Bad Moon (1996) Retrospective

While making love in their tent during a work expedition in Nepal, photo-journalists Ted Harrison and his girlfriend Marjorie are attacked by a werewolf. The werewolf snatches Marjorie and Ted attempts to rescue her but gets bitten in his shoulder and thrown to the ground. Hurt but determined he crawls to his shotgun and manages to shoot the werewolf’s head off but not before the beast kills Marjorie.

With the intent of living in isolation Ted moves back home into a trailer in the woods hours away from his lawyer sister Janet Harrison. One day in an effort to reach out to her and his young nephew Brett, Ted calls them up and invites them for a meal at his home by the lake. Upon seeing him again the family dog, Thor, begins to sense something wrong with “Uncle Ted” and goes into the woods tracking a smell, which leads him to human remains hanging on a tree branch. Meanwhile, Ted tells Janet that his girlfriend Marjorie broke up with him and returned to her home in Seattle, hiding the truth from her, and in an attempt at comforting her brother, Janet invites him to stay with them. Shaken and fearful of hurting them, Ted declines and Janet, Brett and Thor leave before the sun starts to set, at Ted’s insistence.

The next day, there is an investigation going on in the woods near Ted’s trailer where the mangled bodies of several missing hikers and a Forest Ranger were found. Under fear of being found guilty, Ted calls Janet and tells her he’s changed his mind. He parks his trailer in her yard in the hopes that in being near his family, he’ll be able to control himself. However, Thor is aware of Ted’s nature and becomes suspicious and eventually hostile towards him. Noticing that he goes out to “jog” at night with handcuffs, Thor becomes frenzied until Janet lets him out of the house. Tracking his scent, Thor follows Ted into the woods and finds him turned into a werewolf and tied to a tree while growling, clawing and trying to escape. Meanwhile, Janet starts looking for Thor and goes into the woods. Aware of her danger, Thor manages to find and distract her back to the house before she finds Ted.

The next day while making breakfast, Janet sees on TV the news coverage on the killings and confronts her brother about not telling her his true reasons for visiting her and invites him to stay permanently. While Brett is watching Werewolf of London (mistakenly confused for The Wolf Man), he and Ted discuss werewolves and their existence, with Ted stating that it doesn’t take a full moon to start the transformation and that he has “been acquainted with a few in his time” and Brett states that werewolves don’t exist. While Brett throws out the trash, Ted tries to warn his sister and advises her to start listening to Thor and his sudden change in behavior and drops hints that the murders had been done by a wolf. She ignores his pleas and he retreats into his trailer where Thor follows him, waiting for him until the sun starts to set. Ted encounters a suspicious Thor but eventually leaves the trailer with the hopes of chaining himself again. With the sun setting Ted screams for Janet to take Thor away and when she does he rushes into the woods. Thor is afraid of Ted hurting his family and begins to bark until Brett lets him out of the house. He makes his way to the woods to find that Ted was too late and wasn’t able to handcuff himself and has made his way into the backyard. Werewolf Ted attacks Thor but the dog fights back which wakes up Janet. Werewolf Ted is scared away when she turns on the bright deck lights. Janet sees Thor’s injuries and, fearful of Ted’s advice, calls the Sheriff and goes into Ted’s trailer to notify him. She does not find Ted but instead finds his werewolf book, gruesome pictures of Marjorie’s body and some of Ted’s victims. She also finds a journal in which Ted details his pain and his turmoil with not finding a cure for his “disease” and his hopes of finding peace by his family’s side. Werewolf Ted seems to lurk outside the trailer but Janet leaves safely, shaken but adamant about straightening things out with her brother. Later that night, a “flopsy” who had previously tried to frame Thor for a false bite goes into Janet and Brett’s yard with the intent of killing Thor but is instead attacked and fatally wounded by Werewolf Ted.

The next day, the sheriff shows up and questions Janet about Thor and informs her of the “flopsy’s” attack by a wild animal; his mutilated body’s been found 100 yards away from her property. Remembering Thor’s injuries Janet asks if the culprit could have been a wolf but the sheriff says no and advises her to give up Thor to the dog pound. Not believing Thor could be the killer, she confronts Ted, who provokes Thor to attack him. As a result, Thor is taken to the dog pound. Seemingly more confident and accepting of his bloodlust, Ted “marks his territory” by urinating in Thor’s doghouse (as Thor had done to his trailer earlier) and shows hostility towards Brett, who feels Ted is the reason Thor was turned in. Brett pretends to go to sleep but packs his backpack and sneaks out of the house to free Thor while Janet confronts Ted in the woods. In the woods, Ted accuses his sister of not listening to his warnings and knowing the truth all along. As he begins to transform, Janet flees in panic back to the house with Werewolf Ted on her trail and manages to retrieve a revolver hidden in the kitchen. Meanwhile, Brett reaches the dog pound on his bicycle, breaks in and frees Thor, who takes off running and gets to the house just as Werewolf Ted is about to attack Janet in. A vicious fight ensues between them with Thor savagely biting and injuring Werewolf Ted several times and Werewolf Ted throwing Thor across the room and seemingly killing him. Brett, having followed Thor and worried about his mother, goes into his room and is strangled and held up by his throat by Werewolf Ted. Seeing an opportunity, Janet fires several rounds into Ted, who releases Brett and spins from the shots. Hurt but still alive, he growls at the now defenseless Janet. However, Thor gets up, gets between them and throws himself on Werewolf Ted, knocking them both out the window and into the yard. Werewolf Ted is severely injured but gets up and retreats into the woods. Though Thor is injured as well, he follows Werewolf Ted and tracks him down until sunrise, where a now human Ted emerges from behind a tree bruised, beaten and bloody. Standing his ground and ready to attack, Thor whimpers in reluctance, but Ted tells him to “do it” and with no more hesitation Thor lunges at him and finishes him off.

