We’re back in the warm welcoming arms of the SyFy Channel. They’ve provided some of the highest highs (“Dark Haul”) and lowest lows (to pick one of many at random, “Crystal Skulls”) but they have a way of doing things that feels comforting and familiar. Take one star on his way down, mix in a familiar plot, film somewhere in Eastern Europe to cut down on costs, and boom! Or is “boom!” too exciting a noise for these movies? Anyway.
Our fading star today is Jeremy London, one of the London twins (along with the Ashmores, I find them so identical it’s pretty much impossible to tell them apart), as scumbag property developer Russell Bayne. The last shop he needs before turning some low-rent part of town into another pointless, ugly commercial development – my words, not his –is the occult shop run by Alex (Christy Carlson Romano). After a hard day of trying to bribe her to give it up and then being horrible to his employees, he’s driving home down a country road – you know, like all people who live and work in the same city do – and, while he stops to sort of almost help out a stranded motorist, is attacked by a werewolf. Because he’s not quite killed (unlike the motorist he stopped to help) you know what happens next!
Thanks to whoever it was who decided that vampires and werewolves are now interlinked forever, this movie has to have a clan of vampires, and this one’s led by Von Griem – Mark Dacascos in perhaps his most gloriously bonkers performance ever. He’s trying to resurrect the mother of all vampires, Lilith, for the terribly important reasons people in movies like this have, but which seem a bit silly when they’re written down. Lilith is played by Yancy Butler, at what would appear to be the end of her several year-long rough patch, involving rehab and arrests and so on, and similarly to Dacascos, she realises how ridiculous this all is and hams it up to the maximum too.
It turns out Bayne is central to the resurrection of Lilith, as his grandfather had one of the five magic amulets required to give her her power back. I’ve been wracking my brain trying to spot a link, but I really can’t see one – Bayne’s attack by and transformation into a werewolf is entirely coincidental; a coincidence which multiplies into the realms of “least likely thing ever” when it turns out that Alex is also a werewolf, and that she’s friends with a couple of Slayers, the only-nine-alive-at-any-time supernaturally powerful vampire hunters. The slayers (one of whom is a Van Helsing!) are in town to stop Lilith being resurrected, so…is this all being played for laughs? While there’s humour in it, I’d suggest the actual plot is probably supposed to be taken seriously, so I’m baffled.
Bayne and Alex go from enemies (he attacks her as the only occult person he knows, after waking up in the morning with a dead pig in the middle of his living room, suspecting hex-style foul play) to friends with no real indication of why, other than he needs someone to flirt with and to train him in the ways of the werewolf. Oh, for the day when the chief woman in a movie is something other than “cool love interest”! At the same time, Von Griem is feuding with the other vampire clan heads over whether they need Lilith, and the Slayers are trying to slaughter their way through the undead horde. You know there’s going to be a big ending battle, and Bayne will discover his true power, and so on – and the movie delivers in spades. The problem is, Bayne’s arc isn’t very arc-y – becoming a werewolf doesn’t make him a nicer person, and we never really get why he changes from dick to reluctant hero.
A word about the director – if you’ve read a lot of our reviews, you’ll have come across the work of Griff Furst on several occasions. He acted in the first “Transmorphers” and is a regular in low-budget movies and decent budget TV (“Red Road” and “Banshee”, among others), but he’s also directed a fair few SyFy and SyFy-esque movies. Solidly above average ones, too – “Swamp Shark”, “Arachnoquake”, “Ghost Shark” and “Ragin Cajun Redneck Gators”, movies that stand a decent chance of entertaining you if you happen across them on TV one evening. However, it seems – despite it not being his first movie as director – that he was still learning his craft here, and part of that learning was “let’s throw every trick we have at the screen”. So we see split screens and brief handheld sections and weird angles and colours…it feels like that first-time director who doesn’t understand what works and what doesn’t yet – none of it adds to the movie, that’s for sure. He probably ought to have concentrated on the story a bit more – when you realise he’s added a major character with zero foreshadowing, with 20 minutes to go, you appreciate something’s a bit off. *
Anyway, “Wolvesbayne” is a movie I really enjoyed, despite itself. The story is something we’ve seen a million times before (most recently in the “Underworld” movies and “True Blood”), with feuding groups of supernatural creatures and us humans in the middle. The acting is all over the place -when you see Mark Dacascos bouncing off the walls, and Rhett Giles (as Van Helsing) quietly under-emoting in the same scene, it’s certainly an unusual experience, and one you’d only get in a SyFy Channel movie. But it’s fun! It never slows down too much and the style clashes are entertaining.
Is anyone else bored of movies and TV shows about vampire families? Like, we’re expected to care about their clans and power structures and conflict and all that. And why are they always skinny and wear fancy long coats? Vampires, werewolves and so on all work best when they’re representing some deep dark part of our psyche, or are a metaphor for disease, war, capitalism, or whatever. I couldn’t really give a damn if Clan X and Clan Y are feuding over whose coats are fanciest and teeth are the most pointy.
Rating: thumbs up
- The character introduction I complained about is due to this movie being a sequel, to “Dracula’s Curse”, featuring three returning characters. Although it’s information buried in the FAQ section of the IMDB, so I don’t blame myself for not knowing.