream for the constable but it is too late, it must have been shocking for a film in nineteen forty-six. Movies like these opened doors for women characters, they could be more than just matronly or wholesome, they could be alluring, they could be deadly…they could be real. I love to see that in the older movies.
Each time Phyllis hears the news about innocent people being murdered, then finds her clothes soiled the next morning she really believes that she is a monster, a ravening beast hidden beneath the layers of lace and silk. At last she confides in Carol and begs her to get the police because she wants someone to stop her from murdering people. While Carol is out of the house Martha comes to bring Phyllis a glass of warm milk, something she does nightly. By this point most people will already connect the dots and it is no shock to find out that her aunt has been going out at night and pretending to be a she-wolf. She had been drugging Phyllis (que old-school watery effect to the film that symbolizes being whacked out of your mind) and committing heinous crimes in hopes that Phyllis would be blamed because of the family curse and the poor girl basically tells her fiancé and her cousin that she is the monster in her hysteria. Martha then pulls a knife saying she would kill Phyllis and claim that she ended her own life.
Here’s where people should remember a few very important lessons that were probably already taught to them at some point in their life by either a parent or through their own foolish error…
Lesson number one: ALWAYS BE KIND TO THE STAFF. (This includes housekeepers, cooks, gardeners etc.) I was a custodian for fourteen years and believe me when I say the vengeance they can reap is quite dirty. Martha learns this the harsh way when she finds out that standing outside of the door while she confesses her crimes and then tells Phyllis she is going to kill her is the house woman, Hannah, the same woman that Martha treated like a walking turd. Hannah pushes the door open and Martha discovers that she is a witness to her confession. The old house woman tells her she has been watching Martha’s odd behavior and now threatens to fetch the police. Martha chases after Hannah, wielding a knife. They run down a sweeping staircase in the luxurious Allenby estate and Martha trips.
Lesson number two: NEVER RUN WITH SHARP OBJECTS. Martha falls on her own knife; it is driven into her gut as she tumbles down the steps of the house that she coveted so much she would kill to get to keep living there. She dies as the housekeeper opens the door, revealing the police and Barry who just arrived with Carol so that Phyllis can confess that she was the killer. Hannah tells them that Martha is the she-wolf. The ending comes as Barry rushes to his woman’s side, she is drugged and frightened but he assures her that Martha will never kill anyone ever again.
Although I was disappointed that I didn’t get to see a she-wolf going through some awesome stop motion wolfing, I still enjoyed watching it. It was more about the psychological horror of a young woman believing that she was losing herself, becoming something so terrible that she just couldn’t continue with her life it happened to be true. I think at some point most people deal with that on some level and that, my friends, is why we need horror. Whether it scares you, grosses you out or makes you giggle, it forces you to see those dark things that lurk in the real world and you become stronger for facing them.
Michelle Garza, one half of the writing team based out of Arizona. Her sister, Melissa Lason, and Ms. Garza have been dubbed The Sisters of Slaughter by the editors at Fireside Press. Since a young age they have enjoyed crafting tales of the dark and macabre. Their work has been included in anthologies such as WIDOWMAKERS a benefit anthology of dark fiction, WISHFUL THINKING by Fireside press and soon to be published REJECTED FOR CONTENT 3 by JEA. To be included in FRESH MEAT 2015 is an incredible honor for the sisters. Later this year, their debut novel, Mayan Blue, releases with Sinister Grin Press. You can keep track of Michelle budding writing career by following her on Twitter and Facebook.
Have you seen Late Phases? Finally! A new werewolf movie to keep my strange fascination were the lycanthrope myth sated, or for at least the time being. Hopefully maybe soon we’ll see some quality Mummy movies grace the silver screen…doubtful at that one. But we can always hope. Its no secret, I’ve got a special place in my heart for the classic Universal Monsters. I’m not at the age to have grown up watching the films. I found them in my adult years, and its probably better that I did. I don’t think most of the kids in my late phased (pun intended) Gen-X generation would have appreciated the classics…not as much as an adult would. Maybe I’m wrong, I’m sure there are a few out there that could, but overall, it is my opinion that the classics are appreciated more by a more mature audience. My appreciation stems from my studies in history thru film. Looking back at society thru the looking glass of cinema is a fascinating way of deciphering prevalent thoughts and themes and attitudes of the day in which the movie was made. The original Universal classics, as such, can be both an entertaining as hell movie and a look into the concerns of the past. Werewolf movies are one of my favorite forms of metaphor. Much how I gravitate toward Romero-esk zombie tales, likewise, I gravitate toward the tradition of werewolf created by Curt Siodmak. Curt wrote the original Universal tale, The Wolf Man (1941) and portrayed the bipedal beast as more of a Greek tragedy, where the monster is also the victim, having no control over his inner demon, per say. Late Phases seems to keep to this tradition whilst also moving the mythos a step farther.
