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13 June, 2011

Junkyardfilm.com's Moldy Oldie Movie of the Month: MOON OF THE WOLF


Year of Release—Film:  1972

Two stereotypical Southern rednecks wake up to the sounds of dogs howling from the swamp.  Hastily pulling on their boots and grabbing their scatterguns, they go stumbling into the darkness.  Suddenly, it’s daytime and they’ve discovered the savaged body of a young female, Ellie, apparently torn apart by a pack of wild dogs.  Sheriff Whitaker (David Janssen) is called out to investigate the death, followed shortly by Lawrence (Geoffrey Lewis), the victim’s dimwitted ex-boyfriend, who demands to know who the culprit was.  Hot on his heels is the grouchy town Doctor Druten (John Beradino) who insults the locals by saying “It’s not considered good medical practice to perform autopsies in the middle of swamps surrounded by howling dogs and scratching rustics.”  Back at the hospital, the doctor tells Sheriff Whitaker that she was killed by a single blow to the head from a left-handed person.

Later that afternoon, Sheriff Whitaker goes to visit Lawrence’s father, Old Man Hughes who, because he’s old and has lived all his life on Marsh Island, must know something about this...even though he’s frail, has dementia and is bedridden!  The Old Man keeps babbling on about something called a “lookaroo” but no one knows what he’s talking about.  Leaving the Old Man’s shack, Whitaker next goes to the mansion of the island founder’s offspring, Andrew Rodanthe (Bradford Dillman) and his sister, Louise (Barbara Rush).  (Janssen keeps pronouncing their last name as Rodan, which delighted me!)  Louise having just returned from living in New York City, is pleasantly surprised to find her old high school crush is now the town sheriff and begins outrageously flirting with him.  Sending Louise back into the mansion, Andrew curtly dismisses the sheriff, explaining that Louise is ill and needs rest and quiet.  Whitaker leaves and drives to the murder scene where he discovers a locket in the mud.  The two rednecks from the movie’s opening scene come strolling by so the Sheriff asks if the locket belonged to the murdered Ellie but they claim to never having seen it before.  Whitaker just shoves this potential clue into his pocket and leaves, leaving this viewer convinced the Sheriff just isn’t into this investigation!

Back in town, the Sheriff has a conversation with the Old Man’s caretaker who spills the beans that Ellie was pregnant!  Find out who the father was and you’d have your killer!  Naturally, Whitaker rushes back to the doctor’s office and demands to know why the doctor didn’t tell him of the girl’s pregnancy!  After some verbal sparring, the doctor confesses that he himself was the father.  “I didn’t kill her!  I loved her!” exclaims the doctor as Whitaker takes a long pull off the doctor’s whiskey bottle.  Now, apparently, everyone in town had a motive to kill her!  Later the same day, the town’s men-folk gather to go into the swamps and shoot the pack of wild dogs that killed Ellie.  Suddenly, Lawrence rushes out from the crowd and socks the doctor in the jaw, decking him, while shouting to everyone that the doctor knocked up the dead girl.  Arresting Lawrence, the Sheriff drives back to the Rodanthe place where he and Louise get to know each other better over glasses of lemonade.

Suddenly, it’s nighttime again and we watch as the Sheriff leaves Lawrence in the hands of his deputy, instructing the night-shift deputy to leave the cell door unlocked.  (Whitaker does run a tight ship, doesn’t he!?!)  Hearing a loud noise from the back of the station, the deputy decides not to follow the Sheriff’s instructions and locks Lawrence’s cell door before investigating the noise.  In a POV shot, we see the deputy torn apart before the POV beast tears the locked cell door off its hinges and savages Lawrence!  Dr. Druten tells Whitaker that the men have been torn apart by bare hands.

The next day, rich-kid Andrew volunteers to go with Whitaker to the Old Man’s place to help with the investigation.  But once there, Andrew suffers a fit when smelling some sulfur and molasses burning in a dish on the front porch.  This concoction is supposed to ward off ... werewolves!  PLOT POINT!  Whitaker drives to pick up Louise and take her to the hospital but sees a photo of Louise wearing the locket he’d discovered at the murder scene.  Louise admits it’s hers but she hadn’t seen it in years.  Back at the hospital, Andrew explains that he suffers from a rare malaria-like disease called Black Water Fever.  In order to keep his disease from becoming town gossip, Andrew had Ellie bring him a month’s supply of his medication from the hospital and he had given Ellie the locket earlier the evening she died.  Louise suggests that since she speaks French, she go talk to the Old Man. Listening to the Old Man babble, Louise says he’s not saying “lookaroo” but is actually saying “Loup-garou” which is French for ... WEREWOLF!  Suddenly, the Old Man grabs Louise’s hand and, speaking French, tells her she will be the next victim!  And, back in his hospital bed, we see the hairy, clawed hand of Andrew!

Andrew, now in full werewolf-mode, bursts from his hospital room, scares some nurses, knocks down an orderly and jumps through a plate-glass window, making good his escape.  A posse is formed to search the swamps for Andrew and Whitaker drives Louise back to the mansion.  But, Andrew isn’t in the swamps but has gone back home where Louise is reading up on lycanthropy and lycanthrope-like diseases.  Explaining to the sheriff that werewolves can only be killed by fire or by bullets that have been blessed, Whitaker decides to search for Andrew alone and he locks all the windows and tells Louise to lock the door after him.  But, Louise listens just about as well as the night-shift deputy did and leaves through a window when she hears werewolf-Andrew bust down the front door.  Running into the barn, she sees werewolf-Andrew standing in the loft and, flinging a burning oil lamp at him, rushes from the burning barn.  BUT WAIT!  Despite being burned to a cinder, werewolf-Andrew survives and, neatly pressed clothes uncharred, chases Louise up the stairs.  Bursting into her room, he’s met with a hail of bullets from Louise’s gun and collapses in the hallway as Whitaker arrives.  And, in true, time-honored, werewolf movie fashion, Andrew dies with his normal Andrew-face as Louise sobs “He knew!  He must have replaced my bullets with blessed bullets!”

Okay...in all fairness, for a made-for-TV movie, this wasn’t bad.  It wasn’t good either.  Barbara Rush played the sister with believability and Janssen, always looking like he’s suffering from some indigestion problems, was likeable as the Sheriff.  Because of some obscure pork-barrel politics, Bradford Dillman was required by Law to appear in every 70’s made-for-TV movie.  The sets appear to have been real Louisiana swamplands.  Beradino played the doctor in such a crotchety, unlikable way I’m surprised that any female, much less a lovely girl like Ellie, would have had anything to do with him.  The werewolf make-up was laughably BAD!  And the plot-holes...How was Andrew a werewolf?  Was he bitten by one before the movie began?  Or, as his sister explains, did he inherit the affliction from his Grandfather, who was given to “spells?”  And why did the Sheriff not bother to investigate any of the multitude of clues presented to him?  And, what about the super-human strength of the werewolf?  I don’t recall Lon Chaney, Jr., having the strength to rip through solid-steel cell bars!  And, someone should have told scriptwriter Alvin Sapinsley it’s SILVER BULLETS that kill werewolves, not blessed ones!  Still, for a 1970’s TV movie, it had a nice In the Heat of the Night atmosphere and nice little murder-mystery beginning, making for a nice little family-friendly werewolf movie.

Enjoy!  Or not!


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