Werewolves Rule, Okay?
I am a sucker for werewolf movies. Ever since I was a kid and saw Lon Chaney Jr. in his Wolf Man make-up I was hooked. I’m the type of person that when the girlfriend is watching True Blood, I constantly ask myself ‘why does this show center on vampires when the werewolves are so much more interesting?’ Werewolves tend to get the short end of the stick in pop culture, so when a good werewolf movie comes along it needs to be shouted from the rooftops by one and all.
Late Phases is not just a good werewolf movie, it’s a great one. The film centers around Ambrose (Nick Damici), a blind Vietnam War vet whose son Will (Ethan Embry), is checking him into an assisted living community. Nick is going to be living alone with his German Shepherd guide dog dog Shadow (Raina), but things go awry the first night when Shadow and Ambrose are attacked the by a huge beast. The beast kills Shadow, along with Ambrose’s neighbor Delores, and Ambrose is told that there have been a lot of wild animal attacks recently due to the proximity of the woods to the community. Ambrose is a smart guy and starts doing some digging (literally and figuratively) in the neighborhood and uncovers some information that leads him to believe that a werewolf, or werewolves, is targeting he and his neighbors.
Of the many things that this film gets right, the best to me is that there is never a question in Ambrose’s mind of what he’s dealing with. Once he makes the connection of the beast coming out once a month when the moon is full, he immediately knows and accepts that he is dealing with a werewolf. There are no pointless scenes of him trying to convince people, or himself, that werewolves are real. He doesn’t consult with an expert on folklore. He just goes about preparing to kill one or multiple werewolves, and he uses his military training to prepare himself. Now this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t do research: it’s just that his research deals with sizing up his neighbors and trying to find out who might be turning into a wolf once a month.
The film is also anchored by an awesome performance by Nick Damici as Ambrose. I am primarily familiar with Damici as the co-writer and co-star of Jim Mickle’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s Cold in July (read my review here), and he really turns in a tour-de-force performance in Late Phases. Even though Ambrose is blind, Damici never plays him off as someone that requires much help. Ambrose is a bad-ass in the Charles Bronson mold that prefers to carry a shovel as a walking stick and can still shoot a firearm with an amazing amount of accuracy. In another actor’s hands the audience might not find this believable, but Damici is so assured in the role that you never question Ambrose’s ability to handle himself. Did I mention Ambrose actually fist-fights a werewolf at one point? Yeah, he’s a badass.
The werewolves in this movie are pretty damn creepy looking as well. Some people might not like them, they are definitely more skin walker than Chaney Jr., but I thought they were the right amount of scary and weird. The fact that practical effects are used for the creatures and for the transformation is definitely a plus. A little bit of CGI in horror movies isn’t so bad, but too much can result in a movie that doesn’t live up to it’s potential. Late Phases proves that practical effects can still be very cool even in the digital age.
Late Phases is reminiscent in a lot of ways to Joe Dante’s The Howling, and that’s a hell of a compliment. Both films deal with werewolves as a very real threat and there isn’t much camp involved. The transformation in the movie also owes a lot to John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London, which is by no means a bad thing. When it comes to werewolf movies, if your movie is being compared to either of those movies you should be proud, much less both of them.
Late Phases is director Adrián García Bogliano’s first English language film. There are a few scenes where this is a little apparent (the cutting lingers maybe just a beat too long at times), but overall it is a fantastic effort on his part. The film was written by Eric Stolze, a relative newcomer with only a few writing credits, and he is certainly on the list of writers to watch. I look forward to checking out more from both Bogliano and Stolze.
The film is also filled with great supporting work for Ethan Embry, Erin Cummings, Tina Louise, Larry Fessenden, Tom Noonan, and many others. The film has plenty of quirky characters but it never ventures into goofy territory. The film always takes itself seriously even though it has a lot of fun on the way to the end. I would also like to point out that this movie takes place in a retirement community, much like Don Coscarelli’s adaptation of Joe R. Lansdale’s Bubba Ho-Tep (review here), so maybe more horror directors should use this as a setting. Just saying.
Late Phases is honestly one of the better horror movies I’ve seen in the last few years, and it is probably my favorite werewolf movie since the original Howling (not counting The Monster Squad of course, which is in a category of its own). If you love werewolves like I do, or if you just like a really fun horror movie, do yourself a favor and check Late Phases out. You can thank me later.
Until next time…