DVD Review: Night of the Wolf: Late Phases (2014)

Night of the Wolf: Late Phases DVD CoverDistributor: Metrodome Distribution

BBFC Classification: 18

Director: Adrián García Bogliano

Starring: Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, Lance Guest, Tom Noonan, Tina Louise, Rutanya Alda

Having been poorly served since the renaissance double-whammy of An American Werewolf in London and The Howling way back in 1981, the werewolf genre is in desperate need of a quality watershed movie that is less than 30 years old, and seeing that vampires and zombies have been given upgrades over the past decade the time is right to turn our attentions to our lycanthropic friends.

There have been a few werewolf movies sneaking out over the past few years that have been enjoyable – Ginger Snaps, Dog Soldiers and the French film Brotherhood of the Wolf were all entertaining in their own way – but none that felt defining or even just something that different from the norm. So what was it about the best werewolf movies that made them work? The stories don’t differ that much and there’s only so many ways you can show people being ripped apart, so it comes down to characters and the likeability/relatability of the leads. Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne in An American Werewolf in London and Dee Wallace in The Howling all gave likeable and memorable performances in their respective roles and gave us characters we could side with, and Night of the Wolf: Late Phases does exactly that again.

In this film it is Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici – We Are What We Are) who manages to grab our attention from the off and keep us engaged. Ambrose is a blind Vietnam vet who has just moved to a gated retirement community after the death of his wife. On his first night he and his neighbour are attacked by a wolf-like creature; the neighbour is killed, along with Ambrose’s guide dog, and during the aftermath Ambrose begins to piece together the timing of the attack along with other events that have occurred, with the non-religious Ambrose eventually joining the local church group in order to flush out the lunar attacker.

There are other factors that come into it, as this seemingly simple detective story – that has admittedly been done dozens of times before in various werewolf movies – is really more of a character study on an angry and bitter old soldier with one more war to fight, but it’s safe to say that Nick Damici is outstanding as the cantankerous Ambrose, who is thoroughly unpleasant to everybody he meets but is such an intriguing character that you can’t help but side with him. Damici’s clipped and to-the-point line delivery suits the character perfectly but it is his physical acting that makes the performance, carrying off the traits of a blind man almost too convincingly. Also amongst the cast are genre faces Tom Noonan (The House of the Devil), Rutanya Alda (Amityville II: The Possession) and Lance Guest (Jaws: The Revenge), who add a lot of weight to the film and give it the feel of an ensemble in the same way as The Howling.

Of course, when it comes down to it werewolf movies are really judged by their transformation scenes, and although Rick Baker’s legendary work in An American Werewolf in London is unlikely to ever be topped the transformation in this film is probably the best seen since those innovative days of early ’80s practical effects. You don’t get the excruciating close-ups of bones snapping and stretching in quite the same way as Baker’s effects but Robert Kurtzman manages to give you some nasty visuals of skin ripping and tearing as the wolf-like creatures emerge from within. No cheap jump-in-the-air-CGI-instant-change a la Twilight here, thank you very much.

The finished creatures are a little bit on the comic side in appearance but you only get to see them in very short snippets, and the shots of them running from behind – which get used a lot – look pretty good and add a little bit of an extra human element to them. A good comparison piece to this film is 1985’s Silver Bullet, in both plot elements and look of the creatures, although where Silver Bullet plays to a younger teen audience and has a lighter, comic tone, Night of the Wolf: Late Phases could be seen as that film’s older cousin; there are moments of slight humour but overall this is the werewolf movie grown up a bit and focusing on characters and story. There is gore and some quite graphic brutality in the final act that feels well deserved after the emotional journey we’ve been on for the first hour of the film, and if one were to go out on a limb Night of the Wolf: Late Phases is probably the most engaging and satisfying werewolf movie of the past three decades. High praise, but well deserved.

Night of the Wolf: Late Phases

Special Features: Audio commentary with director Adrián García Bogliano, ‘Making of’ featurette, Early Phases – Werewolf Diaries FX featurette.

UK Release Date: 20th April 2015

Late Phases – Facebook page

***This review was originally published at FrightFest***

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