Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (2012)

Universal Studios Unleashes a New Monster Movie to Blu-ray or DVD for Halloween! 

Universal Studios legacy of classic monster movies dates back to the silent film era with “The Phantom of the Opera” in 1925 and encompasses “Frankenstein” in 1931, “Dracula” (1931), “The Mummy” (1932), “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” (1954) and, of course, “Werewolf of London” (1935) and “The Wolf Man” (1941). The studio’s rogues gallery of monsters helped establish them financially in the early years and has served them well over the last 100 years. Modern remakes of the classic monster films have varied wildly in both quality and at the box-office from hits like Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” (1992) and “The Mummy” (1999) franchise to creative disasters and box-office flops like Kenneth Bragnah’s ambitious but critically flawed “Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” (1994), Stephen Sommers’ bloated, CGI video game-styled abortion, “Van Helsing” (2004) and Joe Johnston’s remake of “The Wolfman” (2010).

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The project that eventually became, “Werewolf: The Beast Among Us,” began life as a script intended to be the sequel to “The Wolfman” starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins, but after a tepid box-office and lukewarm critical response to the theatrical release of that werewolf thriller, the script was retooled into what was to be a complete reboot of the “Wolf Man” franchise. Budgetary concerns arose and the whole project was relegated to the direct-to-DVD & Netflix purgatory bin. Thus, “Werewolf: The Beast Among Us” has dropped into our Halloween baskets just in time for All Hallow’s Eve. Is it worth your time? Well, that depends upon what your expectations are. Let’s break it down into the Good and the Bad, shall we?

The Good:

The location cinematography: Shot in and around Eastern Europe and Romania, “Werewolf: The Beast Among Us” looks pretty good for a low budget werewolf flick. The misty forests, ancient castles and old world architecture give this period piece thriller a cinematic boost and instant atmosphere not unlike the British Hammer Horror films of the late 1950’s and 60’s.

The cast: Most of the cast is pretty decent here, and some needed class is given by slumming respected character actor Stephen Rea (“The Crying Game,” “V for Vendetta”) in a supporting role.

The script: Although a little convoluted at times, the script does keep you guessing about the identity of the titular werewolf and the possibility of any other classic monster appearances, and I’ll personally give the screenwriters credit for referencing the concept of the Wurdulak (even if only hardcore monster fans even know what that means!).

The Bad:

The special effects: If you watch the extras included on the disc, you’ll hear a lot of lip service paid to honoring the legacy of the classic Universal Monsters. Well, any fan of those black-and-white chillers knows that a lot of the credit for the iconic monsters featured in those films goes to make-up artist, Jack Pierce. Most of what was actually good about the 2010 “Wolfman” can be credited to Rick Baker’s practical werewolf make-up design. If you watch the bonus features about the beast itself, you’ll see that they actually did use a practical werewolf suit during principal photography (which looks a lot like the werewolves in the “Underworld” franchise), but 95% of the creature’s final screentime is computer generated. The CGI is a step above the average SyFy Channel junk, but several steps below what would be considered good enough for a theatrical film.

The star of the film: Although most of the cast is fine, the worst actor of the lot is given the starring role. Ed Quinn plays the central werewolf hunter of the movie, and sometimes he seems to be completely out of his element. Maybe it’s because he’s the only cast member without a British (or some other) accent. I’m not even exactly sure where the movie is supposed to take place. The film never says. It might be Colonial America, which would make his country accented rifleman most appropriate, but would make almost everyone else seem out of place.

The pace: Due to the budgetary restraints of its direct-to-DVD origins, big action set pieces are pretty much out of the question. So be prepared for a lot of talky sequences during the first hour of the film, peppered with brief bursts of action and horror, as the film saves its pennies for a small scale monster bash at the climax.

The end results are mixed at best. Werewolf fanatics looking for a fix this Halloween could do worse, but classic Universal Monster fans will probably feel this mostly digital beast fails to live up to the studio’s legacy of monster classics. I was mildly entertained by this tale of werewolf hunters hired to protect a village from the savage attacks of a mythical beast, but my expectations were low enough for me to overlook a lot of what is clearly lacking and just appreciate having a new Universal werewolf flick that revels in full moons, gypsy curses, monster bashes and period costumes. Enter at your own risk.

-The Phantom of the Ville

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