After I saw Late Phases last night I had to go see what the last werewolf movie was I added to my collection. I used to have separate shelves for my vampire and werewolf flicks, but ever since I started reviewing 3 years ago space has been dwindling, so now I’ve combined them and it looks like Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (2012) was the last ‘thrope flick I deemed good enough to keep. Now the last significant werewolf movie to come along, from a major studio to start off, was The Wolfman (2010) remake. The director’s cut is the best way to experience that one and even though they recruited Rick Baker to create the wolfman I’m not surprised they wouldn’t allow him to transform the dude practically. Having said that I still thought the CGI transformation was good. But it goes to show you big studios will not allow any significant practical FX in their movies anymore. If you need more proof there’s the sad debacle of The Thing (2011) remake having all its in-camera FX replaced digitally, but that’s talk for another time.
Getting back on track the last significant werewolf flick to come to us by way of an independent studio was, I believe, Dog Soldiers (2002), and before that, if memory serves, was Ginger Snaps (2000). Point I’m trying to make is quality werewolf movies don’t come around often, but when they do they tend to get your attention. You will all now be glad to hear then our next significant contribution to lycanthrope-in-celluloid has come once again and its name is, wait for it, wait for it— Late Phases!!
Crescent Bay Retirement Community is a secluded old age home that sits almost too comfortably up against the surrounding forest. From dialogue in the final act you’ll get the impression Crescent Bay has had…oh, how should I put it, a werewolf problem for some time. This specific character states when he first moved in and learned of the existence of the creature no one believed him, but that mattered little for he eventually hunted the beast down and killed it, not before it passed it’s curse onto him though, so now the monthly killings of the retiree’s and their canine pets continues, and because of that spaces for newcomers are always opening up.
Cue the introduction of a favorite actor of mine, Nick Damici (Stakeland) as blind retired army vet Ambrose McKinley. When we first see him he and his seeing eye dog, Shadow, are being driven into Crescent Bay for the first time by his son, Will (Ethan Embry), who’s helping him move into his new digs. Digs that have a claw mark dug into the wall Ambrose feels, inspects and pulls a dislodged animal nail from. Curious, he hangs on to it. At this point neither Will nor Ambrose know anything of Bay’s bloody history, but once Will leaves his father to his own devices, Ambrose will soon get a bloody hell of a crash course in what plagues this community.
Right off the bat you can see the frosty relationship father and son have with each other. It helps if you can sympathize with the main characters in a movie, and I regrettably did so with this father/son dynamic. Despite getting the hint that Ambrose was probably a dick to his son and wife, Damici still manages to make him a likable character. Most of what has shut down Ambrose emotionally anyway is later revealed when he shares a terrible moment from his Vietnam days with Father Roger (Tom Noonan of Wolfen/Manhunter/The Monster Squad fame) when he was forced to shoot and kill a six-year-old kid the Vietcong strapped a grenade to.
Before he and Shadow have their first run-in with this werewolf, Ambrose meets three women who live in the community, Clarissa (Tina Louise), Gloria (Rutanya Alda) and Emma (Caitlin O’Heaney); they show up with house warming gifts, but he doesn’t endure himself to them. In fact he’s annoyed by their presence. These three prove to be a serious thorn in his side in the movies final act, but as usual I’m getting ahead of myself here.
It’s the woman living in the house right next to him that’s the initial target in the very beginning of this movie. He hears her killed through the walls and hears these ungodly animal wheezing sounds, it’s when he pounds on the wall is when he attracts the werewolf’s attention and then gets a subsequent visit by it. Shadow is on the front line of that attack and is critically maimed. Ambrose has no other recourse but to put him down himself with a bullet to the back of the head.
It’s the conversation with veterinarian, Dr. Nickel (Frances Sherman), the next day that begins to enlighten Ambrose about things he probably wished he didn’t have to learn, like for starters how unhealthy it is for pets (namely dogs) at Crescent Bay. And then later from two cops investigating the massacre of his neighbor his unwanted knowledge is expanded even further when he discovers it’s also an unhealthy place for human beings. It seems once a month someone gets mauled to death by this mysterious animal. But the final nail in his enlightenment comes when he hears there was a full moon last night. From the look on his face you can easily tell the picture all these puzzle pieces are forming looks an awful lot like a fuckin’ werewolf.
