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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Bad Moon (Blu-ray)
Bad Moon (Blu-ray)
Shout Factory // R // July 19, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $27.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Adam Tyner | posted July 9, 2016 | E-mail the Author
Mother. Son. Dog. Werewolf.

Much as the same as its feral creature of the night, Bad Moon is lean, swift, and brutal. This isn't a movie distracted by scores of subplots and supporting characters. The screenplay doesn't indulge itself with reams of dialogue when an intense, silent expression would be far more effective. Bad Moon clocks in at just 79 minutes, and screenwriter/director Eric Red (The Hitcher) ensures that every last moment is used to maximum effect. It also boasts one of the most outstanding looking werewolves ever captured on film.

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Janet (Mariel Hemingway) is thrilled when she gets the call out of the blue. She hadn't heard from her globetrotting photographer of a brother Ted (Michael Paré) in ages, and it turns out that the guy's been just a few hours away for months. She grabs her young son Brett (Dennis the Menace's Mason Gamble) and the family dog, and the three of 'em carve a path through the Pacific Northwest for a lunch by the lake. Ted's overjoyed at seeing his family once again, although...hmmm, he's not wild about the way that German Shepherd is sniffing around his campsite. See, Ted's a werewolf. A lycanthrope ripped his lover to shreds on the other end of the world, and he too probably would've wound up as werewolf kibble if a shotgun hadn't been within arm's reach. Medical science can't make heads or tails of Ted's bloodwork. His desperate searches for a cure have turned up nothing. Even in this hopelessly remote corner of the world, there's no way for Ted to truly isolate himself and keep the body count from rising. Chains and handcuffs are only effective to a point. There's the distinct sense that Ted reached out to his sister and nephew to say goodbye.

Then again, maybe all hope is not lost. Ted is caught in the middle in a war between man and beast; perhaps standing alongside the people who love him most in the world will bring out his humanity and tip the scales accordingly. Seeing as how there's a werewolf plastered across the poster art with "Bad Moon" printed in big, scary letters, I'll let you guess how that pans out.

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In a great many ways, Bad Moon showcases the same duality as Ted himself. Its human side is embodied by Janet and Brett. Family, unconditional love, and responsibility drive much of the film. They aren't dismissively written as victims-in-waiting. Janet is shown from word one as being a force to be reckoned with: strong, intelligent, resourceful, and fiercely loyal. Much the same can be said about her young son, and Bad Moon would've come to a very different end if not for the daring actions he undertakes. None of this comes at the expense of what horror fanatics demand, however. Bad Moon's werewolf isn't glimpsed for fractions of a second, masked in moonlight and frantically quick cuts. Eric Red and effects legend Steve Johnson want you to see the creature, realized through exceptional practical effects and animatronics rather than the CGI we'd surely see today. The attacks are bloody and brutal. Body parts are shown strewn about in a tree. With a single swipe of his claws, a poor bastard who had it coming looks down to see his fingers flopping around, barely remaining connected to his hand...gasping for air as blood spurts from his slit throat. I'm not sure how many movies I've come across where I see this much of a werewolf this often.

The standout character in Bad Moon doesn't walk on two legs and isn't saddled with so much as a line of dialogue. By any measure, Thor -- the family's German Shepherd -- is the hero of the film. He sees Ted for what he really is. He's hellbent on protecting his family at any cost. Hell, he even has Action Hero arcs like being wrongly imprisoned as a savage murderer walks free. The extras delve into what a slow, painstaking process it was to shape this performance, and it pays off handsomely. Essentially every single shot of Thor captures something magical. I especially love the alpha male posturing between Thor and Uncle Ted: the intense staredowns, the quite literal pissing matches, and that combustible tension where the smallest spark could set everything aflame. When Ted transforms and Thor leaps into battle, the fights are brilliantly staged and shot, and they're deservedly epic in scope.

