Wolves (2014)

David Hayter’s comic book styled werewolf thriller delivers an 80’s-tinged monster mash in the mold of Marvel Comic’s “Werewolf by Night”!

Hollywood screenwriter, David Hayter, who wrote “The X-Men” (2000), “X-Men 2” (2003) and “The Watchmen” (2009), has clawed his way into the director’s chair to deliver the gloriously silly, but undeniably fun “Wolves” (2014), a new werewolf action thriller that also feels like a comic book adaptation, specifically an unofficial adaptation of Marvel Comic’sWerewolf by Night,” which was published during the comic book monster boom from 1972 through 1979.

There’s also a strong 80’s horror aesthetic permeating “Wolves” that recalls “The Lost Boys” (1987) in both in the story structure that follows a young outsider encountering a dangerous, but intoxicating outlaw subculture and in the film’s reliance on mostly practical special effects and make-ups to showcase its titular man-beasts.

The wolf make-up is terrific; reverting back to the more anthropomorphic look of the traditional werewolf as seen in Lon Chaney Jr.’s Lawrence Talbot in “The Wolf Man” (1941) and discarding the more recent trend to depict lycanthropes as big, hairy dogs or men in suits with animatronic heads. This makes an incalculable difference in a film where the wolves are central characters in the narrative and not just scary shapes that emerge from the darkness for horrific effect. You never lose the actors to CGI effects or animatronic constructs.

Hayter is clearly proud of his werewolves and doesn’t try to obscure them through editing or any other cinematic smoke and mirrors. These marvelous monsters are clearly the star of his show.

The story follows high school quarterback, Cayden Richards, who begins to experience monstrous changes at the onset of manhood that completely turn his perfect, small town football hero’s life upside down. Cayden awakens after a “wolf-out” episode to find the bloody remains of his parents covering the family homestead walls and must flee to become a fugitive from the law.

After laying down some vigilante werewolf justice on a couple of biker thugs at a truck stop, Cayden becomes a motorcycle riding drifter until he lands at the aptly named Lupine Ridge where he gets a chance to find his place among the wolves.

Lucas Till, who appeared as Havok in the last couple of “X-Men” movies, frankly makes for a somewhat vanilla lead, embodying the role of white bread, suburban youth with a chip on his shoulder without ever really finding the humanity beneath the blonde locks and lettermen jacket. He’s not as terrible as the singularly wooden Taylor Lautner in the dreaded “Twilight” movies, but he only really makes an impact in full werewolf mode.

Jason Momoa, on the other hand, is a joy to watch as Connor, leader of a savage pack of wolves in Lupine Ridge who Cayden makes the mistake of crossing paths with when he unwittingly draws the attention of Connor’s would-be mate, Angelina (Merritt Patterson). Momoa is all menace and pent up rage incarnate, but he’s also swimming in dark charm and charisma with his catlike eyes, impressive physique, flowing locks and greying beard.

This is Momoa’s movie and he knows it, chewing the scenery and the secondary cast members with equal relish.

There’s more to the story if you’re interested. There are werewolf bloodlines, natural born and infected werewolves and a few twists to Cayden’s story along the way, but it’s the gravity defying stunts and brutal, tooth and claw were-fu fights that make “Wolves” a fun monster bash. It’s during the werewolf fights that you can really feel director David Hayter indulging his inner comic book geek and putting his own fantasy “Werewolf by Night” movie on film.

Also the credited screenwriter, Hayter should be applauded for peppering in a number of absolutely ridiculous bits of dialogue at just the right moments that keep things from getting overly melodramatic and veering into “Twilight” territory. This is silly stuff, but so was “The Lost Boys,” if you’ll look back without the rose-tinted nostalgia glasses.

Come for Momoa’s ferocious performance, stay for the beautiful practical werewolf make-ups and bouncy, energetic were-fu fights.

Wolves” is available On Demand for $6.99 and on Amazon Instant Video for $9.99. So far, no Blu-ray and DVD release dates have been announced.

The Phantom of The Ville

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