Sometime later, Janet’s house is being repaired and she and Brett are seen petting Thor, who is bandaged and recovering from the fight. Janet apologizes for blaming him and putting him in the dog pound. Suddenly, Thor (as a werewolf) savagely growls at her. Janet wakes up alarmed and quickly realizes it was just a nightmare as she, Brett and Thor are fine and at peace.

Long-time genre practitioner Eric Red has adapted Wayne Smith’s novel Thor as BAD MOON, which he also directed and which is scheduled to be released this Halloween. The project, which stars Michael Paré, Mariel Hemingway, and Mason Gamble, tells of how a faithful German shepherd protects a family from a werewolf in their midst.

Michael Paré stars as Ted, a naturalist photographer recently returned from Nepal where he had been bitten by a strange beast. Mariel Hemingway was always Red’s first choice to play the single mom “because she has a quality of being both vulnerable and strong as an actress,” Red explained, “very direct and emotional, and would make the character of Janet not your standard horror movie victim but someone you would care for and root for.”

The film does pay homage to WEREWOLF OF LONDON (which also features a man in Nepal being turned into a werewolf in its opening) by showing Brett watching the film on TV, much to the amusement of his uncle. However, Red detests horror films that do not take themselves seriously and wink at their audience, so humor only comes out of the situation and is kept to a minimum.

BAD MOON was shot in Vancouver, with most of the action taking place around a house set at the edge of the woods, which play a dramatic role in the picture. Ted goes out every night and handcuffs himself to a tree so that when he transforms, he’s restrained. (The film doesn’t abide by all the rules of lycanthropy). Because Vancouver is situated right near the mountains and several forests, Red found it an ideal location.

Like Red’s previous efforts, BAD MOON is a very contained film which concentrates on a simple but intense confrontation between a small number of characters executed in a grisly realistic fashion that aids in suspending an audience’s disbelief. Red does not seem to be interested in exploring any distracting subplots but rather seeks out methods and twists that allow him to heighten the suspense.

Red insisted on six months of prep in order to train the dog and design the werewolf itself, as well as training for weeks in advance of shooting to create the elaborate final lycanthrope canine confrontation. The werewolf effects are created by Steve Johnson and his company XFX.

“It’s obviously important to communicate to the trainer precisely what the dog’s supposed to do in specific scenes,” Red concurs. “We had to search through several states until we found Primo. But even the best trained dogs need multiple takes, and you have to be patient enough to stick in there and get it right. They occasionally turn their heads unpredictably or lift their lips in a certain way that creates a great character moment, and you have to be on your toes to catch it.”

Red’s canine wild card was apparently one of very few and otherwise minor reasons for handwringing during what the director describes as an enjoyably disciplined and efficient shoot. “It was,” Red claims, “a very smooth production that benefitted from about six months of preparation. I spent a great deal of time storyboarding the picture, which I always do, and our two weeks of rehearsals with the cast naturally helped ease us into the actual filming. It was all preblocked, so by the time we got to the set we had a really good idea about camera placement and how it was going to play. I found it really expeditious.”

In an unusual move, the point of view through much of the movie is the dog’s, with the audience sharing the dog’s perceptions. BAD MOON was filmed in anamorphic and scope using both standard and spherical lenses (the latter for the dog’s POV, which create a subtle distortion). Red’s d.p. Jan Kiesser used a Steadicam in a low mode for follow shots and much of the movie is shot at the dog’s eye level.

Eric Red

Interview with Director Eric Red
Can you remember what it was about the book THOR that spoke to you?
Eric Red: I loved the central concept of a family dog with a unique dilemma: how to communicate to his human owners a family member is actually another very dangerous dog, a werewolf, and protect his “pack” when he’s trained not to bite a person. It was a classic, almost Hitchcockian set up. And I responded to how the story was about the power of unconditional love communicated through the pure primal devotion of a dog for his family he will do anything to protect. I saw the potential for a horror film with heart that would have an emotional impact on the audience. The novel was a totally original werewolf story that I believed would make a different and unique werewolf movie.

Michael was an interesting choice. Why did you cast him as your Uncle Ted?
Eric Red: Mike was a little older and had some edge on him, able to convey the tormented aspects of Uncle Ted. He understood the pathos of the Lawrence Talbot/Lon Chaney Jr. thing Uncle Ted has going on. And Mike brought an animal magnetism. Those stare-down scenes where he is eyeball to eyeball with Thor have a primal force on screen.

