Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Guest Review: THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (1973)

Today's guest reviewer is Tim Ferrante, a 30-year-plus veteran of the world of fandom. In addition to writing for such publications as Fangoria, Starlog, Gorezone, Comics Scene, and The Splatter Times, he created the Westerns...All'Italiana! fanzine in 1983, co-founded The Phantom of the Movies' VideoScope magazine in 1993, and for 10 years owned and edited GameRoom, a magazine aimed at fans and collectors of coin-operated pinball and video games. He was the vice president of the publishing company Imagine, Inc. and also wrote, produced & directed the trailer compilation video DRIVE-IN MADNESS! (1987). Here he is with a new review of...

THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (1973)

Nathan Juran’s furry monster movie was released in 1973 by Universal Pictures as the bottom half of a double-bill with Bernard L. Kowalski’s scaly monster movie, “SSSSSSS”. The company treated both as little more than booking fodder, but for those in the know Juran’s film was the one with a special attribute. It was the third (and final) genre pairing of the director with Kerwin Mathews as his leading man. The duos’ earlier works, THE 7th VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) and JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962), are stop-motion animation extravaganzas and rank amongst the most cherished by fans. While not nearly as demanding, THE BOY WHO CRIED WEREWOLF (hereafter TBWCW) provides sufficient dramatic interest for adults even though the filmmaker’s broader approach is slanted toward a younger demographic. It is, after all, a fairy tale. And like any good fairy tale it meddles with childhood worries and fears which, in this case, bundles parental separation and authority distrust with one’s father becoming a werewolf! It’s about as nightmarish a situation as any youngster could imagine.

The movie wastes no time delivering a tone-setting opening sequence by introducing a werewolf (stunt coordinator Paul Baxley) within seconds of the Universal Pictures logo. The camera pans, zooms and finds something stirring amongst the brush and we catch a glimpse. The main title pops on the screen and a moment later we see a werewolf under a bright full moon, howling in the night! Tom Burman’s unique design of streaked long-hair and canine snout give the creature a fluffy and damn near friendly look. Not especially scary, but certainly something with which to reckon. Ted Stovall’s music is such a critical ingredient here, punctuating everything from the film’s logo to camera zooms to the magnificent reveal of the werewolf. It’s a grand and exhilarating sequence that gives way to more titles, exceptionally scored music, a prowling werewolf and our lead characters’ arrival. TBWCW is Stovall’s only film credit. He is a gifted composer and provided Juran’s film with an extraordinary score and sound. He’s well known within the music industry for his arranging, songwriting, conducting and instrument playing talents. It’s a pity his film music résumé begins and ends with one title.

It’s at his dad’s mountainside home where young Richie Bridgeston, portrayed by Scott Sealey in one of his two documented acting roles, is attacked by a werewolf. Robert (Kerwin Mathews) comes to his son’s rescue and is bitten during the fray, the elder now destined for a hairy future. Investigating the attack is the region’s straightforward sheriff who – in a bit of inspired casting – is played by character actor Robert J. Wilke, a familiar face that was tantamount with western bad guy roles. Richie pleads with the sheriff; he knows what he saw. It was a werewolf! Dad, though, says it was too dark and confusing to be sure about anything, especially when the creature was dispatched by a fall onto a fence post and quickly regressed to human form.

It’s here where we get a sense of Mathews’ reserved acting style. Never considered a thespian heavyweight, there are certain roles for which the actor is perfectly suited. This is a fanciful story with selected characters providing mild comic relief, but Mathews’ character is traditional and compassionate. The horror of a fanged monster within is intensified when embodied in such a mild and caring man. In werewolf makeup Mathews is downright regal! In scenes stalking Richie he’s lightly campy and rather ornery, conveying it all through eye movement and body language. Conversely, the mad snarling beast emerges when called for and he does so brilliantly. Juran’s direction of these scenes, while not technically winning, is pretty smart. There is a fright boundary, so to speak, within which Mathews works and both he and Juran sensed where and when a line should be crossed. The beast has a subtle and strangely fun personality at times while at others it’s a merciless killer. This is not an accidental performance. One could easily slam the film to pieces if judged on its surface. There is, however, nuance at work here. It’s so smartly weaved and balanced in all departments that it goes unnoticed on first viewing.

