Tag Archives: Werewolves

When Animals Dream (2014)

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Sod the naysayers. I think this movie is wonderful. Lycanthropy as a metaphor for the hairier aspects of puberty is a motif that’s been used before, but never as a story like this been so meditative and visually astonishing as the the Danish chiller When Animals Dream. I knew as soon as I saw the gorgeous opening credits that I was in for something special, Animals’ coastal small town setting as stunning as it is deeply desolate and bleak.

Comparisons, of course, will be drawn to Tomas Alfredson’s haunting story of young vampire love Let the Right One In, both are outstanding films that effortlessly outdo American fright films and prove, once again, that horror can have truly scary implications without focusing on gore or wanton brutality. This is why off-the-radar horror is often (never say ‘always’) better than the slasher films and gorefests mainstream studios offer up to the bloodthirsty masses.

Marie (Sonia Suhl) is an awfully nice girl who happens to be turning into a werewolf – the victim of a family secret that has been kept from her for the majority of her youth. Marie lives with her dad (Lars Mikkaelson,) who seems well-meaning but is way over his head with the women of his family; and her mother (Sonja Richter,) who- ahem – doesn’t seem to be all there, lacking the ability to even rise from her wheelchair or express herself verbally.

And what’s with all those injections mom keeps taking? What exactly is making this woman sick in the first place? Could it have something to do with an attack by a group of Russian sailors years before? Whatever the case, Dad isn’t telling, and Marie grows up none the wiser until she begins developing strange bruises and coarse hair all over her body.

Marie starts working in a fish plant, where she is pushed into a vat of rotten fish by her jeering co-workers the first time under the pretense of ‘hazing.’ The bright spot in Marie’s life is Daniel, (Jakob Oftbro) a cute guy who doesn’t treat her like a total outcast. However, several other men at the plant (led by the leering Esben,) who abhor Marie for her femininity and perpetuate attacks and harassment of a sexual nature on the girl.

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Marie begins to separate herself from her parents and takes up Daniel as a boyfriend, goes to a rave-even has sex, discovering her sensuality and becoming more self-confident in the process. But as the townspeople discover Marie’s fleshly habits, things can’t end on anything other than a full-scale bloodbath. You just better hope you’re on the right side of this war, or you might just end up being this girl’s dinner. Marie didn’t start this. But she’ll sure as Hell finish it.

Some people might not like that Marie doesn’t devour anyone who is not a direct threat to her life, and that her wolf make-up doesn’t look as wolfish as, say  An American Werewolf in London. But these things didn’t bother me. There are some unanswered questions like, will Marie randomly kill people who don’t mean her any harm, or is she harmless just as long as you don’t push her buttons too much? Regardless, it was fun watching the narrow-minded townspeople get what’s indubitably coming to them, in the form of a ravenous, empowered Marie.

Sonia Suhl gives a very good, understated performance as the main heroine and I really liked that she was pretty without being particularly ‘glamorous’ or made up.  There are some really creepy moments in his film, for example the eerie sounds during the sex scene (akin to a rusty door rattling on it’s hinges (!))

Honestly, When Animals Dream is not terribly scary, but it’s creepy and loaded with unsettling atmosphere. It isn’t as thought-provoking as Let the Right One In (mostly due to Marie’s most unwerewolf-like benevolence unless her life is being directly threatened,) but it’s incredibly moody and- wouldn’t you know it?- sometimes incredibly heartbreaking. It’s easy to see who’s the real monster in a town of merciless louts and bullies. But in the end, they’re all pretty much fucked. There’s a new queen in town, and once you’ve wronged her, you better hope you can run fast enough to avoid being nibbled on.

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What We Do in the Shadows (2014)

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Living among the undead can be an uproarious experience, as this side-splitting found-footage comedy proves. Okay, there’s a small margin for error while filming a documentary of a group of vampire roommates (in other words, don’t piss them off you you just might be dinner) but what are vampires really, if not just a couple of the guys? They yearn for the same things everyone else does- closeness, companionship, a scrap of normalcy, and just because their continued existence has a body count doesn’t mean they aren’t sympathetic or possessors of nearly human hearts- right?

