People often say they like to have a dog for a pet for protection. I can’t really relate to that since none of my dogs have ever had great skills in the guard dog category. Sure, they’ll bark at a plastic bag blowing past the house American Beauty style, but if a stranger comes in the house it’s pet me…love me…you’re my new favorite person. At least the dog in our film today is more of the protector. That sort of thing comes in handy when your brother is a werewolf, or Michael Pare, or both! Get ready for 1996’s Bad Moon.
Pare plays Ted Harrison, who is on an expedition in Nepal as the film begins. One night, while having a little tent sex with his associate Marjorie, they are attacked by a werewolf. Ted ends up with some major bites and scrapes, but Marjorie ends up lunch. We then fast forward a few months as Ted returns to the Pacific Northwest, near the home of his sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) and her son Brett (Mason Gamble…he was Dennis the Menace). Ted is obviously struggling a bit. Of course, he doesn’t tell of Marjorie’s true fate. He just talks like they broke up. Anyhow, Janet ends up inviting him to park his trailer at her place…which seems like a gret idea to everyone except the family dog, Thor, who seems to sense something is not right with Ted.
Meanwhile, there have been some gruesome attacks on hikers in the area. Could it be a bear? Perhaps a vicious dog…Thor has been acting strangely lately, after all. As you may have guessed, the real answer is that Ted sneaks off into the woods every night and changes into a giant uncontrollable werewolf. Thor is the only one who can protect the family from this menace, but that’s going to be kinda hard when he ends up hauled off to the pound as the suspected perp.
Bad Moon is based on a novel called Thor by Wayne Smith which tells the story form the dog’s point of view. Obviously, that was going to be a bit of a challenge to translate to film. The end result is kind of a Lassie meets the Wolf Man type of story. The idea that the dog is the only one who seems to be wise to the fact that there’s a werewolf living in the back yard is actually a bit intriguing, but the film does lack something in execution. It’s not really a good sign when the dog is the best actor in the whole thing. I don’t just say that as a joke, either. Thor is played by a dog named Primo, and he’s a pretty a talented pooch.
I’m afraid the humans don’t fare quite as well. Michael Pare is an actor who can be quite effective when the role is right. For example, in Streets of Fire he’s the lead and fits that part very well. However, he’s surrounded by colorful characters courtesy of Rick Moranis, Amy Madigan, and Willem DaFoe, so his performance takes a back seat. In this film I think Pare is well suited to the crazy werewolf stuff. His transformation scene at the film’s climax is wacky and over-the-top, and yet works quite well. The more serious stuff where we’re supposed to see him struggling with his condition come off as pretty goofy, however. Likewise, Mariel Hemingway has really shined at times, take Manhattan or Star 80, for example. Here she walks around confused for most of the film.
On the plus side, I did really enjoy the film’s werewolf effects. This monster is big, scary looking, and doesn’t come across as furry rubber mask. We’re not talking the same level as something like An American Werewolf in London here, but there are many much more cheesy werewolves in the annals of film history than this. The creature actually comes across as quite intimidating during the final showdown where it chases down Hemingway’s character.
The film also has a certain exploitation charm to it. There are a handful of quick but quite bloody moments, and the opening sex scene which morphs into a werewolf attack is pure grindhouse. I guess it’s fair to say that the things that horror fans really care about are done pretty well in Bad Moon. Maybe if the dog had given the human cast members some acting lessons we might’ve had a more well rounded movie.