Monday, July 23, 2012

Night Shadow (1989)

... aka: Lycanthrope
... aka: Night Drop

Directed by:
Randolph Cohlan

Alexandra Jung (Brenda Vance) is quickly moving up in the world. She's about to start a regular anchorwoman position on the KLOF evening news in Los Angeles as well as her own syndicated radio program. Scared of the commitment of signing a three-year contract and how fast things are moving for her, Alex decides to take a break and spend a much-needed week of rest and relaxation in her small hometown of Danford. On her way there, she decides to pass on pulling over to help a dirty, bearded, shaggy-haired guy (Rick Scott) with an intense stare standing by a broken down car. Good thing, because he has a trunk full of bloody body parts and, when an old farmer finally does pick him up, he puts the guy's head through a window. Alex meets up with her motorcycle-riding kid brother Tai ("Dane Chan" / Stuart Quan) at a diner to catch up and again spots the mysterious man sitting there staring at her. Making eye-contact with him is oddly entrancing, but he disappears as soon as a few cops pop in. One of those cops, Sheriff Adam Newquist (Tom Boylan), was Alex's boyfriend before she headed off to the big city. He tells her things have been pretty uneventful since she's been gone. That's clearly all about to change.

The Sheriff and his deputy Earl (Mike Hamilton) get a call that a dismembered body has just been found in a dumpster. And the next day, part of two bodies are found in the trunk of that abandoned car. Frances (Jeannette Lewis), the county coroner, tells the authorities that all three victims show signs of having been killed by some kind of animal. Meanwhile, Alex goes to visit her godmother Alta (Alta LaFlame) and brother at the hotel they run; also where she's staying while she's in town. She gets a call the next day from her boss, who wants her to cover the story of the murders while she's in town. Some vacation she's getting: Everyone's getting killed, mutilated and cannibalized and she still has to work. Bummer. So Alex goes to a press conference, starts accompanying Adam around as he investigates, learns from the coroner that all of the victims have bite marks resembling those from a large dog or wolf and then finds out what all we viewers have known since the beginning: The strange dude is a werewolf.

Numerous examples of moronic character behavior are seen throughout. Alex passed by both the killer and the victim on her way into town around the time of the murder, but never says anything about it to the cops. She also doesn't say anything about seeing this drifter popping up everywhere and staring at her like he wants to eat her alive. Then again, there's the possibility that the killer has some strange power of her (which is hinted at but very poorly developed), so I'll let that one slide. More annoyingly, the werewolf man (who doesn't utter a single word) is somehow able to stay in a room at the hotel without being noticed by anyone. And most annoyingly of all, Tai goes into the killer's room - which nobody is supposed to even be staying in - to do electrical work and sees a diary complete with werewolf pictures inside. He later sneaks in there with a few of his prankster friends. They discover decomposing body parts in his dresser (which they attribute to "rotting meat"), plus blood in the sink. None of them go to the cops despite the fact everyone in town knows there's a maniac on the loose. It isn't until the friend who stole the diary is killed that Tai finally decides to say something.

The film doesn't really stick by the usual werewolf mythology (there's no transformation by full moon and no silver bullets) but it also doesn't add anything new or interesting to the formula. It poorly attempts to link up the leading lady to the wolfman, who apparently wants her to become his bride or some such nonsense. None of that is sufficiently expanded upon to come off as any more than an afterthought. We don't get to see the fully-transformed werewolf until the very end. Even though I've seen worse designs, it's definitely not worth waiting for and only looks decent in dim lighting. Some air bladder effects were used for a brief (and incomplete) transformation scene. Aside from a victim getting impaled with a steel pipe and a nightmare sequence of someone chewing on a maggot-covered hand, most of the violence is off-screen and there's very little bloodshed.

Much of this actually seems like a showcase for budding action star / fight choreographer / stunt man Quan, who passed away in 2006 (at age 43) and also had small roles in some A productions such as BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA (1986) and THE SHADOW (1994). His wardrobe consists almost entirely of midriff-baring half shirts, which is funny enough by itself, but some of the scenes designed to show off his martial arts skills come out of nowhere and are pretty hilarious. During one of these, he fights a biker gang who are trashing one of the hotel rooms while stereotyped pan flute Chinese music plays! He also gets to flee the cops (who suspect he's the killer at one point) on his bike and drives around on the sidewalks and even goes over a ramp, then beats up on the asshole sheriff's deputy using his skillz. Annoyingly, the director then robs us seeing what we really want to see: Quan kung fu-ing the damn werewolf. Boo!

As nice as it is seeing two Asian-American actors in lead roles in an 80s American horror film (not a common thing back then), the acting is mostly amateurish. However, there are at least two notable people in the cast. First off is Aldo Ray in a weird and random comedic role as some goofy salesman staying at the hotel who sells aquatic-themed novely gifts. He gets just two brief scenes and it was one of his last film appearances. And then there's a mullet-licious Kato Kaelin playing one of the male star's friends. Kaelin was in a few low-budget movies, but his chief claim to fame was being O.J. Simpson's "house boy" at the time of the Nicole Brown Simpson / Ronald Goldman murders. Despite getting plenty of press and tabloid TV exposure for that (plus millions in a lawsuit against the National Enquirer), his failed acting career never really picked up.

I spent a lot of time browsing through video stores in my youth up and down the East Coast, from Michigan all the way down to Florida, and I don't ever recall seeing a VHS box for this movie during that time, so I doubt it received a very good distribution deal back then. It was filmed as Lycanthrope and, as per the closing credits (see above), the original release title appears to have been Night Drop. The DVD I viewed was released by Platinum Disc. I wouldn't make it a high priority.


No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...