Eric Red’s Werewolf Movie Bad Moon, Starring Michael Pare (The Test Of Time)

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they remain must-see? So…the point of this column is to determine how a film holds up for a modern horror audience, to see if it stands the Test of Time.

DIRECTED BY ERIC RED

STARRING MICHAEL PARE, MARIEL HEMINGWAY, MASON GAMBLE, KEN POGUE

Here’s a quizzical curio for all you faithful Arrow in the Headers out there – other than An American Werewolf in London and perhaps The Howling, what’s your all-time favorite werewolf flick? Is it the O.G. Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr.? Neil Marshall’s muscular military movie Dog Soldiers? Maybe it’s the weird and wicked Wolfen starring Albert Finney?

Nah, f*ck all that jack…there’s only one acceptable answer to the trick question: Eric Red’s iniquitously unheralded Bad Moon! (WATCH IT HERE/ OWN IT HERE) Released a day after Halloween in 1996 by the relatively nascent Morgan Creek Entertainment without any marketing material or promo pushes, the film predictably came and went without much fanfare or box-office success at the time. However, in the 25 years since, the film has found its audience and garnered a cult-like following among hardcore horror heads and enthusiastic werewolf movie completists alike. Count us here among the bunch. Seriously, this movie f*cking rules! So, with a quarter-century anniversary upcoming and full moon rising on February 27, 2021, it’s high time we put Bad Moon up against The Test of Time!

THE STORY: Adapted from the novel Thor by Wayne Smith, Red opted to alter the framing device from the POV of the titular hound as seen in the novel and strip away a few characters to focus on the intimate family dynamic of single-mother Janet (Mariel Hemingway), her young son Brett (Mason Gamble), their pet German Shepherd Thor (Primo), and her estranged younger brother Ted (Michael Pare). Before their introductions, however, the flick opens with one of the all-time grisliest, scariest, most violently gore-sodden werewolf attacks ever photographed. The shit’s so gnarly that a few seconds had to be excised to avoid an NC-17 rating. While dwelling in the woods with some natives, Ted’s nighttime tryst is barbarously interrupted by a hulking, mouth-spuming lycanthrope that brutally shreds his lover before getting its hairy dome gorily exploded by a Mossberg 500 shottie. Shit’s a showstopper!

Shot among the lushly verdant forests of Canada, Janet is a litigator who has just relocated from Chicago to a more serene locale. She shows her wits and wiles in a strong opening scene in which she sees through the ruse of a conman she calls Flopsy (Hrothgar Mattews), a lousy wastrel attempting to provoke an attack from Thor so he can sue for monetary gain. Bookmark it, we’ll return later. Janet soon receives a call from her little bro Ted, who invites the family over to visit him in his silver-bullet Airstream RV by the lake. Thor instantly senses something amiss. Upon returning home, another savage werewolf attack in the area forces Ted to stay at Janet’s idyllic suburban home, where the entire family is ultimately accosted by the gigantic slavering beast. For those who’ve shamefully not seen the film, go see the rest for yourself. It’s worth it!

WHAT HOLDS-UP: As mentioned above, the first thing that sticks out and stands strong today is that hair-raising and jaw-dropping opening salvo. Shite’s just as ferociously frightening as anything featured in The Howling or American Werewolf in London. No joke. The reason being is Red’s deft direction of course, but also the extremely convincing practical makeup, FX, and animatronic werewolf. This f*cking bastard looks more authentic than movies made more than a decade later for 25 times the amount of money (we’re staring g at you, The Wolfman). According to Red on the DVD commentary solely available on the Director’s Cut release: "In my opinion practical effects are superior to digital effects because they are actual physical effects in front of the camera." Indeed, the choice to go practical and the animatronic execution of such by Steve Johnson’s XFX Company (handpicked by Red) remains one of the movies sturdiest foundational joists.

Two other superb examples of these viciously violent FX-laden attacks can be found in the film. One comes when Flopsy returns in a fit of vengeful rage, only to be gored and gouged to a gruesome pulp by the werewolf, which has now followed Ted to his sister’s house. So often we see horror flicks where the monsters are deliberately shrouded in the shadows, usually due to the subpar makeup/FX. By contrast, Red keeps his werewolf either in full frame to give it size and scope, or in heart-palpitating close-up…both instances well lit and in crisp view.

