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March 28, 2010

Supremely Cheesy Cinema, Vol. 1: Werewolf of Washington

When I started this blog back in the day, I had a desire to focus on a lot of really ridiculous movies, and I've noticed lately I've lost that a bit. I know what you're saying: "The Mike, your last recommendation was a killer scarecrow film, what do you mean not ridiculous?" You have a good point. But I'm talkin' bout that supremely enjoyable type of cheese that you know isn't a "good" flick that you know you can't take your eyes off. I'm talking about movies like Werewolf of Washington, the first film I'll feature in my new Supremely Cheesy Cinema series.A pseudo-remake of Universal's original The Wolfman, Werewolf of Washington focuses on a presidential adviser named Jack played by Dean Stockwell, most famous to my generation as Scott Bakula's time-jumping adviser on Quantum Leap. Jack is young and successful, to the point of dating the President's daughter behind his back and, while trying to avoid said president, getting offered a spot he "couldn't refuse" as a press aide that apparently is the closest possible position to the President available. But before he can fulfill his duties in said position, he has to take a trip to Hungary and get attacked by a wolf who turns into a man after he kills it. Like Universal's tale, there are thankfully gypsies on hand to sort out all the lycanthropic details for Jack.

Back in Washington the next day (No rest for the wolf-ed, am I right?), Jack feels a little dogged while attending a shindig at the White House. After awkwardly avoiding the First Daughter's advances in front of the Pres (played by Biff McGuire, hence I will from here on out refer to him as 'President Biff'), Jack is left in the care of a rich madam who's had a few drinks. She smartly heads off on her own, only to be mutilated outside a grocery store.

By this point any moderately trained horror viewer knows what's going on with Jack, and he does too. He's seen the pentagrams on his victims' hands and bears a non-scary star on his chest. Of course, no one else will believe him, which leads to a) some extremely cheddar overacting and b) some ridiculous comedic moments, like the time he has to hide out in a bathroom stall to avoid President Biff and an astronaut or the time he goes bowling with President Biff and gets his wolfy fingers stuck in the bowling ball. (Slightly scary - Who hasn't had fears of getting their fingers stuck in a bowling ball?)Amidst the goofy interludes, Jack continues to turn into a he-wolf nightly and go out for a lone murder. Two questions arose in my mind at this point: 1) What happens to the werewolf after he's made his kill? Does his animal instinct tell him he's done and that it's time to go pee on fire hydrants before passing out? Does he drink pina coladas like Warren Zevon said?; and 2) How does Washington D.C. get 5-6 consecutive nights of full moon? That's totally not fair!

Werewolf of Washington has some surprisingly good moments, particularly in Stockwell's performance. When he's not being asked to do entirely ridiculous things he nails the paranoid tragic figure we've come to expect from werewolf flicks, and handles a lot of the physical aspects in an effective manner when other actors may have become too embarrassed by the goofiness to completely sell out in the name of the role. The werewolf makeup and transformation scenes are done with surprising competence, too, until the point when the director must have said: "OK, now you've got the makeup...just...uh...well....crawl around the shag carpeting and knock things over for a bit!"
And, just when things couldn't possibly get sillier, there's a secret lab led by the diminutive Dr. Kiss that exists under the White House. Dr. Kiss' encounter with Were-Jack must be seen to be believed, but let's just say that it made TV hostess Elvira scream: "Hey Jack, stop licking that midget!" And is that a Frankensteiny monster that Jack's been sniffing? No one really knows, because the film just decided to let this subplot die.

Werewolf of Washington is one of those rare b-horrors that features enough moments of strength that you want to actually call it a good movie...until it does something silly and completely loses any shred of credibility it had. And when it does carom off the rails, what follows is usually so random that you can't help but laugh at the results. All these forces come together like a magical conjunction to make Werewolf of Washington more than deserving of the Supremely Cheesy Cinema label.

P.S. - I caught this flick on DVD as an episode of Elivra's Movie Macabre, hosted by the unforgettable Elvira and her ample bosom. Good memories deserve a picture. Happy viewings!

2 comments:

Carl (ILHM) said...

Completely agreed Mike, I just finished this one last week as well and it was a total blast! I expected a much shoddier effort with minor laughs, but it was smart and funny through and through, and the call backs to The Wolf Man were all handled with enough respect and dignity. Good call here!

R.D. Penning said...

Good to see you return to your roots Mike. Nice Review!!! I think I'm going to enjoy the new Supremely Cheesy Cinema section.