Of all the mainstay monsters in horror cinema, werewolves get the short end of the stick. While there is certainly no shortage of successful werewolf films out there, they aren’t as popular as movies about vampires and ghosts in the grand scheme of things. Still, on the bright side, this just means that there are countless hidden gems featuring the hairy brutes just waiting to be discovered, and this week’s slice of ‘70s television terror is one of them.
When: September 26, 1972
Based on a novel by Leslie H. Whitten and directed by Daniel Petrie, Moon of the Wolf is a murder-mystery of the wolfish variety that also operates as a capsule of small town life. After a woman turns up dead in the woods, the residents of a rural Louisiana town believe that a pack of wild dogs are responsible. However, Sheriff Aaron Whitaker (David Janssen) suspects that a person is behind the crime, only to discover later on that the culprit might be a thing.
I personally find movies about werewolves interesting because many of them are rooted in mystery. While the mythology of the furry beasts has been reworked by different creators throughout the years, the universally known one involves humans turning into the creatures when the full moon is high. Films like this can also function as whodunits, which only adds to the fun.
Moon of the Wolf boasts a small cast of characters, so the process of elimination isn’t too complex. There are also several red herrings throughout which viewers will pick up on and piece together before the killer is finally revealed. But the procedural elements are handled well enough, despite not bringing anything new to the table.
That said, the film does contain some interesting characters, and the performances are strong across the board. Whitaker is a no-nonsense and admirable lawman, but underneath his strong facade is a longing soul who walks around with some underlying regrets. He’s a loner who never mustered up the courage to tell his high school crush (Barbara Rush) how he felt when they were young. But when she arrives back in town, he tries to make the most of it at last.
It’s always nice to watch relationships which revolve around characters who are older and laden with regrets. People who’ve experienced life and the pain, heartache, and drama that comes with it are more interesting than those who are still relatively unburdened. Throw in a small town right at the heart of bayou country, that oozes with Southern Gothic atmosphere, and you have a movie that appeals to my sensibilities. I loved these elements of Moon of the Wolf as much as the monster stuff.
In fact, some creature feature fans will find the lycanthrope horror quite lacking here. The movie is more concerned with the investigation as opposed to showcasing a monster rampage. The werewolf action isn’t frequent at all. This was undoubtedly due to budget constraints, but at least the film manages to craft an engaging story and some suspense around the murders. But the finale brings the creature fun, and there’s an excellent shot of the monster standing behind some flames.
The werewolf makeup is also delightfully old school, which will please fans of practical creature designs. The impressive creature work was handled by the legendary William Tuttle, who handled most of the ghoulish fiends in The Twilight Zone. This is just the icing on the cake of what is just a neat little movie.
If you’re a fan of werewolf flicks, Southern Gothic melodramas, and good horror movies in general, I highly recommend giving this forgotten gem a bash. Moon of the Wolf doesn’t rewrite the rule book by any means, but it’s a film that does everything well, and that’s good enough for me.