Directed By: Eric Red
Starring: Mariel Hemingway, Michael Paré, Mason Gamble
Tag line: "Half man. Half wolf. Total terror"
Trivia: Originally, the film was issued an NC-17 rating, so a few seconds of graphic sex and violence were cut from the opening sequence
You can certainly make a case that Michael Paré plays the pivotal role in 1996’s Bad Moon, a werewolf film written and directed by Eric Red. But that’s not how I see it. For me, the movie’s best character wasn’t even human; it was a family pet. To be more precise, it was a German shepherd named Thor, and one of Bad Moon’s more interesting aspects is that a good portion of the film is told from Thor’s perspective.
One night, while camping in the forests of Nepal, photojournalist Ted Harrison (Paré) and his girlfriend Marjorie (Johanna Marlowe) were mauled by what appeared to be a giant wolf. In the chaos that followed, Marjorie was killed, and Ted, after being bitten on the shoulder, grabbed a shotgun and blew the creature’s head off. Only it wasn’t an ordinary wolf that attacked them; it was a werewolf. And because the monster bit him, Ted was now doomed to spend the rest of his days as a lycanthrope.
Several months later, Ted, who’s returned home to the United States, gets in touch with his sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway), a lawyer and single mom who lives in the suburbs with her son Brett (Mason Gamble) and their pet German shepherd, Thor. Hoping that his sister’s love will help him overcome his “condition”, Ted agrees to move his mobile home into Janet’s backyard. But his nightly blackouts continue, as do the unexplained deaths. Fortunately for Ted, neither Janet nor Brett has figured out his true nature. But Thor has, and the family dog keeps a watchful eye on Uncle Ted, ready to pounce the moment he becomes a threat to Janet or her son.
Thor (who was portrayed by a dog named Primo) takes center stage through much of Bad Moon, and there are even times when director Red gives us a “dog’s perspective” of the action, shooting from ground level (and through a fish-eyed lens), as if we’re seeing what Thor sees. In fact, some of the film’s best scenes involve the battle of wills that develops between Ted and Thor. To ensure that he doesn’t hurt anyone, Ted (pretending he’s going for a jog) darts into the woods each night and handcuffs himself to the tallest tree he can find, where he’ll remain until his transformation comes to an end. On one particular evening, however, he opens his front door to find Thor perched outside, staring at him. Afraid to leave, Ted stays indoors, yet realizes time is growing short, and if he doesn’t restrain himself soon, it could spell trouble for his sister and nephew. It’s an intense sequence, but is merely a precursor of the fight that’s to come. In addition, the werewolf itself, designed by Steve Johnson (who assisted Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London), looks great, and there’s a fun scene in which Ted tells Brett, who’s watching 1935’s Werewolf of London on TV, that, when it comes to lycanthropes, the movies got it all wrong (apparently, transformations can occur under any moon, and not just the full ones).
While the animals are definitely one of the film's strengths, Bad Moon's human characters are occasionally a weakness. Never once did I believe that Hemingway and Paré were brother and sister (their scenes together lacked energy), and about halfway through the movie, Ted, who, to that point, had been a sympathetic character, undergoes a personality change that I didn’t fully understand. Furthermore, while the look of the werewolf (done practically) was spot-on, the transformation scene where it changes from man into wolf (done digitally) wasn’t impressive at all.
Still, the showdown between Ted and Thor is one you won’t want to miss, and in the end, the positives in Bad Moon outweigh the negatives just enough to make it worth your while.