Neither funny nor scary, "The Werewolf of Washington" is a horror-comedy that fails at two things at once. It's a bumbling mess of a satire, the sort of cinematic train wreck that's so inept in its mere presentation that keeping up becomes something of a chore.
The film, written and directed by Milton Moses Greenberg (a career editor making this his lone feature-length effort; he has since also created a handful of short films), was churned out in 1973, at the height of Watergate. It appears as though Greenberg intended a biting, angry commentary on the state of politics at the time… yet the best he can come up with is a couple of weak sight gags, some embarrassingly obvious "metaphor" one-liners, and a string of dopey jokes that can at best produce loud groans from the viewer.
Consider: The plot finds Washington reporter Jack Whittier (Dean Stockwell) being sent to Romania following an affair with the president's daughter. There, he's bitten by a werewolf and naturally becomes one himself. But upon his return to D.C. (whereupon he's hired on as the president's press aide - don't ask), nobody will believe him. Thus begins a running gag that has somebody trying to explain the importance of the sign of the pentagram, only to have somebody else mishear and assume they said "the Pentagon." As in: "So the Pentagon's behind this!"
And this is one of the movie's better gags, people. There's a whole bit that finds Jack and the president (Biff McGuire) bowling in the White House; Jack, whose hand has partially turned into a werewolf (?), seems to have gotten his fingers stuck in the ball, har har! (This is the same scene that has the prez talking about being in the gutter, ho ho!!) And let's try to ignore the series of jokes involving the White House men's room, shall we?
On the horror side of things, Greenberg attempts to create a loving tribute of sorts to the Lon Chaney Jr. "Wolf Man" series, complete with a very familiar make-up look and a few references to a wolf's head cane. But then it becomes evident that the whole set-up is just a way of hoping we'll excuse the shoddy guy-in-a-cheap-Halloween-mask work seen throughout the rest of the movie. Besides, Greenberg shows a complete lack of know-how when it comes to staging horror movie moments; the film's most promising set piece, in which Jack traps a hapless victim in a turned-over phone booth, delivers a terrific idea, then ruins it through sloppy direction, camerawork, and pacing. Like everything else here, this scene drags and drags until you're in a bit of a haze, wondering why you're still watching.
Yeah, why are you? I don't know either. Through that haze, I can see some nonsense about a mad scientist named Dr. Kiss (Michael Dunn), and something about Jack being chained up now that people finally believe he's cursed, and something else about the president maybe or maybe not getting the full moon fever himself. I think there was a chase scene in a factory or whatever. If any of this sounds remotely interesting to you, let me add that it's all done in a sluggish, clumsy, let's-just-let-cameras-roll-and-see-what-we-get-yeah-sure-that's-good-enough style that's bound to produce headaches. There's nothing fun or kitschy or silly about "The Werewolf of Washington." There is only badness. And not the good kind.
Due to its status as a public domain title, "The Werewolf of Washington" has been released on DVD several times before, either as a stand-alone release or as part of one of those budget multi-packs. For this review, we're looking at the Shout! Factory release of the film, which is essentially a "classic" episode of "Elvira's Movie Macabre."
You remember Elvira. She's the cleavage-heavy lass who, in stealing a look from Vampira and jokes from a dozen other local TV stars, revived the horror host format back in the early 1980s. Her shtick rarely strayed from the formula, which was little more than popping in every few commercial breaks to make fun of the movie. (Unlike "Mystery Science Theater 3000," movie host shows never talked over the feature presentations themselves.)
Shout! is now busy releasing a set of vintage "Macabre" episodes, among them the one featuring "The Werewolf of Washington." I have only vague memories of Elvira's show (her movies, commercials, and later work introducing movies on VHS stick out more clearly), but through that vagueness, I don't recall her being this unfunny. She sticks to generic, overplayed innuendo and, for this episode, a set of mediocre political yuks. Blah.
For the DVD, Shout! allows you to watch the "Macabre" episode or the movie on its own, although it's merely the film as edited for TV but the Elvira bits taken out.
Horror hosts get the film in whatever condition they can nab, and as such, they nabbed a dirty, scratchy, downright yucky print, the kind of ugly that makes it look like it was shot through a coffee filter. Or maybe the movie always looked that bad. Either way: ugh. Triple ugh, even.
The movie is presented in a 1.33:1 ratio as it originally appeared on "Macabre." As I can't find OAR information, I can't tell if this was a pan-and-scan job done for TV or not. For what it's worth, the framing never looks cropped or crowded.
As for the Elvira host segments, they deliver a hazy, soft feel that screams 1980s cheap broadcast video. I want to remember that her scenes always looked a bit soft on purpose, but still, this isn't good at all.
Well, the Elvira bits sound passable on the mono soundtrack, but the movie? Egads. Worse than the video, with several lines of dialogue completely incomprehensible. Again, it's a lousy print.
None, unless you count the previews for the "Good To See You Again, Alice Cooper" DVD and the "Stubbs the Zombie" video game soundtrack that play when the disc first starts up.
The movie is a mess in every sense of the word, and the Elvira nostalgia turns out to be not worth it. Skip It.