Wednesday, October 03, 2018


I have to give Wolfcop (2014, directed by Lowell Dean) some credit: it showed me something I've never before seen in a movie. During its first transformation scene, we start not with the hand that's turning into a paw, nor with the face that is sprouting hair or distending into a snout. No. That is for "lesser" werewolf movies. We start, instead, with our titular hero's penis, as he's pissing. It expands and becomes harrier as it transforms into a wolf cock. I admit that I laughed my ass off at this because there's still a ten year old lurking somewhere in the back of my brain. This scene tells you most of what you need to know about the artistic aspirations of this movie.

The story follows small town cop Lou Garrou (get it?), who is a disgrace. He's a drunk and he's not very good at his job. His fellow cop, the hyper-competent Tina, covers for his failings and the town mostly looks the other way at his frequent fuck-ups. His dad was a cop, after all, and died under gruesome circumstances. Meanwhile, there's an election going on and there's a drinking festival coming up on the day of a total solar eclipse. When out on duty one night, investigating the complaints of the town crank who runs the gun store, Lou comes across one of the mayoral candidates--the one who is all about a return to family values and temperance-- trussed up out in the woods as if for sacrifice. Someone beans Lou from behind, and he wakes up with a bloody pentagram incised into his chest. Tina and the police chief meanwhile, have found the body of the mayoral candidate, torn apart as if mauled by a wild animal. This all freaks Lou out, and suddenly he becomes verrry interested in his police work. And he's suddenly very good at it: he has enhanced senses and a sense of purpose, because he suspects that HE might be the murderer. But there are darker forces at work and Lou encounters them as the full moon, and the solar eclipse approach.

Hannibal Lector paraphrased Marcus Aurelius when he was instructing Clarice Starling:“The Emperor counsels simplicity: First principles. Of each particular thing, ask: What is it in itself, in its own constitution? What is its causal nature?" This is a principle that is sometimes neglected in aesthetics, particularly in writing about film on the internet and especially when writing about gimmicky horror movies. It's a fair cop when dealing with something like Wolfcop. What is this thing? What is its nature? To extend the quote: "...focus on what that nature demands, and accept that too—unless your nature as a rational being would be degraded by it." Wolfcop is not high art, indeed it's not even middlebrow art, so we must accept that, though whether or not we are degraded by this film's nature is something that can be argued. It has no interest in illuminating the human condition, after all. It is in its nature a titillation, an exploitation movie, a genre mash-up, and in its own low-cunning way, a satire. It should be judged on these terms. The question should then be: is it any good at these things that are its causal nature? It's mostly a mixed bag.

This is a film that in former times would have been loaded up with boobs and blood. It gets the "blood" part of the equation mostly right, but it is surprisingly chaste when it comes to boobs. I mean, it goes out of its way to sex up the proceedings when it offers up the buxom Sarah Lind as Jessica the Barmaid, but even when it has her done up in a Victorian corset (hubba hubba), she remains mostly covered. That's fine, I guess. This isn't a naturally sexy movie. It isn't really plugged into the idea of animal magnetism. As far as on-screen violence goes, it's on firmer ground: it spills blood in copious amounts, though even here it film things in a manner that prefers to show aftermaths rather than actual violent action. Because this is a werewolf movie, this has an obligation to show a transformation and to show a werewolf monster to the audience, and here, it doesn't shirk its duties. I've already mentioned its wolf cock scene. This film chooses as its modus operandi the skinchanger model of werewolf, where the werewolf sheds its human skin like a snake that's molting. The actual werewolf is a traditional guy in a suit model, a la Lon Chaney Jr. or Paul Naschy, though it's a superior example of this. If I'm honest, it's a better werewolf than the one in, say, Ginger Snaps or Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban even if those films are light years better than this one (and they are). It compares favorably to the werewolves in the remake of The Wolf Man. The claws bursting through Lou's shoes, for example, are a nice touch.

As a genre mash-up and as a satire, Wolfcop is less sure-footed. The shape-shifter subplot, in which the bad guys must renew themselves at the eclipse by drinking werewolf blood in order to remain at the top of the political pyramid seems a bit of a stretch, and doesn't compare favorably with, say, They Live or with this Oglaf cartoon from several years ago, both of which are funnier.

In choosing to have Lou remain a cop when in wolf form--which of course it must do given that it's titled "Wolfcop"--this turns into a wunza movie: wunza straightlaced by the book cop, the other is a beast, crime has a new enemy. A host of cliches cling to this trope, and Wolfcop is barnacled all over with them. The scene in which Lou, in full fang and claw mode, wrecks a drug lab invites comparison to something like RoboCop, which has an identical scene. This does this film no favors. Also doing the film no favors is the conception of Lou himself as a boozing loser, which puts him at on the wrong foot when the movie starts to ask the audience to care about what happens to him. Lou is an unpleasant character at the outset and I don't know that he ever becomes more palatable. His lycanthropy isn't terribly tragic, after all, and he's still a drunk when he's a werewolf. Maybe this was funnier on the page, or maybe it's a result of having a star who exudes an aura of anti-charisma. Lou Fafard ought to be playing villains, and yet here we are.

This is a sublimely stupid movie, as most movies that are intended to be instant cult items are, but it's not egregiously awful. The filmmakers at least know where to put the camera and they make the most of their resources. It doesn't look threadbare or even particularly destitute, so kudos to the production team. And if I am looking for more from a horror movie than what this film's nature can provide, well, I suppose it's not Wolfcop's fault.

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