Straight to DVD: Beware "Neowolf"!

Lame metal band kills guitarists in hairless Alan Smithee (!) werewolf flick. Plus: My new SHITE ratings!

By Bob Calhoun
Published April 24, 2010 1:01PM (EDT)
A still from "Neowolf."
A still from "Neowolf."

If you can't afford a bale of yak hair, you've got no business making a werewolf picture. "Neowolf," the latest mass of confusion from Lionsgate, features some of the lamest werewolves this side of "The Boy Who Cried Werewolf" (1973) or "Werewolves on Wheels" (1971). But at least the lycanthropes in those two movies had the proper amount of hair affixed to their unconvincing latex masks. In "Neowolf," the creatures look no more lupine than a bunch of dudes from an Alice in Chains tribute band. Strands of hair are spaced randomly over their arms and chest in the special makeup effects equivalent of the comb-over, and the crinkled brows the contact lenses give to our shape-shifters make them all look cockeyed. Criswell, the narrator of many fine Ed Wood films, refers to such supernatural beings as "monsters to be pitied, monsters to be despised." Put special emphasis on the pitied part.

But the half-assed nature of our werewolves doesn't end with their lack of fur. No, "Neowolf" piles on its heresies by giving us chatty werewolves that say things like, "I'm the alpha dog here." Such lines may look bitchin' when silk-screened across the T-shirts of mullet-headed Camaro enthusiasts, but make an already dumb movie even dumber when they come out of the mouths of wolf-men. Look, when a dude turns into a werewolf, all he can do is grunt, growl and howl. Got it? If you want chatty monsters, you've got to stick with vampires. Save the gum-flapping for when the wolf-man is in human form. During the daylight or in between cycles of the full moon, those guys can really make up for lost time too, always pissing and moaning about their "unending torment" and how they'll kill the ones they love when the wolfsbane blooms. You don't need these guys talking after they've sprouted fangs, people.

The plot of this Alan Smithee movie (yes, the directing really is credited to Smithee -- the Directors Guild term of art that lets you know the real director yanked his own name) involves a Romanian metal band called, you guessed it, Neowolf, that tours around in an ominous black bus and plays half-empty dives in the middle of nowhere. The band members and their one groupie have this nasty habit of turning into hairless wolf people and ripping apart their rhythm guitarists with as much brutality as the meager budget will allow. "We recently lost a band member so we're looking for some fresh meat," Vince (Agim Kaba), the charismatic wannabe-Jim Morrison-type bandleader says while recruiting talent at an open mike. Ha ha. For some reason, Vince decides that this sniveling teen named Tony (Michael Frascino) has the sound they're looking for, which sparks a tug of war between the band and Tony's buzzkill girlfriend (Heidi Johanningmeier) for his very soul. Why any of them want Tony so badly is one of the film's true mysteries. They could all do better on Craigslist and so can you.

It has come to my attention recently that these straight-to-DVD reviews really need a concrete ratings system so you, dear reader, can know whether to add these potential shards of excrement to your Netflix queues. With this in mind, I have devised the SHITE DVD rankings system. I can assure you that no adverb or writerly contrivance has been spared to make this acronym stand for something so here it goes:

"S" stands for "Shoulda made it to the multiplex," for those all-too-rare movies of high quality that get dumped to DVD due to the perfect storm of clueless studio execs, greedy distributors and jittery exhibitors. I have yet to experience such a film, but if "Crazy Heart" had gone straight to DVD as originally planned, it would earn its S ranking hands down.

"H" is for "Hey, it's really not bad," for those straight-to-video movies that are actually enjoyable. Although they aren't as rare as the DVDs that earns an S, you still have to convince people that the straight-to-DVD movie provides an adequate level of entertainment. Of the movies I've reviewed so far, "Tenderness," with Russell Crowe, "The Marine 2" and "Planet Hulk" make this cut.

"I" is for "Interesting." I wanted this middle ranking to be "watchable" or "passable," but couldn't find a workable synonym for those words that started with the letter I in any online thesaurus. However, being merely interesting is a victory in and of itself for the straight-to-DVD movie, as many of you know.

Of the two lower rankings, "T" is for "Torturous" and "E" is for "Endlessly Dull." While being tortured by a film might seem like a worse fate than being bored by it, the movie that tortures you with its lack of production values or utter stupidity at least gives you something to bitch about in an entertaining fashion. The film that's endlessly dull, on the other hand, just puts you to sleep. "Flavor Flav's Nite Tales Presents Dead Tone" delivers enough gore mixed with inanity to earn its T rating, while "Neowolf" is mired with the dreaded E. "Neowolf" does have some gore and a couple of nipple shots, but not nearly enough to elevate it to the heights of being torturous.

Until we meet again to ponder the artistic merits of "The Descent: Part 2," remember to know your SHITE.

Bob Calhoun

Bob Calhoun is a longtime Salon contributor and the author of "Shattering Conventions: Commerce, Cosplay and Conflict on the Expo Floor" (2013). Follow him on Twitter.

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