With the attacker dead and none of Richie’s protectors believing him, which now includes his mom Sandy (Elaine Devry), the assaults somehow continue and he soon realizes that it’s his father who’s the new mischief maker! Meanwhile, a motley Jesus freak collective encamp in a roadside clearing. Dad’s poorly-timed terrorizing of it and its pragmatic head, Brother Christopher (Bob Homel), is interrupted by a morning sunrise and transformation back to human form which everyone witnesses. Homel wrote the story and screenplay basing his werewolf on the established legend. He crafted a script that never strays into the offensive or horrible. The bloodletting ranges from extremely tame to none and it all manages to stay within a child’s mindset for what is scary, fun and entertaining. A perfect example is off-camera beheadings. For some bizarre reason Bridgeston’s alter-ego prizes the heads of his victims and buries one inside his garage! Richie sees the werewolf bury something and the whole scene provides a bit of queasy wonder. Think about it…a werewolf with a shovel in a garage burying a head while his son watches! You never see a severed head and it’s the ensuing dialog that suggests it all. The sequence also includes Richie’s witnessing of his dad changing back into human form just as the sheriff arrives and reports the missing heads.

Richie and his mom narrowly escape dad’s wolfish ways while Brother Christopher and his hippie flock try convincing the sheriff there’s something out there. It soon becomes clear that the cursed Robert Bridgeston is loose and seeking more victims. Everyone goes in search of the beast, only now they do so believing the boy who cried werewolf!

This would be Nathan Juran’s last directorial assignment, a man who 32 years earlier won an Academy Award for art direction in HOW GREEN WAS MY VALLEY (1941). He is an iconic figure to genre fans, directing top faves such as 20 MILLION MILES TO EARTH, THE DEADLY MANTIS and ATTACK OF THE 50 FT. WOMAN. Lest we forget his television credits such as LOST IN SPACE, THE TIME TUNNEL and LAND OF THE GIANTS. Apparently, his knack for handling weird material was appreciated by everyone but himself, telling Starlog magazine in 1989, “I wasn’t a born director. I was just a technician who could transfer the script from the page to the stage and could get it shot on schedule and on budget.” While a valuable trait, he intuitively understood fantastical material and how to present it to its target audience.

Juran’s TV directing credits include several episodes of DANIEL BOONE, an NBC television series that ran from 1964-1970. He also wrote an episode for its fifth season. Its executive producer was Aaron Rosenberg who was also the producer of TBWCW. The show’s connection extends even further as co-stars Bob Homel, Harold Goodwin (Mr. Duncan) and Robert J. Wilkie all had guest-starring roles in the series. The film’s co-producer, Russell F. Schoengarth, also worked as an editor. For some, TBWCW was a reunion opportunity.

Kerwin Mathews retired from the business after TBWCW, but was lured back for a one day shoot for a cameo appearance in the opening sequence of John Stanley’s NIGHTMARE IN BLOOD (completed: 1975; released: 1978). His brief movie-within-a-movie role was shot near the Golden Gate Bridge and according to Stanley, Mathews accepted no money for his performance. The actor had settled in San Francisco by then and remained there with his lifelong partner, Tom Nicoll, until his death in 2007 at age 81. His friend Nathan Juran died in 2002.

Beyond its obvious purpose as movie entertainment, TBWCW is a pleasantly preserved recording of career milestones and endings. Its attraction goes deeper than its inventive title, proffering casual viewers, monster fans and film historians alike with more than enough things to enjoy and treasure. Imperfections aside, TBWCW is brought to life with a dose of charm, grandeur and understated style.


Tim currently writes soundtrack CD reviews for The Phantom of the Movies' VideoScope magazine, and can be reached on the web at www.timferrante.com. We highly recommend his excellent limited edition CD sountracks for MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND (Composed & conducted by Tito Arevalo) and DRACULA VS. FRANKENSTEIN (Composed & conducted by William Lava), which can be purchased directly from Tim's company, Elysee Productions.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

i recall seeing this on a Sunday double bill at the bottom of the world (Dunedin, New Zealand)at the Regent, an old picture palace in the 70s. Zero scares (PG), but some atmosphere. Love the werewolf's look. thanks for posting this!

Nick Cato said...

That wolf's face used to scare the bejeezus out of me when I was a kid. Great flick.

The PAC Squad said...

not scary, but I remember finding it rather tragic. . .

Anonymous said...

A GREAT PROBABLY THE BEST 70'S
WEREWOLF MOVIE MADE! I'D SAY
THE TV MOVIE SCREAM OF THE WOLF
IS THE BEST BUT IT'S NOT REALLY
A WEREWOLF MOVIE BUT A CLASSIC.
THIS ISN'T TYPICAL CHEESY OR GORY
70'S CRAP. WRITTEN AND DIRECTED
REALLY WELL MORE LIKE A TV MOVIE.
THE ACTOR AS THE DAD IS THE ONLY
BAD THING ABOUT THIS MOVIE. THE
MAKE UP IS AWESOME AS GOOD AS
THE WOLFMAN CLASSIC. I CAN'T
BELIEVE THERE IS NO GOOD COPIES
ON DVD OR VHS! ONLY A COPY WITH
SPANISH SUBTITLES AVAILABLE! BUT
IT'S A MUST HAVE FOR CLASSIC HORROR AND TV MOVIE FANS!