Now and until the final act of the film Ambrose spends the rest of his time preparing for next month’s full moon, and what this entails is him getting to know the layout of his house, training to wield his shovel in a lethal manner, not to mention sharpening it’s blade, getting into some kind of fighting shape and trying to lose himself in a better place by taking daily trips down to this church to listen to the sermons of Father Roger. It’s these trips down in the shuttle where he first meets Roger and Griffen (Lance Guest from Halloween II and The Last Starfighter). Not quite sure what Griffen’s job is but it seems to entail helping the elderly on and off the bus and later on when those three women complain they don’t feel safe on the bus with Ambrose driving Ambrose to Roger’s sermon’s himself.
It’s the first bus ride down when he thinks he’s found his werewolf. Roger’s cough sounds an awful lot like what he heard coming from that creature. A visit to local gun dealer, Westmark (Dana Ashbrook from Waxwork) near the end for some silver bullets finally seals the deal on who the werewolf really is.
To start out there’s only one werewolf, but just before the final siege on Ambrose’s home, our thrope feels he needs some backup since he’s found out Ambrose now knows who is and that he’s armed with ammo that can actually kill him, so he goes about recruiting four other pack members. Unwillingly, I might add.
Director Adrián García Bogliano (Here Comes The Devil) hasn’t messed with the core werewolf myth at all for his first ever English language movie debut, silver bullets still kill them and the full moon still transforms them, it’s only the designs of the beasts that have been tweaked. Very cool designs, I should say, from Robert Kurtzman’s Creature Corp (see photos below). They kind of reminded me of were hyena’s a little bit.
There is a transformation in the movie. It’s not bad, all practical with some “CGI patching” as Bogliano describes in the commentary. It feels like a nod to The Company Of Wolves (1984) where the skin was shed as opposed to transformed, pulling it off to reveal the wolf inside. There were other possible nods in the movie as well, Bogliano acknowledges there are but doesn’t point them out. Silver Bullet (1985) is certainly one of them since he reveals that movie and Bubba Ho-Tep (2002) were inspirations for Late Phases. I believe the old man with the black eye patch is the Bullet nod and I’m pretty sure the inclusion of Dana Ashbrook is another nod to werewolf cinema since he was also in Waxwork (1988) where he was attacked and killed by a werewolf.
Another thing occurred to me as I watched it for a second time a little while ago. Late Phases is also the best adaptation of a non-existent Stephen King novel ever made. It feels exactly like something King would have written.
On March 10th MPI Media Group releases Late Phases on separate DVD and blu-ray editions
Video/Audio/Subtitles: 1080p 2.39:1 high definition widescreen—English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, English 2.0 PCM Lossless—English & Spanish subtitles.
Extras included on both the DVD and blu-ray are:
- Making Of: “The Beginning Phases Of Late Phases” (14:32)
- FX Featurette: “Early Phases: Kurtzman Studio Werewolf Diaries” (30:09)
- Audio commentary with director Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Both featurettes are fascinating but by far the best is the FX one. You get 30 full minutes of how Kurtzman and company designed, molded, and constructed the werewolves. This also included a breakdown of the animatronics used for the face and ears, pretty much everything you ever wanted to know about how a werewolf monster suit is made.
My only gripes about Late Phases isn’t about the movie at all but the DVD and blu-ray cover art. I know this’ll be unimportant to anyone who only collects their flicks digitally but to us physical media lovers presentation is sometimes just as important as content. Case in point . . . see below:
On the right is the theatrical poster, on the left is the DVD and blu-ray cover art. I don’t know about you but I haven’t seen such uninspired cover art in a long, long time. My other point of contention is the movie’s pointless subtitling. To the casual DVD buyer it appears the movie is called, Night Of The Lone Wolf. Why is the actual title in such small font above the subtitle? It’s probably because the studio thinks the average buyer won’t understand what Late Phases is, or that it’s a werewolf movie, so they create this subtitle, which never appears on screen, and put this rudimentary photo of a wolf on the cover to make sure we dummies know what we’re getting. Okay rant/gripe over.
If you’re a die hard werewolf movie lover like I am, seek this one out, people.
Seek. It. Out!