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I'm a huge fan of Bad Moon, although I'm sure that if I really felt like tearing into the film that there'd be plenty to grouse and groan about. Admittedly, the movie isn't entirely sure what to do with young Brett. I'm deeply impressed by what Michael Paré brings to the table, but his transition from sympathetic victim to cocky, smirking villain is awfully abrupt. I'm assuming the struggle for dominance with Thor brings the animal within roaring to the surface; if it is, that could've been established better. As things stand, it's almost like someone flipped a switch off-camera. Honestly, though, if I weren't tasked with writing a review, none of that would ever even enter my mind. I appreciate its deconstruction of werewolf lore: no silver bullets, no "only under a full moon...", no stabs at explanation or lore. Its tight focus is a tremendous asset. I love that it's not a slasher flick with a werewolf, finding a way to keep the body count high while still oriented around characters and an actual story. Paré and Hemingway are sensational, this is one of the greatest leading turns by a dog in any film I've ever come across, and the effects still look terrific twenty years later. Highly Recommended.


Video
You'd probably expect a werewolf flick to be set almost entirely in the dead of night, but quite a bit of Bad Moon actually takes place under the light of day, and...geez, what a knockout. Its colors are bright and breathtakingly vivid, particularly the endless, verdant foliage of its Pacific Northwest backdrop. The meaty contrast as well as the interplay between light and shadow are often striking. Equally dazzling is how crisp and well-defined Bad Moon's anamorphic photography looks in high definition. The source material is immaculate, not marred by so much as a nick or a stray fleck of dust, and the authoring looks solid to these eyes. I would never have guessed that this is a film ringing in its twentieth anniversary, and I mean that in the best possible way.

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This dual-layer Blu-ray disc features two versions of Bad Moon: the theatrical version and a new director's cut. These are two separate, feature-length encodes, but between the beefy capacity of the disc and the shorter than usual length of the film, Bad Moon's AVC encodes don't suffer for it. The director's cut scores a significantly higher bit budget than the less preferred theatrical version. That may make some purists groan, but if you are...well, you haven't seen how dreadful the CGI that was snipped out really is.


Audio
Both cuts of Bad Moon are backed by three 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks, all the way down to the commentaries. The original-I-guess stereo track is joined by a phenomenal 5.1 mix. The fidelity doesn't quite sparkle the way a brand new genre film would, but the aggressive use of every available channel sure does. From the instant Bad Moon opens in the jungle, the surrounds are teeming with atmosphere, and an astonishingly strong sense of directionality heightens the lycanthropic stalk-and-slash. The LFE can be thunderous as well, particularly a certain pounding rhythm as the film draws to a close. As the flipside of the case only mentions the stereo track, that there's a six-channel mix at all was surprise enough. For it to sound like this...? Fantastic.

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Rounding out the audio options is a set of English (SDH) subtitles.


Extras
There are two versions of Bad Moon on this disc: the one that made the rounds in theaters and a new director's cut. Unusually, the director's cut removes footage rather than adding/replacing anything. The idea initially was that Ted's transformation would be unveiled through gradual stages of prosthetics and appliances, and CGI would meld them together. In theory, it's a terrific idea; certainly not far removed from the transmogrifying dissolves of decades past. In practice, it's laughably inept. 26 seconds of sloppy CG are snipped out in all, and the differences between the two cuts begin and end there. Bad Moon really is much better off without it. As for the rest of the extras:
  • Unrated Opening Sequence (6 min.; SD): Culled from a VHS copy of the very first cut of Bad Moon, this extended opening shows off more of the beasts, boobs, and blood you crave.