In the main trio of bloodsuckers, Vladislav (Jemaine Clement) is the Lothario, Deacon (Jonny Brugh) is a bit of a ‘bad boy,’ and  Viago (Taika Waititi) is the sweetly pedantic glue that holds the odd little family together. They cohabitate in a stereotypically old Gothic house where their maker, Petyr (Ben Fransham, who looks more than a little like the antagonist in F.W. Murneau’s silent classic “Nosferatu,”) resides in the basement, and they allow a small group of filmmakers into the house to observe their way of life. That’s when the hilarity starts, and it doesn’t let up until the end credits. Who knew vampires could be so persnickety, moody, and altogether human in their foibles?

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Vampire cohabitation, it turns out, has the same pitfalls as human cohabitation, plus tricky issues like bloody plates and saucers and troublesome ribcages tossed haphazardly upon the floor. It is not what makes the vampires different, but what makes them similar to the humans they prey on (in a bloody and hilarious fashion) that makes up the film’s humor. They are not above heckling each other and their werewolf rivals, bitching about housework and division of labor in terms of chores, and even the occasional gloomy day (the difference is, Vladislav deals with his depression by abducting and torturing unfortunate humans, a sure sign that he is in ‘a bad place’ mentally and emotionally.)

My favorite vampire is Viago. I don’t think the movie would have been half as good without him. He’s more than a little camp (I would have pegged him for homosexual,) but he came to this country for love (with a woman) who passed him by and has aged well into her twilight years. He’s the supportive backbone for his friends and he seems oddly empathetic and likable despite his bloodlust. All three of the leads do a great job though, and the laughs arrive in a machine gun fire of hilarious lines.

Light-hearted and simultaneously bloody and raucous, “What We Do in the Shadows” never causes us in shrink back in revulsion from our heroes (despite their ne’er do well nighttime activities) but makes us laugh with them and regard them with mirth and good humor as well as genuine admiration. They do what they have to do, and they make us laugh like Hell in the process. The jokes are deadpan and brilliant in their execution, making the viewer all but fall of the chair giggling at the filmmakers’ wit and creativity.

The plot isn’t epic or anything, it’s a vehicle for the jokes. It makes you feel light and happy leaving it, refusing to get too serious despite some dark implications lingering within the script. Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, gifted directors as well as actors, have created a wonderful movie that will be enjoyed through the ages (unlike most found footage films, which lay flaccidly on the market as soon as they are distributed and add nothing new, thereby being rendered obsolete and forgotten within a couple of years.) I sense a cult following for this one, guys, I really do. You don’t have to be a horror fan to recognize the comedic genius at work here, and I recommend this to anybody with a sense of humor (you know who you are) and an hour to kill.

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An American Werewolf in London (1981)

“An American Werewolf in London” is a overlooked classic of horror that provides laughs and scares and remains fresh upon repeat viewings. Sporting amazing make-up effects by Rick Baker, it also contains a werewolf transformation scene which has to this day not been topped.

Goofball American youths Jack and David (Griffin Dunne & David Naughton) are backpacking in England when they are attacked by a werewolf, leaving Jack dead and David barely injured, but infected with lycanthropy that takes hold of him every full moon.

After a stay in a hospital whilst having his wounds treated, David is taken to the flat of a pretty nurse (Jenny Agutter) who has taken a shine to him (if this is starting to sound a little like a “Playboy” pubescent fantasy, read on.)

In between getting hot ‘n heavy with his new girlfriend, David is visited by his dead friend Jack (!) who’s still a live wire even while returning from the grave in a state of decomposition. Jack, always the optimist, arrives to warn David of his impending doom.

Meanwhile, David suspects he is going crazy and hospital doc Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) looks into the circumstances that surround the attack. The dialogue in this is great, and fairly crackles with life and wit.

The use of the werewolf myth is well-conceived and the movie never takes itself too seriously, which is an asset in a movie that involves zombies in porn theaters and curvy nurses.

With all these strengths, isn’t it a shame that they didn’t pick a better actor to play the lead. Naughton, who was discovered by director John Landis doing a Coke commercial, doesn’t exactly impress playing David, the titular werewolf of the title.

It’s hard to buy his performance, which awkwardly melds grief, guilt, and frustration. Meanwhile, Griffin Dunne (Jack) and Jenny Agutter (Nurse Price) provide strong support. Nurse’s development is questionable, though, as is her decision to pair herself up with a confused and seemingly insane man.

However, “An American Werewolf…” is strong and funny comedy-horror. The soundtrack, which employs only moon-themed songs, is an asset, as is the script, originally written by John Landis when he was only nineteen years old. Does my screenwriting movie-loving nerdy little heart proud. Watch it.