Tuesday, September 9, 2008

NEVER CRY WEREWOLF (2008) d. Brenton Spencer

Reviewed by Rick Trottier

One of the cinematic tragedies of the modern age has been the inundation of movie-lovers with miserable remakes of classic or cult films. Usually this strategy is nothing more than a cynical money-making ploy designed to cash in on the name recognition of the original motion picture, the studio execs knowing full-well that most of the viewing public is just too gullible to stay home and avoid a fiasco. What many film makers don’t realize is that there are options available to them. Updating an older but still successful story through a retelling or a treatment of the story can lead to an artistic success that can also be a financial triumph if marketed correctly. Instead of remaking John Carpenter’s THE FOG and foisting on the populace one of the worst horror dung heaps of all time, retelling the story in a subtly different way might have worked better and then adding a different title mixed with aggressive but thoughtful marketing might have brought success. Let’s hope that NEVER CRY WEREWOLF achieves that kind of accomplishment, for it is a movie that updates a tried and true story and uses its own tack to do it.

NEVER CRY WERWOLF is the story of Loren Hansett, an athletic and imaginative teenage girl who becomes suspicious of her new next door neighbor Jared Martin. Jared oozes magnetism and soon has everyone, even Loren’s little brother Kyle in his mesmeric power. Loren slowly discovers evidence and observes strange behaviors and occurrences that steadily convince her that Jared is a werewolf, but no one will believe her. Eventually, Loren’s friend Angie disappears under terrible circumstances and Loren can bear it no longer. She humiliatingly but unsuccessfully ties to expose Jared and it is then that he decides to take the fight to her. Loren is forced to ally herself with Redd Tucker, a TV show hunter, to fight off Jared’s assault, save her brother, herself and everyone else within the territorial hunting zone of this bloodthirsty lycanthrope.

NEVER CRY WEREWOLF is clearly an updating of FRIGHT NIGHT (1985) which is itself an updating of many films that have sourced the old tale of Peter and The Wolf. The story is as old as the hills, but it still resonates today, and that is why NEVER CRY WEREWOLF works and is not just a cheap knock off. In the place of passionate and suspicious Charlie Ragsdale, you have Loren Hansett, played superbly by the likable and lovely Nina Dobrev. Nina sells her character well, and she comes off as being concerned, resourceful and supremely sexy in a teenaged way. Instead of Roddy MacDowall playing the failed horror-host Peter Vincent, Kevin Sorbo is the equally false and inept Redd Tucker, right down to the cowardly and vain affect and the red cravat. The only problem with Mr. Sorbo’s character is that he isn’t in the film enough, but when he is, his character’s cowardly shenanigans are the perfect foil for tough yet inexperienced Loren. Normally Kevin Sorbo plays earnest, hunky characters, but his portrayal of Redd Tucker is such a great change of pace for him that I found myself leaving NEVER CRY WEREWOLF very impressed. Peter Stebbings character of Jared Martin does not have the effete charisma of Chris Sarandon’s Jerry Dandridge, but he doesn’t have to. He radiates a sense of animal menace and hisses his lines like a quasi-lupine probably would. There is even the irritating teen character, but instead of “Evil Ed”, this time it is lovesick punker Steven, played by Sean O’Neill, who adds a little romantic tension and ridiculous humor. While not a shot-for-shot remake, so many of the plot elements that worked in FRIGHT NIGHT are reworked or retold in NEVER CRY WEREWOLF and wrapped around a new set of revised characters so as to feel somewhat fresher and thoroughly up-to-date. The sets are simple and carefully utilized to keep the story centered in and around the neighborhood where all the action takes place. Like any good small project and made-for-TV movie, NEVER CRY WEREWOLF puts its eggs in the right basket and sticks to the right guns, even if they are small caliber.

NEVER CRY WEREWOLF is not without its small problems. While most of the film is shot to be occasionally colorful and is usually atmospheric, there are times when the werewolf scenes are shot too close and edited too rapidly, making those scenes are little harder to enjoy. This was probably done to hide the special effects and costuming/makeup weaknesses that may have been an issue. They certainly were in the case of Steven’s transformation to his own brand of werewolf. I couldn’t help thinking that Steven’s werewolf was a mix of the poorly costumed creatures from TROLL 2 and some of the appalling costumes from the sets of TV’s Lost in Space in its 3rd Season. He didn’t look scary or vicious, he looked mutated and ludicrous. In addition, the CG effects of Jared’s undead dog in the sporting goods store were equally as unimpressive. At least NEVER CRY WEREWOLF has Kevin Sorbo’s red cravat and Nina Dobrev’s unlimited beauty, so well displayed by her leather hunting garb in the last act of the film. Had the movie shown us a little more of her spectacular splendor, then all the bad effects in the world would have been ameliorated.

Like so many of the TV Movie releases being brought to the DVD market today, NEVER CRY WEREWOLF has almost no extras. There are a series of four auto-play trailers before the main menu comes up. In addition to “play movie” and “scene selection”, there is the film trailer as well, but that is it. With an actor of Kevin Sorbo’s well-traveled past and an up-and-coming starlet with the kind of visual appeal of Nina Dobrev, some kind of cast and crew interviews are a must. I am sure that a ten minute spot of Nina Dobrev modeling swimwear that “would catch the eye of a werewolf” would appeal to 12-21 year old movie-lovers and would probably have discs flying off the shelves. Think it over you lonely film producers and distributors! That was a lost opportunity that will probably get snapped up when Miss Dobrev is cast in a vampire or mummy movie in some future year. Can’t you see it? Nina Dobrev modeling sexy mummy wrappings as part of the bonus features on the DVD retelling of THE MUMMY’S CURSE. It would sell like hotcakes. Make sure you cut me in for some of the profits since it’s my idea.

It is my hope that when people see and enjoy NEVER CRY WEREWOLF, especially if they remember and liked FRIGHT NIGHT, that they stop going in droves to pathetic remakes of once-proud films. I remember my absolute disappointment shading towards depression after I walked out of the remake of PLANET OF THE APES (2001) and yet I didn’t learn my lesson and went back for more cinematic pulverizing until I realized that I didn’t want to see remakes, I’d rather see a treatment or retelling. NEVER CRY WEREWOLF is exactly the kind of visitation of a past idea that I like. I enjoyed seeing the writer and director shape and craft a new flick from an old tale and do it with a wink and a smile and a little panache thrown in for good measure. Good job folks. Now if you could retell ZONTAR and update that wonderful old tale, I’d really be on board. Get Nina Dobrev to star in that flick and I’d find a way to help finance the film, even on my meager teacher’s salary.


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