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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (Blu-ray)
Werewolf: The Beast Among Us (Blu-ray)
Universal // Unrated // October 9, 2012 // Region Free
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 4, 2012 | E-mail the Author
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Not that you need me to tell you this or anything, but the Universal Classic Monsters boxed set hit Blu-ray this month, collecting a slew of the most iconic horror films from Hollywood's Golden Age. Universal isn't just spending this Halloween reveling in its past, though; the studio is also
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updating one of their most classic monsters with a direct-to-video werewolf epic.

Yeah, the title "Werewolf: The Beast Among Us" makes me cringe a little, but that clunky subtitle teases at one of the most interesting things about this take on the werewolf legend. In its setting of Translyvania two full centuries past, werewolves aren't myth or superstition; they're an unfortunate part of life in this remote village. Much like people who live on the Florida coast accept the inevitability of hurricanes and do their damndest to be prepared when one rears its head, these villagers set elaborate traps...keep all the right weaponry within arm's reach. There's the occasional tragic casualty and all, but they've generally learned to deal with life among these creatures. This werewolf, though...? It's different. Faster. Stronger. Smarter. Crueler. Reeling from the bloodiest and most brutal reign of terror yet from one of these beasts, the local hunters' tried-and-true tactics come a cropper. That's okay; a gang of seasoned werewolf hunters storms into town, and -- if the price is right, at least -- they offer to slay the creature once and for all: and for that, the townsfolk get the head, the claws...the whole damn thing. Wouldn't be much of a horror flick if it were that straightforward, though...

I was kind of caught off-guard by how much I dug Werewolf: The Beast Among Us. I mean, thirty years from now, no one's going to look back on it as reverently as genre fans now do with An American Werewolf in London or anything, but it's a solid monster movie. Shrugging off a lot of the usual werewolf tropes really make it stand out from the rest of the lot. The creatures aren't spoken about in hushed whispers, there's no jittery outsider gradually coming to grips with the fact that these beasts are more than myth, there's no rambling exposition about the origins of the curse; it's just...yeah, werewolves, deal with it. Werewolf: The Beast Among Us doesn't play like a movie I've already watched a couple hundred times, and distinctive is good. The structure of the story is terrific too. The screenplay is teeming with twists, all of which are set up
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effectively without blatantly telegraphing what's to come.

The movie was shot in what was once Transylvania, and the ramshackle homes and decaying mansions infuse Werewolf with a gothic atmosphere that could never be reproduced on a soundstage...at least not on a direct-to-video budget. Plenty of the red stuff is sloshed around, from graphic exploding heads to innards being scooped out of corpses for werewolf chum. It's gruesome but not in a sadistic sort of way. There's a real "oh, shit...!" moment I never saw coming that makes for a hell of a climax. The beast itself is a mix of practical make-up effects and CGI, and it's generally pulled off well, easily outclassing the sorts of werewolves I've gotten used to seeing in low-budget creature features anymore.

There's not a relentless barrage of attacks or anything, but Werewolf: The Beast Among Us bridges those moments so effectively that the pace never really has a chance to drag. The ferocity of this creature -- coupled by the presence of a fairly arrogant, loud-mouthed band of outsiders trying to bleed the village's coffers dry -- inspires a great deal of fear and mistrust. As its title suggests, there's a layer of mystery too, and it runs far deeper than just a straightahead whodunnit. The emphasis on characterization and atmosphere feel like a very classic approach to horror, and that's an appreciated change of pace as well.

Although I really like the cast overall, there's something very...2011 about too many of the performances, and that Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves-style anachronistic explosion of accents can be kind of jarring in a movie set two hundred years in the past. The sparklingly clean and
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unmistakeably digital photography doesn't mesh well with its gothic period setting either. The story itself is very well-constructed, but some of the dialogue along the way falls kind of flat. I can certainly imagine less patient viewers sighing about the long breaks between werewolf attacks, even though I didn't find that to be much of a problem. The movie makes the most of its lean budget, putting every dollar it has and then some on the screen. Even though Werewolf: The Beast Among Us could never be mistaken for some schlocky SyFy Original, you can't stroll in expecting a direct-to-video werewolf flick to look like a $140 million summer blockbuster either. Sometimes the seams show.

Whatever, though. Despite its missteps, I like Werewolf: The Beast Among Us. It's not some instant classic I'll be devouring over and over again, no, but this movie came along right when I needed a werewolf fix, and it delivers. Clever, gruesome, and a good bit better than it has to be, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is worth checking out at least once. Recommended.


Video
I can't shake the feeling that something more filmic would've served the movie better, but at least the digital photography behind Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is consistently sharp and detailed. Its palette is generally muted, as most genre period pieces are, and contrast remains robust throughout. Because the photography's so sparklingly clean as it is, there's no need for any excessive digital noise reduction to creep in, and there aren't any edge haloes or hiccups in the compression either. The weight of the video noise can vary significantly from scene to scene, but it doesn't get in the way too much. The one flaw that did leap out at me is a strange digital shimmer around 73 minutes in...easily reproducible, impossible to miss, and kinda surprising that it didn't grab someone's attention during QA. It only lasts a fraction of a second, though, so as annoying as that is, I'm not going to pretend it's a dealbreaker. I'm not a card-carrying fan of this overly digital look, but aside from that shimmering, Werewolf: The Beast Among Us boasts a technically sound presentation.

