Monday, December 18, 2023

“How Could a Pack of Wild, Wild Dogs Do This?” - Lone Wolf (1988)

It is time to delve back into the small body of work of Denver, Colorado's Michael Krueger, visionary writer/director of Night Vision (1987) and Mindkiller (also 1987). Mr. Krueger wrote Lone Wolf, leaving the directing chores to John Callas. (Behind-the-scenes information about Mr. Krueger and Mr. Callas may be found in a fascinating article by Matty Budrewicz at The Schlock Pit.) Tragically, Mr. Krueger would pass away in 1990, leaving only a handful of fascinating films behind.

As with the writer's other films, some of your universe's critics unkindly dismiss Lone Wolf. For example, reviewer tmccull52 writes inaccurately, "Even for 1980s schlock horror, this movie is terrible. The acting is beyond atrocious." Reviewer NoDakTatum writes dismissively, "The budget and script lack, the talent is lost, and it lumbers along." And reviewer Leofwine_draca writes, "LONE WOLF is a film too cheap and predictable to make much of an impact."

Read on for a fuller appreciation of Lone Wolf...

After its nearly unreadable opening titles, the film opens with a spectacular image: a half-human, half-wolf hand framed by the full moon.

The camera pans to a familiar scene: a young man and woman making out in a car on a foggy evening. The camera’s POV stalks the car as the woman gives the man a hard time for drinking in her car. The man angrily gets out of the car, after which the woman drives away, leaving him in the forest on a snowy, foggy night. Of course, he is soon beset by a beast that attacks him with its claws.

With the man still screaming, the film cuts to the city of Denver, where a rock band performs at a small club. They sing a song called “Let It Rock” about getting their name on the rock and roll charts.

After the band’s performance, lead singer Eddie stands in an alley smoking when he hears branches cracking (there are, it must be emphasized, no trees in this urban alley). Nothing happens, so Eddie complains about the smoke effects onstage to his band mates, then accepts a note from Vince, the aging and bearded club owner. The note is from Deirdre, one of the women in the club who is attracted to Eddie.

The next day, Eddie confronts his Aunt Trudy, with whom he lives, about playing in his band. “We no sooner move here and you’re already getting into trouble,” Aunt Trudy says. “If you’d listen to what they treat you in school, you’d probably learn.” (A truer statement would be difficult to find.)

“DOS,” Eddie growls at her.

“What did you say?”

“DOS,” he sneers. “Disc Operating System.”

“Don’t get smart with me.”

“Well, that’s what they teach you. It’s all bullshit.” (Again, it would be difficult to find a truer statement.)

At school (where, following cinematic tradition, all the students are in their thirties and forties), Eddie helps to dissuade two bullies who are picking on a “nerd” named Joel by stealing his computer programs (which, of course, are printed on sheets of paper). Joel is also helped by Julie, the young woman whose troublesome beau was the victim of a werewolf attack in the opening sequence. The film introduces a dozen or so students, all of them obsessed with the computer program homework that is due today. In fact, a brawl ensues that seems partially due to the homework. 

Meanwhile, a police investigation begins that involves Detective Commitski, a policeman who jokingly makes strange sounds over the phone to his sergeant, and Sergeant Patrickson, who must inform the dead young man’s parents (his father’s name is Dan Harmon) about his gruesome death.

Back at school, there is more computer class action as we learn that the only thing computers can do is turn switches on and off, while two of the testosterone-fueled young men come to blows a second time over whether or not they have written the computer program assigned for homework. We also learn that one of Eddie’s antagonists plays sports and is possibly being suspended because of his bullying (though this is not entirely or even partially clear). The athlete follows someone he thinks is Deirdre, one of the attractive female students, but he is attacked in an alley by the werewolf.

Later, the dark-haired Deirdre seduces one of the male students, an athlete clearly in his forties, by telling him to come to the park, where he will find her and they can make out on a blanket. When he reaches the park (actually a forest), he finds the werewolf instead and is quickly murdered.

