This October, I'll be looking at some of the made-for-TV movies in the horror genre.
One of the many horror films that showed up on the ABC Movie of the Week, Moon of the Wolf debuted on September 26, 1972 and starred David Janssen (best known for his role in The Fugitive) as a Louisiana sheriff investigating a bizarre series of murders which seem to point to a supernatural menace. The movie carefully reels the viewer in as they puzzle over a murder mystery and the small-town intrigue (and paranoia) that comes after a grisly killing.
Geoffrey Lewis drops in, but no appearances from Clint Eastwood.
The beauty of the made-for-TV movie was you never knew who was going to show up and Moon of the Wolf exemplifies this, with Geoffrey Lewis (well-known for his many appearances in Clint Eastwood films such as Bronco Billy, Every Which Way but Loose, High Plains Drifter, and Thunderbolt and Lightfoot), Barbara Rush (Robin & the Seven Hoods, Peyton Place), Bradford Dillman (Escape from the Planet of the Apes, The Enforcer, and numerous TV appearances) and John Beradino (best known for playing Dr. Steve Hardy on General Hospital) starring in this horror/suspense film.
Pistol-packin' mama, won't you lay that pistol down.
Moon of the Wolf begins with Sheriff Aaron Whitaker (Janssen) investigating a gruesome murder. A local woman has been mangled by what appears to be dogs when the woman’s brother Lawrence Burrifors (Lewis) shows up, looking for revenge. Burrifor’s dying father warns the sheriff to beware of the “Loug Garog,” but the sheriff has no idea what the babbling old man means. Meanwhile, the town doctor, Dr. Drutan (Beradino) discovers the woman may have been mangled by dogs, but she was knocked out by a blow to the head beforehand.
Steve Beradino (Dr. Steve Hardy on General Hospital) gets to expand his range by playing a doctor...again.
What draws the viewer into the story (besides David Janssen’s Southern accent, a true work of art by the late, great actor) is the small-town intrigue. Over time, the viewer discovers the murder victim was pregnant, but who was the father and did the pregnancy have anything to do with her death? Things get worse when Lawrence Burrifors and a sheriff’s deputy are murdered in the jailhouse by a mysterious assailant. The attacker rips the jail’s bars off its concrete mooring, with no evidence of tools having been used. Is the town dealing with something from beyond the pale, or an elaborate ruse?
Eventually, Sheriff Whitaker discovers there is something superhuman behind the attacks, but only late in the film does the viewer discover there is a werewolf on the loose. This is no ordinary werewolf (and I won’t spoil the plot here), but something outside of the traditional Universal Wolfman monster. Sheriff Whitaker and his love interest Louise Rodanthe (Rush) do battle with the werewolf, but you’ll have to see the film to discover who wins (remember this is the 70’s where films, particularly horror films, ended with an unpleasant twist for the protagonists). Moon of the Wolf keeps you guessing how things will turn out until the credits roll.
As a fan of Janssen's series The Fugitive, it was cool to see David Janssen in a role besides Dr. Richard Kimble. Sadly, Janssen died when he was just 49 so his body of work is limited. His Southern accent surprised me initially, but he pulled it off well. He plays a convincing sheriff who is overwhelmed by something he has never dealt with before, and he plays the role as a convincing everyman rather than an unrealistic action hero. Janssen’s portrayal fits the film’s mood, as do the other characters. Perhaps the funniest thing is watching John Beradino, best-known as Dr. Hardy on General Hospital, playing a doctor here. I couldn’t help but think maybe this is where Dr. Hardy first opened shop before moving to Port Charles.
Moon of the Wolf is 45 years old so keep in mind the story may not seem fresh to viewers used to horror films and series on various networks and cable channels. The film was also subject to the stricter censorship of the 70’s so you’re not going to see people getting mauled like they do in The Walking Dead. Nonetheless, the effects are decent and the director uses shadows to hide any defects in the make-up department.
The film is available for free for members of Amazon Prime. Although the picture quality is just awful during outdoor night shots, the film is worth checking out, particularly for David Janssen fans, and people looking for a nice spin on the werewolf mythos.
Marill, Alvin. Movies Made for Television: The Telefeature and the Mini-Series: 1964-1986. New York Zoetrope, 1987
McKenna, Michael. The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen. Scarecrow Press, 2013.
Reyes, Amanda. Are You In The House Alone?: A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999.