Werewolf: The Beast Among Us uses seamless branching to deliver both cuts of the movie, making the most efficient use of this dual-layer disc's capacity. The presentation is unmatted and has been encoded with AVC. The second disc in the set is an anamorphic widescreen DVD.


Audio
The look of the movie may not strike me as all that cinematic, but Werewolf: The Beast Among Us' six-channel, 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack...? Kind of a whole other deal. The sound design is somewhat understated outside of its more action-oriented sequences, but it's remarkably aggressive when all hell is breaking loose, with the unnerving sounds of a werewolf encircling its prey and gunfire peppered from every direction standing out in particular. I wish the surrounds were more consistently atmospheric throughout Werewolf's lower-key moments, but all in all, I'd certainly say that this is a movie that demands to be experienced in 5.1. The subwoofer snarls with ferocity, and every element in the mix is
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reproduced cleanly, clearly, and distinctly. A very solid effort.

Also included is a lossy DTS dub in Spanish. Subtitles are limited to English (SDH) and Spanish.


Extras
Two versions of Werewolf: The Beast Among Us have been piled onto this Blu-ray disc: one rated R and the other unrated. I don't...know why anyone would opt for the R-rated version of a direct-to-video horror flick, but the option's there if you want it. The unrated version clocks in at 19 seconds longer, and presumably there are some alternate takes along the way. I didn't go frame-by-frame to hunt down the differences, but the 'werewolf chum' sequence in the morgue is definitely more gruesome in the unrated cut.
  • Deleted Scenes (4 min.; HD): Werewolf's reel of deleted scenes includes some pre-VFX time with the cyberhorse, some lycanthropic light reading, the gang preparing for battle, one of the hunters walking in on the mob justice rally, and an extended version of the climactic monster mayhem.

  • Making the Monster (9 min.; HD): Its title might make it sound like more of a creature design featurette, but "Making the Monster" is instead a straightahead behind-the-scenes featurette. Breezing through the ensemble, touching on the way Werewolf meshes together characterization and action, shooting on Vlad the Impaler's stomping grounds, costume design, stuntwork, visual effects: "Making the Monster" covers a lot of ground in less than ten minutes.

  • Transformation: Man to Beast (6 min.; HD): Okay, and I thought this was going to revolve around the actual transformation effects, but...nope. This is your all-about-werewolves featurette, delving into the five different puppets, suits, animatronic heads, and digital lycanthropes used to bring The Beast Among Us' creatures to life. ...and, yeah, there is a peek at the transformation CG along with some chatter about the duality of man and stuff that werewolves represent.

  • Monster Legacy (4 min.; HD): The cast and crew of Werewolf: The Beast Among Us chat about their favorite Universal horror movies.

  • Audio Commentary: Last up is a commentary track with director/co-writer Louis Morneau and producer Mike Elliott. It's exactly what I want out of a commentary: no dead air in the discussion, teeming with personality, and really, really comprehensive. It's kinda funny that they recorded the commentary without knowing what the movie was going to be called, and I guess that explains the haphazardly-thrown-together opening titles. I'm a
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    sucker for these sorts of Low Budget Film School tracks that delve into the logistical challenges of making an ambitious movie with so little time or money, touching on many of the hurdles encountered along the way and how they were ultimately cleared. Among the topics of conversation are the studio's insistence that the creature not be featured as prominently as Morneau originally intended, shifting away from earlier drafts of the screenplay that were more heavily oriented around gothic romance, and an alternate ending that was mulled over at one point. Worth a listen for sure.

Werewolf: The Beast Among Us comes packaged in a really eye-catching embossed slipcover. The second disc in the set is a DVD with both cuts of the movie, and an UltraViolet code has also been tucked inside.


The Final Word
I tried to think of the last out-and-out werewolf movie I liked, and I had to go all the way back to Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed in 2004. Minus movies where werewolves shared the bill with some other flavor of monster, what have we had since? The misfire of that Wolfman remake, Never Cry Werewolf, Skinwalkers, Blood and Chocolate...ugh.

I had a pretty good time with Werewolf: The Beast Among Us. Yeah, yeah, there's a lot I can poke and prod at. I wouldn't rank it anywhere near the same league as Dog Soldiers or the first two Ginger Snaps movies, the three best werewolf movies of recent memory. We're talking about the sort of flick I'd watch, I'd say nothing more than "yeah, it's pretty good, I guess" if I didn't have to hammer out a full review like this, and I'd probably never think about it again. Who cares about that, though? Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is smart, atmospheric, and bloody, and that's the itch I needed it to scratch. Probably better suited towards a rental or streaming, but my vote would still be that Werewolf: The Beast Among Us is worth checking out. Recommended.
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