Big Bad Wolf

Director: Lance W. Dreesen
Trevor Duke, Kimberly J. Brown, Richard Tyson

In all of the years that I have lived, I have had many an opportunity to look at culture. Not just the culture of the country that I live in, but the cultures of many other countries, some quite different than the one of my home country. And not just present day cultures, but cultures of the past. Anyway, I have made many interesting observations of cultures over the years, not just the fact that other cultures seem to make much more better and entertaining movies than what is produced by my home culture. One of these observations is that seemingly every culture - foreign or domestic, past or present - has various stories concerning fictional monsters. They may be oral stories, or cinematic stories, but all the same they concern monsters. Why is that? Well, I think it's due to the fact that both in the present day and in the past, mankind has faced many things about the world of ours that are unknown. When there is something we don't have a factual answer to, we make something up to try and explain it. Let me give you some examples to illustrate my point. We don't know for sure what happens when we die. So I think that is why there are so many cultures that have tales about ghosts, to try and comfort us into thinking that yes, we will live on in one form or another after we die. It also explains things like why a house making spooky noises might be making those noises in the first place. Then there are mermaids (yes, I consider them monsters as well.) No doubt all the tales about mermaids came from the fact that sailors in the past were often out to sea for weeks or even months at a time, and needed to comfort themselves that there would be some kind of possible sexual release for them hiding out in those endless waves.

But I will also admit that I think that many monster tales that are hatched up are for the simple reason that they sound intriguing and entertaining. Take vampires, for instance. The idea of a creature out for blood and that has hypnotic powers sounds pretty cool, and I can understand why the idea of a vampire has had such lasting appeal for centuries. But I really want to discuss another kind of monster - the werewolf. The werewolf, while maybe not the most popular monster ever, has definitely had long lasting appeal, with tales starting from way back in the Middle Ages. Why has this monster been so popular for centuries? I thought about it for a while, and I came up with some possible answers. The first reason is that the classical werewolf is really part human. The fact that it's part human makes it easier for people to relate to than many other monsters. This train of thought leads to the second reason why I think that werewolves have been so popular - if a werewolf came from a human, then it seems that any human could become a werewolf - a possibility that no doubt gives chills to many people listening to, reading, or watching a tale of werewolves. The third reason that may explain the popularity of werewolves is that the werewolf is part wolf. Wolves are intriguing animals. They managed to spawn the domestic dog, for one thing, and have long been described as a threat to humans. (Actually, there have been very few wolf attacks on humans.). A monster that has the traits of a wolf can't help but be a charismatic threat, if that makes sense. A fourth reason for werewolves' popularity is that they kill not for food or revenge - they seem to kill only for the fact that they are savage bastards that have a grudge against everything and everyone. A foe that can't be reasoned with seems like a great threat, and makes for a great story.

No doubt about it - a werewolf can make for a great horror story. Though let me put emphasis on the word "can". Though I have read many stories (from comic books to purely written words) about werewolves that have been very entertaining, when it comes to the cinematic werewolf, Big Bad Wolfthere are more than a few dogs out there. Yes, there are some definite gems out there (like Dog Soldiers), but it seems more difficult to make a good werewolf film than many other monster films. Why, I am not sure. It may in part come from that fact I mentioned earlier about werewolves being mindless killers - you can't make a strong personality from that, unlike, say, a vampire. It may be that the special effects needed to show werewolves and their transformations can be hard to do, especially if you have a low budget. Whatever the reasons may be, the usually bad results have made me reluctant to watch many werewolf movies. I only bought a copy of Big Bad Wolf to review because I first did some research on it, with my research uncovering several favorable reviews. After opening with a short prologue set in Cameroon, the movie shifts to small town America several years later, introducing us to a young college student named Derek Cowley (Duke). Derek, along with his girlfriend Samantha (Brown, Be Cool) and several of Derek's friends, decide to spend some time doing R-rated things in the countryside, at the cabin of Derek's stepfather Mitchell (Tyson, Kindergarten Cop). However, not long after reaching the cabin, R-rated things of an unexpected nature happen to the youths. To be specific, a werewolf shows up, and one by one kills all of Derek's friends. Derek and Samantha manage to escape, but they don't feel safe, since they have reason to believe that the werewolf is actually Derek's stepfather Mitchell. And no one around seems to believe their claims there is a werewolf around. That is, except for Derek's uncle Charlie (Christopher Shyer, J. Edgar), who we saw in that Cameroon prologue have a werewolf encounter that killed his brother, Derek's father. But even with Charlie's help, can Derek and Samantha defeat the werewolf?

