Color, 1972, 74 mins. 33 secs.
Directed by Daniel Petrie
Starring David Janssen, Barbara Rush, Bradford Dillman, John Beradino, Geoffrey Lewis, Royal Dano, John Davis Chandler
Vinegar Syndrome (Blu-ray) (US RA HD)
During the heyday of made-for-TV movies in the '70s, networks were seemingly tireless in their abilities to crank out horror films and suspense thrillers geared to compete with the sudden blockbuster genre films filling theaters. It wasn't hard to pack the casts for the small screen with enough recognizable names to keep folks tuning at home at least a few nights a week, so the real problem was deciding what you could skip out on at the risk of never seeing it again. One perennial you definitely didn't have to worry about missing was Moon of the Wolf, broadcast in September of 1972 by ABC and regularly rerun for years before its presumed public domain status led to countless shoddy-looking VHS and DVD releases over the years.
In the quiet Louisiana town of Marsh Island on the edge of the bayou, Sheriff Aaron Whitaker (Janssen) investigates the violent and mysterious death of a young woman. Rumors abound that a wild animal may have been responsible, while her hot-tempered brother (Salem's Lot's Lewis) blames the mystery man she was seeing on the sly. Canvassing the town, the sheriff ends up questioning two of its most wealthy residents, siblings Andrew (Dillman) and Louise Rodanthe (Rush), who live in a sprawling plantation. The various theories about the murder soon become upended when the next full moon comes along, leading to more murder and search for a killer who may not be entirely human.
Shot on location, Moon of the Wolf is an atmospheric, effective blend of murder mystery and monster mayhem with a cast that will warm the heart of any '70s made-for-TV fan including faces like Royal Dano and John Davis Chandler. Janssen is a sturdy leading man as always, and its fun seeing the TV star stuck in the middle of a supernatural story that probably didn't induce nightmare in young viewers but did make an impression all the same. The actual werewolf action is limited (we don't see the furry guy in action until the very end), but the effective setting and star power give it plenty of punch without much time wasted in its 74 minutes.
As mentioned above, this film has looked pretty sorry on home video for decades and wasn't exactly a stunner when it aired on TV either. The 2022 Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome (including the usual gorgeous slipcase plus a double-sided poster) as part of its VSA line will be a revelation to just about everyone since it features a fresh 2K scan from the interpositive. No more softness and murkiness here; it looks crisp, bright, and completely legible at last. The DTS-HD MA English 2.0 mono track (with optional English subtitles) is also a massive improvement with a far more dynamic presentation than before (and no more hissiness). A commentary track by the made-for-TV dream team of Amanda Reyes and Daniel R. Budnik delivers a track that's as great as expected, cramming in tons of info and insight about ties to other TV productions, ratings and rereun info, the "family affair" nature of the production, the source novel (with had more of racial tension and political elements), and other werewolf TV movies, of course. In the featurette "Cutting Moon" (13m35s), editor Richard Halsey looks back at his career starting off in the Warner Bros. mail room and explaining how he ended up editing via his plan to become a director, which included several gigs during this thriving period of made-for-TV movies of all stripes.
Reviewed on November 27, 2022.