At the nightclub, a friend meets Deirdre, who watches Eddie’s band perform. Her friend asks, “Didn’t you have a date with what’s-his-name?”

“What are you, a cop?” Deirdre snaps, though nobody has discovered her seducee’s body yet, making the audience think that Deirdre might herself be the werewolf.

Deirdre goes backstage and attempts to seduce Eddie, but he decides to leave with the owner Vince, disappointing Deirdre.

At a community meeting the next day, Sergeant Patrickson tells the assembled townspeople that the police are dealing with the wild dogs in the area. He is interrupted by Dan Harmon, who gives what can only be called an eccentric performance. “How could a pack of wild, wild dogs do this?” he cries. The meeting degenerates as townspeople begin shouting and the sergeant tries to tell them the problem is under control.

In computer class, the teacher, Mr. Simmons, eloquently brings the themes of the film together as he cries out against the disappearances of the town’s forty-year-old students. “This is wrong. Terrible. And we are all responsible. We walk around with our heads in the sand pretending what we don’t know won’t hurt us. As if we’re the machines. As if we’re the computers. As if we can turn our emotions on or off at will!” A young woman pats his sweatered shoulder as if he is a pet and tells him it will be all right.

The film dissolves to one month later, when nerd Joel (who bears a resemblance to Jerry Seinfeld) and the first victim’s girlfriend Julie stroll along a snowy sidewalk at night. Joel suggests hacking into the police mainframe to find out what they know about the murders from last month. They go to the library where Joel tricks a librarian into giving him access to a computer. “This is real time-consuming doing this by hand,” he says about the research he and Julie are doing.

“And expensive making all these copies,” Julie adds.

“Look, I know you have the same information on your computers. If I could just use one of your terminals for just a few hours, I could retrieve this data real quick. I could access your database and transfer it to my disks. I’ve got my own disks.”

The librarian demurs: “We can’t let a student play with our computer system. This is a very complicated and expensive machine.”

Nevertheless, in the next scene, Joel and Julie are in a computer room accessing the police database through a computer terminal. They enter all the information they have about the recent attacks. When this reminds Julie of her dead boyfriend Skip, the two nearly kiss, but they are interrupted by their computer teacher, who kicks them out of the building. Also, based on the flimsiest of evidence, the teacher calls the local police and says he suspects Eddie of the recent killings.

After Eddie’s unnamed band performs an entire highly original song about wanting to rock you all night long, the werewolf pulls out the beating heart of a drunk stumbling out of a bar who happens to be Eddie’s uncle.

Also, another young couple parks in the woods at the exact same spot as Skip and Julie in the opening. They are nearly attacked by the werewolf, but they drive away in the nick of time. Unfortunately for the female half of the couple, Colleen, when she is dropped off at her friend’s house, she finds herself stalked by the werewolf, who must have followed the couple, moving as fast as their car.

In the middle of the night, Joel and Julie break in to the municipal building, where they hack into the computer system and find there were reports of giant wolves or wild dogs associated with each attack. They also hear Colleen outside as she is chased by the werewolf. 

Acting sensibly, Joel fashions a molotov cocktail. Before he lights it, however, the werewolf is scared off by the flame from his lighter. Joel is convinced it was a werewolf, and he convinces Julie and Colleen, so he immediately makes plans to fashion a silver bullet. “This isn’t Michael J. Fox we’re dealing with here. We’re going to need some help with this.”

At night, by coincidence, Eddie bumps into Joel and notices Joel has several books on lycanthropy. When Joel asks Eddie how he knows what lycanthropy means, Joel quips, “I’m not as dumb as you look.”

Eddie helps Joel break into the school, where Joel is alarmed to see the shadow of the werewolf.

Meanwhile, the comedically inclined Detective Commitski receives a phone call. Giggling, he repeats a description to the other police officers. “Description: very tall, acting intoxicated, yelling and howling…and very hairy!”

Sergeant Patrickson, serious, asks, “Did you say very hairy?”