As you no doubt know if you've seen your share of horror movies during your lifetime, a successful horror movie depends on many ingredients to succeed in the end. But like cake, which has one ingredient much bigger than others in its mix - flour - a horror movie such as Big Bad Wolf for a great deal depends on one prime ingredient for it to succeed. That ingredient is, of course, the werewolf. With this particular horror movie, do the filmmakers manage to overcome obstacles like a low budget and succeed with the depiction of their werewolf? Well, after watching the movie, I have to admit that I kind of have mixed feelings about this particular monster depiction. I'll start off with admitting that writer/director Lance W. Dreesen gives the werewolf an ability I haven't seen in a werewolf movie before. I won't say what it is, but it took me by surprise the first time the ability was depicted. And it actually made sense upon thinking about it, since a werewolf is part human. Another good touch Dreesen gives his werewolf is the lack of CGI used. There is some CGI, but it's almost all devoted to small touches, like glowing eyes or rippling skin, and almost all of it works to good effect. The werewolf is almost always depicted by an actor in good old fashioned makeup and costume. While this does work better than a 100% CGI werewolf, I have to admit that it's not much more of an improvement in this particular old school case. When we see the werewolf's face, it's kind of stiff. And the body of the werewolf often kind of reminded me of those cheesy gorilla costumes that were seen in movies from the 1940s and 1950s, not looking natural enough.

In case you are wondering about transformation sequences, I have to break the news that there's only one honest to goodness full transformation scene in the entire movie. And the movie cheats by showing us the human starting to transform, cuts away to other characters for a few seconds, then cuts back to the now fully transformed werewolf. Obviously, there wasn't enough in the budget to show us a full transformation. But it does seem that Dreesen did reserve enough of the budget for other horror movie delights. He did get several actresses willing to take off their tops and/or engage in various sexual activities for the audience. That stuff is certainly welcome. As for blood and gore, there is a decent amount of this material, ranging from several heads getting ripped off to one person being disembowelled. I think every sequence involving gore and/or sexual elements will please die hard horror fans. The problem is that these elements are almost all confined to the first and last part of the movie. The middle sequence is almost all devoted to the mystery portion of the movie, with the heroes making their investigation. While it doesn't get downright boring, this middle portion of the movie certainly could have used some more excitement, whether it was sexual or violent in nature. Another problem with Dreesen's direction is the sometimes cheap feeling of the enterprise. I realize he was working with a very low budget, but the lack of funds (and probably time as well) painfully show at times, whether it's the use of frequent close-ups or shooting in the dreary Southern California countryside. What atmosphere he could have easily gotten if he had been able to shoot in, say, the Pacific Northwest wilderness!

Though the middle portion of Big Bad Wolf may somewhat lack excitement and the movie may feel cheap at times, Dreesen does manage to show talent despite his limited resources. One of the strongest things about the movie happens to be the characters. True, some characters are stereotypes and simple-minded, like Derek's friends, though since they are obvious werewolf bait, it doesn't really matter. What's important is that the main characters are better than you'd expect from a movie like this. They are smart. For example, after Derek and Samantha escape from the werewolf in the first part of the movie, they later tell the authorities they were attacked by some sort of animal they couldn't make out despite having seen the werewolf close up. Obviously, they knew no one would believe the truth. Later, with the assistance of Derek's uncle, their investigation of Derek's stepfather unfolds very believably. They are careful not to go too far at any time, but whenever something unexpected happens during their investigation, they show they are quick on their feet believably as well. My intelligence was never insulted by the characters, whether they were good or werewolf. It certainly helps that the no-name cast is very talented. All the main players are good, but the actor who steals the show is Richard Tyson as the stepfather. He manages to make his character a real creep, yet he restrains himself from going all out, which might have made his character a cartoon in a relatively serious environment. Because he's not a stereotype, we watch him more carefully; just what's going on in this guy's head? And could he be the werewolf? I won't spoil things, of course, but I will say that Big Bad Wolf has enough touches like those that somewhat overcome the various aforementioned shortcomings and in the end make it a fairly good bad wolf movie.

(Posted March 16, 2018)

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See also: Dogs, Dog Soldiers, My Mom's A Werewolf