Werewolves have been a horror film staple since Lon Chaney (that’s the junior Chaney) donned the faux fur in The Wolf Man way back in 1941. Since then, movies have tried to present lycanthropes in a variety of differing ways, doing their best to expand upon the lore and offer a little variety to the standard “man bitten by wolf seeks out gypsy who explains the changes he’s been seeing in his body”. Whether it’s as simple as a high school geek who suddenly becomes popular due to his fur-suit (Teen Wolf) or high brow werewolf-as-metaphor (Mike Nichols’ Wolf), the genre has seen it all. Sometimes it’s fun, creative and pulled off successfully, as in the case of American Werewolf in London. And other times, well, it’s Howling IV.
Late Phases falls somewhere in the middle of those two, though it definitely teeters more towards the positive end of the spectrum. Granted, I’m not a werewolf or vampire fan (I can’t explain it, just never been a fan), but of the movies I’ve seen about people turning into wolves? This’n ain’t so bad.
The movie finds blinded ‘Nam vet (Nick Damici) and his dog (who provides more companionship than guidance) being dropped off in an old folks community, essentially deserted by his son. However, Damici is a grizzled, tough ol’ grump who would rather spit “good riddance” than give off any vibes of abandonment.
The film jumps into action almost immediately, with Damici encountering the fanged antagonist within the first 10 minutes. It soon becomes apparent – from the clueless residents to the typical “let us handle it, sir” behavior from the local law enforcement – that Damici is on his own, and stopping the beast is entirely up to him.
The movie borrows heavily from Silver Bullet, the Stephen King novel-turned-film about a wheelchair-bound boy who thinks the preacher at his local church just might be a werewolf. Late Phases has its own preacher who just may be a werewolf, too. This movie, however, is sorely lacking the presence of a totally batshit Gary Busey.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a werewolf movie without a transformation scene, and Late Phases has a beautifully executed one, with creature effects courtesy of Robert Kurtzman himself. The way it’s shot, it seems to be the centerpiece of the film – and I can understand why.
Lastly, it wouldn’t be a film review without just a little criticism. Nick Damici. Oh Nick, Nick, Nick. I’ve seen Mr. Damici in four films now (Mulberry Street, Stake Land, We Are What We Are, and Late Phases), and I can tell you this: no one is a bigger fan of Nick Damici’s acting than Nick Damici himself. He’s not bad by any means. In fact, he’s better than that one-note hack Leonardo DiCaprio (and look how famous that a-hole is.) I just feel like everything I’ve seen Damici do has ‘acting class’ stamped all over it. Perhaps it comes from his recent career of writing his own lines (as was the case with Mulberry Street, Stake Land, and We Are What We Are) that makes it seem like he thinks everything he’s saying is the coolest, most profound, most hilariously badass line ever said. And while he didn’t write his own dialogue for this movie, there are still some very hammy – borderline sleazy, even – undertones to his acting and line delivery.
And despite the passable age make-up he wears throughout the film, I just wish the 50 year old Damici had been dropped off in a retirement community that housed people his own age, instead of the 70 and 80 year olds that inhabit it.
Overall, a fun entry in the full moon genre and worth a watch for sure.