The small town of Fairview is suddenly plagued by a string of deaths that the local police are attributing to wild dog attacks. But when some local college students become victims of these violent crimes, some of their classmates start to become skeptical of the official reports. The more they dig into the death of their friends, the more they realize that the deaths coincide with other strange happenings around town, and that all these events are all clustered around the nights of the full moon. When they also witness a very large, furry, bipedal creature try to attack their friend they become convinced: there’s a werewolf loose in Fairview. Unfortunately, telling the police that a werewolf is lurking about doesn’t go as well as they’d hoped, and trying to predict the creature’s next strike instead lands the small group of five students on a very short suspect list. In order to clear their good (and not so good) names, the miss-mashed group will have to overcome their differences and work together to track down the actual werewolf, before all the creatures’ grisly crimes are conveniently pinned on them.
Then again, if your name was Skip, you’d immediately go to the top of my suspect list.
Lone Wolf is an American monster movie from 1988. I think the best way to describe it is as a low-budget horror film that tried to cram all the elements of cheesy horror movies and 80s culture into a 97 minute flick, but then also filmed it in a way that makes you reminisce about those old PBS info shows. So yeah, that is a super odd combination, one that usually ends up being more miss than hit. But while I don’t think anyone in their right mind would ever consider this a “good” movie, I walked away from it rather impressed by what they were able to pull off with their incredibly meager budget.
Is….is that a glowing moon ball?
First, while the entire film is basically an 80s/horror cheese-fest, I must give credit where credit is due. The film has a surprisingly impressive amount of blood and gore for such a low-budget affair. It’s not the type of film to linger on such shots for more than a second or so, and pausing on it does make the cheapness of what few effects there are shine through, but considering what they had to work with, overall I’d say they’re pretty effective.
“I’m looking for a heartbeat!”~
The film also includes a handful of werewolf transformation sequences. Much like the gore, the most effective of those moments are the ones that involve added hair, or slowly growing fangs, or even better, quick cuts so you can’t focus on how rubbery some of the prosthetics are. But like the gore, when the camera lingers too long things like the unnatural texture of the skin start to shine through and ruin the moment. Still, taking their budget into account, I’m impressed that they even made an attempt with any kind of makeup, prosthetics or transformation sequence at all. Considering the rest of the film, I fully expected for the werewolf to be little more than a guy wearing a mask. But the filmmakers went the extra mile with this. Sure, it’s nowhere near the same level as something like An American Werewolf in London, but they did a good job with what they had, and I think that for that they should get some props.
But only some.
But that’s all the props they’re getting, because beyond the gore and the semi-decent werewolf, the rest of the film is just one big cheesy cluster. The movie sets itself up as a mystery, but even with their inept attempts at diverting suspicion from one character to the next, it’s pretty damn obvious who the werewolf is going to be almost immediately from the start. Much of the dialogue is also absolutely horrible. Attempts at humor are made, but they’re either painfully juvenile, sexist, or fall completely flat. And that’s only made worse when you consider the actors themselves. Though it never really outright states the higher education level they’re participating in, most of the characters are supposed to be college students. Emphasis on “supposed to be,” because I’m sure by the time this movie was filmed, it had been a good 5 to 10 years since anyone here had seen the inside of an academic classroom. What’s worse, it’s painfully obvious that they’re way too old for this shit, but the film insists on perpetuating their lie and forces the viewer to sit through awkward as hell scenes where the “kids” are being yelled at by teachers who are likely the same age they are. AND THEN, as previously mentioned, parts of the look like it was filmed by a director who up to that point had only been involved with filming instructional programming shows for their local TV station. So add all this together and there’s just an overabundance of cringy-ness going on here. You have thirty-somethings who are pretending to be college students, who in turn all act like a bunch of emotionally stunted 6th graders. The whole thing is just an eye-rolling mess. I don’t know how else to describe a thirty-year-old trying to pull off the teenage rebellious stage.
Oh, you’re gonna regret that attitude in a couple years….ago.
But believe it or not, I could have forgiven some of that if the acting were any good, but if you’ve been paying any attention so far you can probably already guess that no, it is not. Almost everything going on here is stunted, or completely exaggerated, almost to the point of laughter. The teacher’s act like school marms, the police come across as either too high strung or ridiculously incompetent (which isn’t surprising) and the parents perfectly fit the mold of the cliche “I’m only acting this way because I just don’t understand you!” So….yeah. I was actually kind of hopeful for a couple of the more mellow characters to come out all right, but the film had the nasty tendency to make even the semi-believable characters suddenly start screaming with unnecessarily forced emotion at awkward moments, so in the end most of my hopes were completely dashed. One of the few to come across as semi-decent was Vince, the laid back music promoter who hangs out at the bar, played by R.C. Bates. I don’t expect that name to mean much to anyone, but if you’re a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000 you’ll recognize him as Sam the Keeper from another werewolf flick named, you guessed it, Werewolf. Vince is essentially the same character from that film, except he’s exchanged his gun and camo for beer and Hawaiian shirts. Strangely enough it is not as odd a transition as one would expect.
That’s not even touching on the film’s music and visuals which, I gotta say, are almost like a time capsule of bad 80s decisions that have come back to haunt us. There’s bad 80s rock music, accompanied by equally bad visuals that I’m sure were once meant to be intense and striking, but now just make you want to giggle. It got so bad I feel I should be grateful that a full-on music video didn’t break out in the middle of the film. Then of course there’s the fashion. Dear god, the fashion. I like a lot of things that came out of the 80s, but the tacky fashion choices made throughout the decade is not one of them, and since this film is from the late 80s, it treats you to every blessed one of them. The most obvious of these horrible fashion trends is the obscene amount of BIG HAIR. I think only one or two women’s hairdos in the film escaped the tease comb. All the rest of them share personal blame for punching a hole in the ozone layer. And the men didn’t fare much better. Half of them may have been lucky enough to dodge the big hair trend, but most of them fell victim to the other hair horror of the 80s: the Mullet. Only some of the older characters are spared from this horrible hair fate, but with only a few exceptions watching this film is like trying to look through an 80s yearbook and trying not to laugh.
Holy shit! That’s not hair, that’s a helmet!
I commend the filmmakers of Lone Wolf for making such an entertaining film on such a small budget. It’s not good by any stretch of the imagination. But I do think it ends up being pretty fun, at least in a “it’s so bad, it’s good” kind of way. The bloody/gutsy parts and transformations are decent, and the climax at the “Winter Costume Ball” is pretty fun. But the film is also too cheap, predictable and cheesy looking to appeal to anyone beyond the diehard horror fandoms. If you’re into horror movie shlock then feel free to give this one a go. You’ll likely be entertained. But if you’re looking for something with more realism and higher production values then you’ll likely be disappointed.
Lone Wolf is available to stream on several streaming services.
The only DVD or Bluray release of Lone Wolf I’ve been able to find so far is a limited edition DVD/Bluray combo pack from Germany.
On an interesting, but unrelated side note, one of the actors in Lone Wolf is named Kevin Hart, who is a white actor, writer and producer with three feature films to his name. A fact which seems to have greatly confused Google, because the current picture they’re using for the character of Joel Jessup when you do a basic search for the movie is for Kevin Hart… the black actor and comedian. But since that Keven Hart was born in 1979, I can assure you that not only is he incorrectly credited, but he’s not even in the movie. I would have noticed a small black child roaming around the set with a bunch of 30-year-olds. So if any Kevin Hart fans happen to see that, don’t get confused, this is not the very obscure, early beginnings of a famous actor.
Pictured: NOT the actual Kevin Hart appearing in this movie.