Quick fire synopsis:
Ambrose McKinley; a fiercely independent, yet blind Vietnam War veteran and his seeing eye dog are moved into a retirement community at the edge of a forest. Willful and adamant that he can live on his own, he and his son Will are clearly not on the best of terms. He meets three neighbor women; Gloria, Anna and Victoria, who; while at first admiring Ambrose, are quickly put off by his rough attitude toward them. He meets his neighbor Delores, who shares the duplex with him. That night, during a full moon, something breaks into Delores’ kitchen and brutally slashes her to death. Ambrose hears the commotion and is also attacked by a massive werewolf. His dog comes to his defense as Ambrose struggles to find his gun, he manages to deter the creature, but his dog is mortally wounded. The next day, the police find him cradling his dog, and despite the destruction and his claims of the attack, it is shrugged off as a home invasion. With no one to believe his tale, Ambrose quickly works at preparing for the next full moon and soon discovers the threat is not from outside, but rather from inside this seemingly quiet retiree community.
The Meaning of it All…
And there you go. Plenty of symbolism to keep even the most jaded film graduate student satisfied, while also giving us horror nerds another allegorical tale to place on the shelf of werewolf lore. Ambrose verses the werewolf is an obvious story about how old bones can find purpose and keeps to the Curt Siodmak tradition…with one step farther. The monster here, while struggling at first, in the end accepts his plight and goes about turning other would-be victims into beasts themselves. Religion and faith find their way into the story too, as the priest, Father Roger is summed and cast way and ultimately killed (oops, SPOILERS!). There is also a redemption story between Ambrose and his son, Will. The movie has plenty of heart and even some humor to balance the drama and terror. But is it entertaining?
Where’s the Popcorn…?
Late Phases was very entertaining. There are certainly some bumps in the road. While the use of practical effects should be applauded, there were a few moments where the effects came across as silly. And I’m mostly talking about the werewolf costume. The transformation scenes are respectable, though does not overshadow Rick Baker’s fantastic work in An American Werewolf in London. I’d say, the transformation effects here were more close to Rob Bottin’s work in The Howling. Other then the effects, the pace was steady. There was an absence of exposition, which I found refreshing. Ambrose, played by Nick Damici, was fantastic. I love seeing crusty veteran movies, especially in horror flicks as it is something I tend to gravitate toward in my own writings. If you haven’t seen Late Phases yet, it’s still on Netflix. Make it a night. Pop some popcorn and enjoy a rather fury tale of a blind Vietnam veteran verses the monotony of retirement.
My Review: 3.5/5
If you’ve been watching some of my social media feeds, you may have noticed my recent bent, complaint, what have you, regarding a general lack of good werewolf movies. Its a serious issue. Well, serious enough to make a geek for werewolf lore to pout and stomp about on Twitter and Facebook. I mean, what’s really out there? Anything good? But then again, the bar for werewolf movies is a precarious one, for sure. Like most monster movies, or at least the classic monsters, most walk a thin line between greatness and cheesy. And because I know you’re dying to know, here are some of my favorites, including but not limited to: The Wolfman (1941), for obvious reasons as the godfather of all traditional werewolf movies and one I use as a bar for all others, Frankenstein meets The Wolfman (1943), simply because its basically a sequel for The Wolfman, Silver Bullet (1985), for its small town charm and of course Gary Busey cameo, Ginger Snaps I & II (2000, 2004 respectively), which were odd twist on the womanhood coming of age trope, but entertaining nevertheless, Cursed (2004), say what you will about Christina Ricci but I thought the practical effects and mood and throwback to classic monster movies was great, Wolf (1994), cause come on! who doesn’t enjoy a good Jack Nicholson flick? And of course, the greatest of the great, An American Werewolf in London (1981) which boosts some of the best transformation scenes in horror history!
