WolfCop (2014)

Review first published by Sight & Sound, November 2014

Review: “You were late. Timing is everything,” the Gang Leader (Jesse Moss) tells one of his thugs. “Every second is precious because, you see, time is the one thing that money can’t buy.”

Timing is crucial to the plot of WolfCop, in which a centuries-old conspiracy requires two occult rituals to be carried out in precisely calibrated sequence – one under a full moon, the other during a once-in-a-generation solar eclipse – in order for a trio of ancient shapeshifters to maintain their powers (and powerbase). Small-town Woodhaven is ruled by stasis, as crime and corruption prevent it from ever moving forward – but when local policeman Lou Garou (played by Leo Fafard and named punningly after the French for ‘werewolf’), himself in a rut of alcoholism and fecklessness, wakes up to discover that he is a lycanthrope, this “big fuckin’ wolf cop” decides that maybe it is not too late for change.

A sense of belatedness pervades WolfCop, directed and co-written by Canadian genre director Lowell Dean (13 Eerie, 2013). For much as Woodhaven, where drinking and hunting (often combined) seem the principal activities, is a backwards backwoods apparently frozen in time, so too the film’s defiantly practical makeup and effects, the synth and guitar score (by Shooting Guns and Toby Bond), the prolonged and hilariously wrong softcore sex scene (choreographed to Lawrence Gowan’s 1987 hit Moonlight Desires), even the cartoonish hyperviolence and gore, are overtly infused with the retro stylings of Reagan-era horror. The makes of a video camera, CD jukebox and mobile phone may not be quite right for the Eighties (or indeed for the present), and expressions like “pimped your ride” may sound anachronistic in so nostalgic a film, but like its antagonists who appear young at one moment, old the next, WolfCop switches between different ages, until finally Lou can solve the mystery – and overcome the legacy – of his late father, and move on to a different future of carnage against criminality.

It was an Eighties film, John Landis’ An American Werewolf In London (1981), which set the cinematic benchmark for lycanthropic comedy and transformation sequences – although here, significantly, it is not Lou’s hands that change first, but rather his penis, in keeping with WolfCop‘s much lower tone. There are other, more interesting innovations here. For a start, in becoming a werewolf, Lou also becomes a better, if more brutal, policeman (as well as a wilder lover). This may echo Paul Verhoeven’s similarly titled tale of humanity and hybridity RoboCop (1987), but it also reverses a long tradition wherein the werewolf is a force for straightforward animalistic evil – a rôle instead filled here by the supposed pillars of the Woodhaven community, who turn out to be icky, Icke-an lizard people. The other novelty is an amusingly mixed message on alcohol: the human Lou’s undoing, but to his wolfman as spinach is to Popeye. This no doubt reflects the film’s target audience, ideally well lubricated to howl with laughter at all the doggedly backward-looking inanity.

Synopsis: Woodhaven, North America. When Lou Garou was 10, his policeman father was killed searching for young Tina’s missing father during a solar eclipse. Now, 32 years later, Lou is an alcoholic, ineffectual policeman, working alongside the more industrious Tina. Ordered by the Chief to investigate strange nocturnal goings-on in the woods, Lou finds anti-corruption mayoral candidate Terry Wallace strung up – and is then knocked out. Waking the following morning with heightened senses and a pentagram carved into his chest, Lou learns that Terry has died of an apparent drug overdose, leading incumbent Mayor Bradley to call off the annual ‘Drink ‘n’ Shoot’ event. That evening, while at Jessica’s Tooth and Nail Tavern, Lou transforms into a werewolf, and kills two thugs. The following morning, Lou’s friend Willie shows him video evidence of his lycanthropy. Lou’s library research reveals a legend that shapeshifters sacrifice an innocent to turn a ‘village idiot’ into a werewolf, and then drain his power-giving blood during a solar eclipse. That evening, under Willie’s care, Lou transforms again and starts taking his crimefighting seriously – and violently – as the WolfCop. Jessica has sex with the WolfCop at the police station, before drugging him and revealing that she is the shapeshifting Bradley. She, with fellow 200-year-old shapeshifters Willie/the coroner and the Chief/the Gang Leader, take Lou to the woods to drain his blood during the total eclipse, but helped by Tina – and alcohol – he kills them all.

© Anton Bitel