  • Nature of the Beast: Making Bad Moon (35 min.; HD): Far and away the greatest of Bad Moon's extras is this half hour retrospective with screenwriter/director Eric Red, stunt coordinator-slash-werewolf Ken Kirzinger, special effects artist Steve Johnson, and actors Michael Paré and Mason Gamble. Red is impressively frank, detailing how dismal Uncle Ted's digitally enhanced transformation is, how poorly suited Mariel Hemingway is for a horror movie, and how Bad Moon essentially escaped into theaters with borderline-zero advertising and an inexplicable day-after-Halloween release date. It's interesting to hear Red's take on W.C. Fields' whole "never work with animals or children" thing, given how central those are to Bad Moon, including the ideal treat for a screen dog and how much film you've gotta burn through for a few seconds' worth of magic. I could keep this list going for days, but you'd probably rather see the best parts rather than suffer through another paragraph of me writing about 'em. "Nature of the Beast" is an outstanding retrospective, and it's well-worth setting aside a half hour to give this one a look.
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  • Audio Commentaries: As much as I enjoyed the commentary track on the director's cut by screenwriter/director Eric Red, it...has its eccentricities. This has unmistakably been piecemealed together from two different sessions of greatly varying quality, one of which almost sounds like he's talking into the built-in mic on his iPad. The shifts between the two can be kind of abrupt and jarring, sometimes even taking place mid-sentence. It also comes across as if Red is reading from a script. In a lot of ways, that's a tremendous asset. I appreciate the remarkable level of detail he's able to provide, there's not a wasted moment anywhere throughout this track, and it never veers off on unnecessary tangents or loses a train of thought as off-the-cuff commentaries often can. Red even delivers the material well, but at the end of the day, it still sounds like he's reading, and that's not so much my thing.

    If you can look past that, this commentary is a more than worthy listen. Red delves into some of the changes made from the source novel, such as consolidating characters to bring the number of family members down to three. It's overflowing with the sorts of technical details I can't get enough of -- the very specific mechanics behind the stuntwork and practical effects, shot-by-shot analysis of camera placement and operation, and even his choices of lenses -- without ever sounding dry or impenetrable. Among the many other highlights are more details on how badly Morgan Creek botched Bad Moon's theatrical release, a lengthy staredown between Ted and Thor drawing deeply from Sergio Leone, why "family film" and "rated R" aren't necessarily mutually exclusive, and everything you wanted to know about the movie's budget but were afraid to ask.

    I didn't realize until fairly far into writing this review that there's a second commentary. It's not listed on the packaging, and it's only visible on the 'Audio' submenu for the theatrical cut. This time around, Eric Red is joined by Michael Paré and Arrow in the Head's John Fallon. (Kinda-sorta relevant thing Fallon and I have in common: we were both on Big Wolf on Campus!) Paré and Red are nicely mic'ed; Fallon, not so much, chiming in from a crappy speaker phone or the most dreadful Skype connection ever. It's one of the most cringeworthy commentaries I've had to endure in an awfully long while. A lot of this material has already been tackled elsewhere on the disc, and the self-congratulatory "fuck yeah, that one fuckin' scene was pretty fuckin' awesome"-ishness of it all gets really stale really fast. I'm just about the last person to get prudish about profanity or anything, but if Fallon doesn't average one "fuck", "shit", or "asshole" per sentence, I'd be astonished. The guy's just trying way too hard. Anyway, if you feel like slogging through this, you do get to hear plenty about the rehearsal process, how Ken Kirzinger looked like a lycanthropic Charlie Brown as he slumped that extremely heavy animatronic head down between takes, what sets film crews in Toronto and Vancouver apart, and Paré growling something about how broads aren't cut out for this business, which...wait, what? Anyway, now I know why Scream Factory didn't find this one worth listing with the rest of the extras.
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  • Storyboards (20 min.; HD): Three key sequences are represented here: Ted's lengthy transformation, the battle royale between Thor and Ted-Wolf, and the staredown straight out of The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. The storyboards have been scanned at a very high resolution and look terrific, and I appreciate the upward scrolling rather than having to click 'Next' eight thousand times. Very well done all around.

  • Trailer (1 min.; SD): Last up is a 4x3, standard-def trailer.

The packaging for Bad Moon is straightforward, without the accompanying DVD, slipcover, or reversible artwork that often go hand in hand with Scream Factory releases. With poster art this great, I'm not complaining.


The Final Word
Between Ginger Snaps, The Howling, and Dog Soldiers, Scream Factory had already amassed a hell of a library of werewolf flicks. As enthralled by performance and family drama as it is by its visceral creature effects, Bad Moon is a worthy addition to that list. This isn't the most traditional werewolf movie, but the great ones rarely are. Highly Recommended.
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