Wednesday, July 8, 2009

In short: Scream of the Wolf (1974)

A strange series of murders disturbs the population of a small rural community somewhere in America. Going by the wounds the victims suffer, the killer has to be an animal. But what kind of animal attacks people in their homes or jumps through the windshields of their cars at them?

Sheriff Bell (Philip Carey) is at loss and so asks the writer and hunter John Wetherby (Peter Graves) for help. Wetherby is unsure what kind of animal is doing the deeds, too. The fact that the animals' tracks change their form as if the animal would run on all fours but grow in size and weight on walk on two legs afterwards only to then disappear completely does not make anything more clear.

Wetherby would very much like the help of his old big-game hunting friend Byron Douglas (Clint Walker), but Byron prefers to hold long and stupid Nietzschean hunting-Libertarian speeches.

Wetherby's girlfriend Sandy (Jo Ann Pflug) - obviously the brains in the relationship -  hates Byron like the plague and takes him for a madmen. The night after a rather disturbing discussion in a restaurant in which she makes her dislike quite clear to Byron, she is threatened by the mysterious animal. The woman starts to suspect Byron of being somehow responsible for the killings which fit so nicely into his ideological world view. Is he perhaps a werewolf?

Scream of the Wolf was directed and produced by Dan Curtis, the creator of the horror soap Dark Shadows and of The Night Stalker and one of the patron saints of horror TV and written by Richard Matheson who shouldn't need an introduction, but I can't say I am too enthusiastic about the film.

While the plotting is exasperatingly workmanlike, Matheson's script does at least strike some interesting thematic and subtextual sparks from time to time. I couldn't help myself than to interpret the Wetherby/Byron/Sandy triangle as both Byron and Sandy courting for the writer's sexual favor (which also fits nicely into the scope of things Matheson as a writer has always been interested in). The film is surprisingly obvious about this point, much more obvious than one would expect of a 70s TV movie. Unfortunately, even the most interesting subtext can't elevate a too mechanical text.

Curtis direction does not fare too well either, again bringing the terrible description "workmanlike" to mind, a word containing in it multitudes of boredom the word "inept" does not harbor.

But what really drives the film over the dividing line between good and deeply mediocre things is the dreadful performance of Clint Walker, a former Western star who is about as miscast as Byron as possible. The whole success or failure of the movie rests on the way Byron is portrayed. It is the only role in the film that needs a truly great actor to work, but instead of a physically powerful man with a semblance of charisma and intelligence we get a big lug barely able to speak.

And this single mistake brings the whole film down for me.



Anarchivist said...

There seems to be a Dan Curtis revival going on these days. Kinda weird, but a good thing.

houseinrlyeh said...

It's probably time that people who were not called Rod Serling get a little more attention.