On one level, Bad Moon frustrates the hell out of me. As a young horror fan, I loved werewolves. Along with vampires, they were pretty much my favorite movie monsters. But unlike vampires, I was very picky when it came to seeing these monsters on the screen. If they didn’t look good, I wanted out. I wound up renting Waxwork over and over, just because I thought the werewolf looked great. But I’d always watch the features I could get my hands on, usually making due with werewolves that looked okay, but always had something off about them.
Based on the novel Thor by Wayne Smith, Bad Moon was exactly the werewolf movie I wanted when I was a kid and it flew completely under my radar. I didn’t see it until I was much older and from my first viewing, I knew how much of an impact it would have had on my childhood self. Not that it didn’t have an impact when I did finally see it for the first time. It’s a very strong werewolf picture, but I don’t think it really gets the credit it deserves. It’s rarely brought up in the same discussions as The Howling or An American Werewolf in London or even Silver Bullet. But it’s a solid monster effort that definitely warrants another look.
The first key to the success of Bad Moon is writer/director Eric Red. The Hitcher and Near Dark are not only amazing movies, they’re extremely well-written. Yet Red is not typically recognized as a prominent voice in the genre. Admittedly, there are reasons behind the scenes that kept Eric Red from being one of horror’s biggest writers. A few years after Bad Moon, Red killed two people in a crash that was ruled as intentional. It has nothing to do with the film or any other feature that Red wrote or directed, but it had to at least be mentioned.
The story is familiar. There’s a neighbor, in this case an uncle, living in a trailer on the edge of the property, harboring a dark secret. Only one character knows the truth, but can’t get anyone else to believe them. It’s essentially Fright Night if Charley happened to be a dog. Which is kind of funny, because there’s actually an issue of the Fright Night comic where Charley is turned into a dog.
Honestly, though, this is a strong premise that makes a lot of sense. It has always been a trope in the genre that animals can tell when someone is secretly a monster or when there’s something off about them. Bad Moon just takes that concept and runs with it. No one understands why the dog is acting so strange and then when people are killed in a series of animal attacks, attention turns to Thor. It’s a direction that makes sense. It feels organic.
As for the human cast, they all do a pretty decent job, particularly Michael Pare as Uncle Ted. He’s a hard guy to get a read on and I’ll admit that the movie spends too long trying to make us wonder what we already know, but there’s still an interesting sense of mystery to him in the fact that it’s so hard to gauge how he actually feels about his condition. He has taken the precautions to try and restrain himself, but always seems like he’s feigning sympathy for the people who get killed when he breaks free.
I think Ted’s true nature is revealed in his interactions with Thor. When he takes so much glee in staying one step ahead of the dog and making sure he doesn’t get discovered, going so far as to direct all the blame Thor’s way in order to get the animal sent away, that’s when it becomes clear what kind of werewolf Ted is. Even if it’s unstated, it’s clear that he wants to be able to keep doing what he’s doing.
The real highlight of Bad Moon is the werewolf itself. This is the werewolf I always wanted to see as a kid. It’s ferocious, truly monstrous, but at the same time, it’s emotive. The FX work that goes into Bad Moon is extremely impressive. It especially doesn’t get the credit it deserves in that regard. This is a surprisingly expressive creature. Of course, it’s not all that surprising given that makeup maestro Steve Johnson was behind the monster’s design.
Critical reception to Bad Moon has been abysmal ever since its release. It was a complete bomb in theaters. Nobody saw it during its 1996 theatrical run and it only began gaining an audience after hitting video in 1997. The critics tore it to pieces. It holds a 38% on Rotten Tomatoes, but mind you that’s based on only eight reviews. To some extent, I understand the backlash given that Bad Moon doesn’t really feel like a theatrical movie. Like other titles of the era like Return of the Living Dead 3 and Leprechaun, it has a tone that walks the line between a theatrical quality release and a really good straight-to-video effort.
While I know Bad Moon will probably never gain a reputation as a major cult classic, I still think it’s a completely solid monster movie that should be recognized as one of the better werewolf films of its era. It has a unique perspective, a strong script and some amazing effects. What more do you need from a creature feature?