Twenty years ago, Morgan Creek dumped Bad Moon into cinemas on the day after Halloween — not exactly a great release date for horror. To add insult to injury, they didn’t market the film well. It’s no surprise that audiences didn’t show up to see it. So why, all these years later, are we celebrating the twentieth anniversary of some werewolf movie that quietly came and went at the cinemas?
Bad Moon has strange origins. It’s based on a novel called Thor, by novelist Wayne Smith. The book is pretty good, but the reason it’s such an oddity is that Smith wrote it from the perspective of a family’s German Shepherd (Thor). The novel is about what happens when a family of five (“The Pack”) invites Uncle Ted into the household. Thor knows almost immediately that Uncle Ted isn’t acting like himself lately. That’s because Uncle Ted is a werewolf.
But adapting a story seen through the eyes of a dog isn’t an easy thing to do — at least not in live action cinema. Bad Moon compromises by being more of an ensemble piece. Thor is still a major player, but the human characters carry the drama. Writer and director Eric Red also thinned the cast of characters. Instead of two parents and three children, it’s just a mother and her son. The mother, Janet (Mariel Hemingway), is a no-nonsense lawyer. Her son Brett (Mason Gamble) is best pals with Thor.
The relationship between Thor, Janet, and Brett makes the film feel almost kid-friendly. It’s a bit odd when you consider how Red opens the film: with a steamy love scene and a shockingly bloody werewolf attack. There’s an odd dichotomy of tone in Bad Moon. It’s a sweet boy-and-his-dog movie that still makes me cry, but it’s also a mean and gory werewolf flick. The film has some trouble balancing the disparate tones, but when the human drama works (and it mostly does), the tonal switches are just part of the fun.
Michael Paré plays Uncle Ted as a haunted, grizzled bucket of flat dialogue and pained expressions. It’s fitting —you might sound depressed too if you changed into a bloodthirsty bipedal wolfman every night. He’s a solid dramatic anchor for the story until the plot turns near the halfway point. Someone flicks the “suddenly evil” switch, and Ted is suddenly a very evil antagonist. It’s what bugs me the most about Bad Moon. There just isn’t enough meat on the film to make Ted’s arc into a better tragedy.
The 79-minute film also shows a few structural and logical flaws. When Janet read Ted’s journal and learns about his affliction (and his girlfriend’s grisly death), the film gives no thought to her internal conflict. After she finishes reading, it’s not clear what she knows and what she doesn’t. Consequently, it makes me wonder why she isn’t actively trying to get rid of the increasingly sinister Ted. But those annoyances are almost nullified by how great the werewolf effects are.
Steve Johnson of XFX (the guy who made the original Slimer) created Bad Moon’s werewolf suit and prosthetics. The result was an imposing eight-foot wolfman, one of the best movie monsters of the 90s. It reminds me of Bernie Wrightson’s illustrations in Stephen King’s Cycle of the Werewolf, which King adapted into the middling Silver Bullet in 1985. But a great movie werewolf won’t look like much if the filmmaker can’t shoot it well. But Eric Red’s direction makes Bad Moon feel big and polished, bolstered by excellent cinematography and a sweeping orchestral score.
That big cinematic feel, those werewolf effects, and the heartfelt dog story are all part of why Bad Moon has aged so well over the last 20 years. Home video and cable helped the film find its audience after a disappointing theatrical run. Now it has found its way to Blu-ray, thanks to Scream Factory (the horror-centric division of Blu-ray kings Shout! Factory). Their release looks and sounds pristine, which a pretty good movie like Bad Moon deserves. And a pretty good movie with a werewolf in it is almost as rare as an actual werewolf.