Thor is blamed for the attack and sent to the pound as a result, leaving the family unit as a trio of vulnerable sitting ducks. The other culminates during the epic finale in which Janet is forced to fend off the baleful beast with the help of Thor, the combative realism of which couldn’t be better if you conjured it up with the controlled environment of a computer simulation (which is probably how it’d now be done). Really, the werewolf attack scenes in Bad Moon are second to none, and due to the performances by the trio of dogs in the film, genuine terror and enthrallment cannot be denied.

Speaking of the canine performances, Thor was played primarily by a pooch named Primo (who took forever to find), who did most of the onscreen work including those emotive close-ups. The wise, soulful eyes and furrowed brow Primo exhibits lends an authenticity that makes you really care for his wellbeing, as does the unjust impounding sequence. For wider shots of the dog from behind, over the shoulder, or in a prone position, a second German Shepherd named Decca was used. And for the final fight sequence, a Russian Border German Shepherd was chosen along with a miniature Shepherd. While all acquit themselves well onscreen, it’s Primo that continues to make Thor such a lovable protagonist.

Of course, without Michael Pare’s piercing performance, Primo and the others’ wouldn’t much matter. According to Red, Michael Biehn and Robert Patrick both wanted the role, but Red opted for Pare "because of the power he has as an actor." Red goes on to beam that “along with Roy Scheider and Famke Janssen, Michael Paré is the best experience I've had with a star as a director." And you can see why. Pare not only gives a believable performance as Ted – muscular and masculine enough to bust ass while being caring and compassionate enough to protect his sister and nephew – but he keeps the big-twist reveal the final crucially depends close to the vest. No doubt, beyond the unimpeachable practical FX work, animatronics and menacing makeup, it’s the credible turns from Pare and the three pooches that continue to bolster Bad Moon to this day.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: For as superlative as the practical FX work in the film continues to be, the digital ones are just as superfluous…if not downright silly. Red knows as much, and has since trimmed the human-to-werewolf transfiguration sequence down a bit for the director’s cut. Glaringly out of place, it’s the one time the film boasts a cartoonish tableau that comes across as unbelievable. Part of this is budgetary and part of it is due to the rudimentary technology at the time. Either way, this scene is wisely excised in the version Red wants fans to see first and foremost. That said, I always loved the fiendish fangs, mortifying makeup and performance Pare gives while framed in close-up just before the transformation occurs.

Another part of the film that dips a bit these days is Hemingway’s performance as Janet. Other than that opening scene with Flopsy, which I believe is played strong enough, Red himself has lambasted her performance as being to limp and lifeless, particularly when called to emote fear, stress, anxiety, grief, etc. Having seen the film again recently, Janet does come off a bit flat. In fact, Red had to resort to some Kubrickian trickery to get Hemingway to perform the final fight sequence with the adequate emotion, pushing her to the limits of exhaustion until there was no artifice in her harried and tearful turn.

About her performance, Red has stated: “Ultimately I was ambivalent about her performance. Straight up, I found Mariel to be a limited actress. She’s beautiful and athletic, and moves well and looks good in the movie” but was intimidate by Pare "because he was there to give a great performance, and she was there for a paycheck." Fortunately, the other aspects of the film are strong enough that Hemingway’s performance doesn’t hurts or hinder the overall results. It’s Pare and Primo’s show anyway!

THE VERDICT: 25 years later, Bad Moon still shines bright as the most underrated cinematic tale of lethal lycanthropy out there. At 80 minutes, the flick flies by and remains genuinely terrifying throughout due to its excellent FX work, impressive animatronics, and disturbingly gruesome makeup shown during each brutal on-screen vitiation. The terror is ameliorated by the pure pathos elicited by Pare and the trio of German Shepherds, all of which is bundled tightly and terrifically by Eric Red’s terse direction.

Source: Arrow in the Head

About the Author

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Jake Dee is one of JoBlo’s most valued script writers, having written extensive, deep dives as a writer on WTF Happened to this Movie and it’s spin-off, WTF Really Happened to This Movie. In addition to video scripts, Jake has written news articles, movie reviews, book reviews, script reviews, set visits, Top 10 Lists (The Horror Ten Spot), Feature Articles The Test of Time and The Black Sheep, and more.