Bad Moon kicks off in Nepal where photo-journalist Ted (Michael Pare) and his girlfriend Marjorie (Johanna Marlowe) are attacked by a werewolf. Although he is injured during the assault Ted manages to get his hands on a shotgun which he uses to blow he beast’s head to smithereens but not before it mauls Marjorie to death. The story then picks up a few months later. Tom has been home for some time and has been living in a mobile home by a lake surrounded by a dense forest. In the wake of several mutilated and partially eaten bodies having been discovered in the area, victims of a wild animal attack it is supposed, he contacts his lawyer sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) and takes her up on her offer to stay at her place for a while. Janet and her son Brett (Mason Gamble) own a German Shepherd called Thor and it’s the presence of the latter as the hero of the movie that makes this somewhat unique in the annals of werewolf cinema. Once Ted arrives at his Sister's house it isn't long before thing get very hairy indeed.
The werewolf sub-genre is one that has held enormous appeal for me ever since at age twelve I saw An American Werewolf in London and The Howling within months of each other. My tiny Hammer Horror loving mind was blown. Add to this the fact that I’ve enjoyed every movie Eric Red has been involved in whether as director or scriptwriter and it’s therefore hard to fathom why I'm only now getting around to watching Bad Moon.
The Bad Moon script was adapted by Red from the novel Thor by Wayne Smith. I haven’t read the novel so can't comment on how faithfully it made the transition from book to script then to screen. Given that the movie only runs to eighty minutes I can only guess that a lot of the story didn't make the journey. The film’s brevity is both a good and bad thing. It doesn't outstay its welcome and rattles along at a lightning pace. At the same time, however, the movie is good enough that I would have welcomed it spending a little more time with the characters to develop who they are and their relationships to each other. The werewolf genre is somewhat unique in that the victim of the curse is very much an atypical villain. Those who die at the hands of a werewolf are often no less tragic figures than the human being in the grip of the curse who is apt to feel a crushing remorse in the face of the nocturnal carnage he has wrought. What character development exists is enough to make the viewer care about the characters and their ever worsening plight. But they could definitely have been more fully developed.
A crucial aspect of any werewolf movie and one that is often poorly realised is the design of the creature itself. Some movies get it right and some movies get it so wrong that it can derail the viewer’s enjoyment of the entire movie. Bad Moon gets some things very right and other things tragically wrong. The werewolf here is of the bipedal variety, the suit being topped off by a head c/w very effective animatronic features which make this particular beast one of the baddest, scariest looking motherfuckers ever to howl at the moon. In action it’s terrific and serves to highlight the benefits of having a monster that is physically present in the scene over the ongoing trend for rubbish CGI (An American Werewolf In Paris I am looking at you).
There’s a caveat though…and it’s a substantial one.
The transformation, which Eric Red holds back from showing until the final act of the movie, is a crushing disappointment. It would have been far more effective had they gone full practical as with An American Werewolf in London but I guess the budget wouldn't stretch to that or the special effects team didn’t have Rick Baker’s mad skills with prosthetics. The transformation is realised via a combination of make-up effects alongside some very, very cheap looking CGI. However, the effectiveness of the final, fully transformed wolf man more than makes up for this and I enjoyed the fact that the creature continued to talk throughout the first half of the change, the voice growing more and more bestial and terrifying as the transformation took hold. Very effective.
The performances from all of the cast range from good to excellent but the stars of Bad Moon are undoubtedly Michael Pare and Primo, the German Shepherd who plays Thor. Pare succeeds in bringing some real pathos to the role of Tom which is remarkable given the economy of the actual script and the mostly perfunctory character development. He manages to make the character of Tom both sympathetic and ultimately terrifying as the moon gets fuller and the curse sinks it’s claws deeper into his soul. Primo is a revelation, delivering a nuanced, subtle performance which places him amongst the most talented canine thesps I've ever seen. There's an intelligence and sadness in his eyes and he really works as the hero of the movie out to protect his owners even if it costs him his life.
Overall Bad Moon is an above average mid-Nineties horror flick and I would recommend it to anyone who is already a fan of the werewolf sub-genre. It's neither the equal of any of Eric Red's other movies (including the batshit crazy Body Parts) nor anywhere near as bad as the critical reception at the time of its release would suggest it to be (it got a kicking). It's an easy movie to enjoy with the performances by Pare and Primo plus the outstanding werewolf design buying it at least an extra mark. Definitely worth tracking down.