The Story: A blind Vietnam veteran learns that a werewolf is stalking his retirement community.
Expectations: Werewolf movies are tough. When they’re good (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, THE HOWLING, GINGER SNAPS), they’re really good. But, let’s be honest, that doesn’t happen often. Werewolf movies are generally pretty goofy. But some of the reputable horror websites claimed that this was the best werewolf movie since DOG SOLDIERS (2002). And the lead actor is Nick Damici, the writer/star of STAKE LAND, which is the best vampire movie I’ve seen in a long time. Also, LATE PHASES is directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano, whose previous film HERE COMES THE DEVIL was at the very least thought-provoking. So….
Reaction: It's a Charles Bronson werewolf movie! Or, at least, as close as we'll ever get to a Charles Bronson werewolf movie. (Well, there's always THE WHITE BUFFALO... but I digress....) Damici plays Ambrose McKinley, a tough, laconic soldier who just happens to be the exception to the rule in his new community. “People don’t come here to live,” he says, reflecting on the little village of retirees. “They’ve come here to die.” And most of his neighbors are dying in inexplicable “animal attacks.” Nobody seems much worried about the victims—after all, they were on borrowed time —but when the local werewolf kills Ambrose’s dog, he bites off more than he can chew.
I’m probably making the film sound like a comedy, but it has a surprising amount of dramatic gravitas thanks to the subtle performances of an impressive cast of character actors, including Tom Noonan (as the local priest), Lance Guest (as a devoted church layman), and Ethan Embry (as Ambrose’s son). For my money, a simple dialogue scene between Damici and Noonan is the best scene in the film, simply because of the way these two movie veterans deliver their lines. When was the last time you saw a horror movie where the exposition was especially compelling?
I’m happy to report that when the werewolf finally gets some screen time, the effects are practical rather than digital. I’m not so happy to report that the practical effects look pretty stupid. Oh well. This is a good character study, with some smart and snappy dialogue. It’s worth watching.
Most Nightmare-Worthy Moment: That Damici / Noonan dialogue scene hints at a hidden monster we never see. I can’t help wondering if the film would have benefited from a slightly darker characterization of Ambrose McKinley... or if that would have taken all the fun out of it....