The detective jokes, “Kinda sounds like that gal you been dating.”

Patrickson recruits Commitski to go with him to find the “very hairy” individual near the school. All the various characters converge on the school, including the werewolf. Eventually, after some confusion, Commitski finds a bloody rib cage in the snow and asks Patrickson if this was where they saw Eddie.

“Yeah, it was right…around here?” Patrickson replies with great certainty.

Meanwhile, Joel and Julie meet up with Eddie, Colleen, and Deirdre in the woods, where Joel, based on the locations of the creature attacks, deduces that the werewolf will stay in the vicinity of the school, presumably in perpetuity. In an interesting inversion of Chekhov’s Law, Joel reveals he has a handgun as the film enters its final act.

The next day, the five students wake up after what appears to be a pleasant sleepover complete with cornbread muffins.

Unfortunately, the women start blaming each other for the werewolf murders due to their dates being killed at various times. Eddie convinces them that none of them can be the werewolf because they have all seen it. Then all of them go to the school, where the 17th annual Winter Costume Ball is being held — there is some concern about the murders, but the school faculty require everyone to remain in the gymnasium for safety. Of course, Eddie does not play with his band at the dance because he, along with the other four students, is one of the police’s chief suspects. The five of them sneak through the school. They appear to be looking for something, though it is unclear what they are doing in the school. In any case, Eddie, showing impeccably sound logic, suggests they split up so they will not be caught by the police on campus.

At the same time, the film reveals its werewolf transformation scene, done through closeups so as not to reveal the werewolf’s identity. The transformation consists primarily of sharp teeth pushing forward between someone’s lips.

In the thrilling climactic sequence, the werewolf drops onto the stage, killing one of the teachers and causing general panic.

In an iconic moment, the werewolf rips off a student’s head and tosses it into the punch bowl!

The squad of a half-dozen policeman shoot the werewolf in a corridor, but Joel reminds them they need silver bullets. Eddie takes Joel’s gun and, with little fanfare, shoots the werewolf, who falls against a locker and begins to transform back into a human. In the end, it is revealed (despite literally no setup at all) to be the computer teacher, Mr. Simmons.

In the film’s heartwarming coda, Eddie and his band go on stage at Vince’s nightclub and rock the house with their song about listening to rock and roll music called “Raised on Rock N Roll.” The lyrics include the following immortal words:

No matter what day it is
I get up and turn on the radio.
It’s a rock and roll station.
I heard it a long, long time ago.
It’s that rock and roll music
That starts my engine every day.
It’s the sunny pro
It fits right in in every way.
Yesterday saves today.
Tomorrow will be the same.
So it goes…raised on rock and roll.

However, in the coda to the coda, one of the students attacked by the werewolf begins to transform as he is attended by doctors at the local hospital.

While Night Vision and Mindkiller were visionary reality-altering films, Lone Wolf is, on the surface, a more traditional, commercial monster movie. That surface is, however, an illusion. Although the film includes many staples of the 1980s werewolf film (a transformation scene, a beheading, a mystery about the identity of the werewolf), it is in fact set in a universe that is quite different from your standard Universe-X. In the world of Lone Wolf, students go to a school that is neither a high school nor a college -- it is simply called Fairview School. The students are clearly as old as many of the teachers, and they frequent alcohol-serving nightclubs every night, despite attending a school adorned with lockers and libraries and computer labs. This universe operates differently from that depicted in your traditional films. In it, the werewolf is in reality a minor character who barely participates in the main action of the film. There is no foreshadowing whatsoever. And the dramatic decision at the climax is made by Sergeant Patrickson, a police officer who must decide whether to allow Eddie (a suspect) to hold a handgun armed with silver bullets or to kill Eddie instead. For these reasons and more, it is clear that Lone Wolf exists outside of your reality, and that makes it a fitting follow-up to Michael Krueger's more experimental horror films, creating a small but reliably fascinating body of work to which more attention should most certainly be paid.