With the above information, you can kind of gleam how I judge or expect from a werewolf movie. Last night, because most of my shows are now on summer break, I was on the prowl for a good horror movie, one that I had not yet watched, something new, and something (hopefully) good. While trolling some online, I stumbled upon a new werewolf movie, one with a synopsis and trailer that were potent enough to actually catch my interest. Wer, released in 2014 bringing the werewolf mythology to the steady-cam genre. The filming is actually quite bizarre, or perhaps I watch too many old flicks and am out of touch, but the steady-cam in Wer was a strange mix of found footage and a handheld following the cast, giving an off beat “you’re part of the movie” vibe. Before I continue, let you toss you the synopsis!
Wer is set in France, and we begin with an American family camping near woods at night, and while filming with the obligatory hand-held camera, the family are brutally attacked by something unknown, but the camera fails to catch anything worthwhile. The husband and small child are slaughtered but the mother survives, and gives a statement to police telling them it was like a man with big hands that attacked them. It just so happens that an extremely tall and hairy man, Talan Gwynek (Brian Scott O’Connor), lives near where the attack took place, and because he closely fits the description is immediately arrested for the gruesome murders.
Talan refuses to speak to anyone until his newly appointed American lawyer, Kate Moore (A.J. Cook), turns up at the police station. Talan has a strange body and mouth guard to protect the police from his bite, but Kate insists the police remove his cuffs and the gag. The cop in charge, Detective Pistor (played by Sebastian Roché, who bares an uncanny resemblance to Chef Gordon Ramsay) gives her only 5-minutes with the suspect. Talan talks very briefly and when the police rush in to put him back in his restraints, Kate’s co-worker, Gavin Flemyng (Simon Quarterman) is scratched on the arm by Talan. Eventually Talan is on the loose with predictable results – Nav Qateel, Influx Magazine.
For starters, let me tell you a bit of the film that I actually liked. One, the musical was chilling and original. The score is probably what saved Wer when the special effects had failed to capture the moment. The mood, through the majority of the film, is haunting. Especially at the beginning when the Porter family is brutally attacked and during the chase to find poor Talan Gwynek. And to boot, Wer was something new, exploring new avenues to bring audiences back to the classic monster tale. The casting was good, though I prefer no names in my horror movies. You may recognize the protagonist, Kate Moore, played by the ever serious A.J. Cook (think Criminal Minds).
But there were some setbacks…
The dialogue and character motivations are gruelingly opaque. There were a few moments when I felt tossed from “being in the movie” to cringing as the characters stumbled through the script. The screenwriting needed some major cleaning up. The beginning was great, it was toward the middle and ending when you were able to notice some ugly un-buffered moments and painful improv. The motivations were also not very clear. There was some mystery, I guess, with Gwynek’s family and their land, but it wasn’t polished enough to make any sense. And think this is were some horror flicks trip up. They make the story and plot overly complicated by adding all these minor conflicts that actually don’t even matter. The biggest conflict is the werewolf “sickness.” And that should have been the only conflict, aside from perhaps some character conflict and love interests. Just saying, you don’t need some government conspiracy story in the midst of a werewolf conspiracy story, especially if you’re screenwriting isn’t polished, it’ll just get confusing. I’m not an expert, but if you want my opinion, focus on the monster and flesh the characters out more. Don’t worry about all this “other stuff,” it’ll just be distracting.
Let me say something regarding practical effects. It is a sad but true state of affairs that because of budget restraints, a film must sacrifice some practical effects for CGI. However, budget restraints should not be an excuse for cheap and sloppy effects. There were some really good practical effect moments in Wer, but they were too often overshadowed by the cheap use of CGI, and not even good CGI. The muzzle fire and blood splatter was some of the worst, even more than The Walking Dead’s muzzle fire and blood splatter effects. If you don’t have the budget, cut back. Or find someone good who is willing to work for cheap. Cut back on something in the budget, for heavens sake! You’re making a horror movie for crying out loud! The practical effects ought to be your top priority!! This is why you should also cast talented no names who are looking to earn their bones in the movie biz.
My Rating: 2.5 / 5