The film feels at war with itself. It opens with sex, it’s a family film, a monster movie, a bloodbath…
Eric Red: I disagree with you about that and feel the family story and horror action integrate perfectly because the movie is about a family in jeopardy from a werewolf and, well, there’s going to be blood. Every family film doesn’t have to be Disney G-rated. POLTERGEIST is another family film loaded with horror and gory special effects.

Steve Johnson’s werewolf is fantastic. How involved were you personally in the realization of those FX?
Eric Red: I supervised every aspect because I wanted the ultimate werewolf: classic half man half wolf. That required working closely with Steve on the design and all the things the beast had to do, which Steve and his crew ultimately made it do. One of the things I firmly felt was needed to “sell” the werewolf was super detailed lifelike movement of eyes, lips, jaw, nostrils in the animatronic head that could to hold a long tight close up. And it was important to me the werewolf was clearly seen in bright lighting when it attacks the house at the end, nothing held back. Steve is a Special Makeup Effects genius and indisputably created one of the best werewolves in movie history.

Stuntman/performer Ken Kirzinger inside Steve Johnson’s fabulous wolfman suit and the animatronic creature head from our werewolf flick, BAD MOON

Another great “character” in the movie is the score. Daniel Licht was quite prolific at this time. How did you lock him?
Eric Red: This was a Warner Brothers/Morgan Creek film, so I had my pick of composers, but Dan saw the same kind of symphonic score I did writing the script, which avoided the obvious. You think “werewolf movie” and you automatically think scary music, but he agreed with me the heart of the movie was a highly emotional family story, and the music needed to be epic and richly thematic to convey the heroism of the dog. Dan wrote a beautiful, dramatic, and moving score that enhanced the film and delivered on all counts…including the scary music!

“We have, I dare say, the best werewolf in movie history,” bragged Red. “It’s the most realistic. It’s a completely credible symbiosis of a wolf and a man. I made a decision early on to show the monster. I think our creature really holds a close-up.”

The werewolf stands upright with the head of a wolf “on acid” according to Red. “Its articulation-its eyes, its nose, its fangs, it salivates—it’s pretty bloody frightening. The obligatory scene in a werewolf picture is the transformation scene. I was able to use CGI and two-dimensional and three-dimensional morphing to facilitate Michael Paré’s final change into the werewolf. There was a sequence which took a week to film and involved three separate makeup changes.”

In the early stages, Johnson and VI FX collaborated with Red in round table meetings in which they storyboarded the transformation scene and how to handle the problems of the hair, which is difficult to render via CGI (as JUMANJI sorely proved). As a result, the werewolf was given a matted look. “Steve’s company has a series of Macintosh computers, and we designed the makeup stages on the computer,” said Red. “One of the things we decided to go for early on was that it would be an asymmetrical transformation. He didn’t transform man-to-wolf, but parts of him would transform. One arm would transform to a werewolf arm, the other would remain normal. One part of his face would transform, the other part wouldn’t. We scanned in a photograph of Michael Paré and we scanned in our final werewolf stage, and we used morphing programs on the computer to find the right frame and the right design for each of the intermediary stages.”

According to Red, Paré was a total pro to work with. He had to undergo three separate full body makeups for the transformation scene, with air bladders, appliances, and fur added. It could take as long as eight hours to apply the makeup, leaving eight hours of shooting, a couple of hours to remove it, and a few hours of sleep before the process would have to repeat itself the following day. “Not only did he never once complain about any of it,” said Red, “he used the makeup in his performance, in particular when we see him in the first stage, the first time we put in the dentures and the contacts, he launched into his dialogue for the scene and completely fell into character. It was quite chilling.”

The makeup effects people also created animatronic and cable controlled werewolf heads, some of which are worn by the stunt coordinator who plays the werewolf when Paré doesn’t.

But realism is bound to exact some price in the pursuit of believable visuals, and Red can’t help but recall the discomfort suffered by the actor who was cursed to don the furry outfit. “There are some scenes with (stuntman) Ken Kurtzinger wearing a full-body werewolf suit, and there wasn’t much room in the thing for air,” Red recalls with a guilty little smile that casts doubt upon the solemnity of his tone. “It was made with six layers of latex to prevent the German shepherd from biting through, and Ken was also wearing this animatronic werewolf head as the costume’s crowning touch. After a while, of course, he understandably began to complain about the heat in this getup. but it was tough to look serious, supportive and sympathetic with these gripes popping out of a werewolf’s mouth. Here was this huge, formidable beast moaning and groaning about itchiness and sweat. I couldn’t help but tease him about it.”

Eric Red

James G. Robinson

Eric Red

Based on
Thor by Wayne Smith

Michael Paré — Ted Harrison
Mason Gamble — Brett Harrison
Mariel Hemingway — Janet Harrison
Ken Pogue — Sheriff Jenson
Hrothgar Mathews — Jerry Mills
Johanna Lebovitz — Marjorie
Gavin Buhr — Forest Ranger
Julia Montgomery Brown — Reporter
Primo — Thor

Cinefantastique v28n04-05

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