Most people reading this probably don’t remember or have ever heard about Project: Metalbeast. That’s not a criticism of the horror community. There are so many forgotten gems. And plenty of people who have seen this movie would probably take issue with me calling it that, but I don’t care. It’s pointless to say that Project: Metalbeast is one of the more well-made werewolf films out there, one of the best of its decade, or that it rivals the likes of American Werewolf in London or The Howling. It doesn’t. It’s not trying to.
A movie like Project: Metalbeast only sets out to entertain and it does that in spades. For those unfamiliar, the plot follows a government super soldier program that’s a little more unorthodox than your standard Captain America stuff. Here, soldiers are sent to Romania to collect a sample of werewolf blood, which is then taken by a soldier, who is then frozen until he can undergo experimentation to be given indestructible synthetic skin.
This sounds like a plot conceived by a ten-year old and that’s the best thing about the film. Everything about it feels like it operates on an excited child’s logic. Why would a werewolf need indestructible skin? So that silver bullets can’t penetrate it. As a horror kid, this was exactly the kind of thing I would think about and it would seem so obvious. Why even question it? Metalbeast embraces that whole mentality in the best way.
Project: Metalbeast is also surprisingly—almost shockingly—well-paced. The prologue drags on for a bit and gets awkward so that it’s jarring when it cuts to the present, but other than that, it’s so good. The opening is killer. Yes, it’s goofy rubber-suited monster stuff, but that’s what the whole feature is meant to embrace and it makes that crystal clear from the very first scene.
I also think the juxtaposition of science and superstition in this movie is actually kind of cool. That’s one of my favorite themes in horror. Project: Metalbeast does interesting things with the concept.
For a feature primarily set at a military compound, with such a ‘50s B-Movie premise, it actually features some of the most overtly supernatural werewolves I’ve ever seen on film. First and foremost, there’s the aversion to silver. But there are so many Eastern European superstitions at work as well, which is a surprising and intriguing take. These beings clearly don’t operate in the realm of science at all, which makes the forced combination of the two that much more interesting.
As a kid, I was really picky about my werewolf movies. They had to look right, or I wasn’t interested. Everything I watched was always slightly off in some way or another. Project: Metalbeast was one of the few I saw at that time that really impressed me in terms of its design. Sure, the werewolves in this are big and bulky, but they’re good at being big and bulky. These are hulking, massive brutes—which is also thanks to the performance of Kane Hodder inside the suit. Yeah, they don’t sell you on realism, but the feature never once aims for that.
By the time Metalbeast itself is finally unveiled, it’s a showstopper. This is actually an intricate, impressive design and it legitimately feels like the entire movie is building toward it. There’s enough going on in the first two acts to make the Metalbeast feel like a reward without the film itself feeling boring. In a creature feature of this size, boring is way more noticeable than in larger-scale features. Thankfully, they seemed aware enough of that to award it at every turn.
There’s just too much to recommend about Project: Metalbeast. When you’re in the mood for a late night monster movie, if you’re already a fan of straight-to-video, rubber-suited monster flicks, it’s crucial. I really think it deserves to be one of the best known of that whole corner of horror. But sadly, it’s not. Part of that, admittedly, is due to its availability. It’s not on DVD, certainly not on Blu-ray, and it doesn’t seem to be streaming anywhere. That makes it a hard thing to come across for the casual, intrigued fan.
Hopefully, though, by spreading awareness like this, we can get people to remember what I truly consider to be a lost gem of the ‘90s video era. In an age where C.H.U.D. II gets a collector’s edition Blu-ray, anything is possible. Project: Metalbeast is pure camp and the title should give that away.
While the writing tries to be adult and straight-laced, the story feels like it was conceived by a kid. It’s almost like the Axe Cop of werewolf flicks. Bostwick’s character is so over-the-top terrible that he feels like he might strangle someone just because he doesn’t know what to do with his hands. And it’s those over-the-top qualities that really make this movie stand out as something that truly deserves to be remembered.
So, if you’re in the mood for werewolves when the next full moon rolls around and you don’t want to subject yourself to the Howling sequels, there are way worse choices you can make than Project: Metalbeast, presuming you can actually find a copy.