• Gabe Powers

Bad Moon Blu-ray Review (originally published 2016)

Full, crescent, quarter...each is a Bad Moon for Ted Harrison. By day, he's a photojournalist visiting family in the Pacific Northwest. By night, he transforms into a horrific half-human - a werewolf. Dead men tell no tales, so Ted's sure he alone knows about his vile double life. The secret, however, may be out. The family dog, Thor, devoted to defending the household, has his suspicions. (From Scream Factory’s official synopsis)



Following fantastic, genre-bending screenplays for Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986) and Kathryn Bigelow’s Near Dark (1987), Eric Red began his brief career as a writer/director, including underseen thriller Cohen and Tate (1988), ill-fated horror movie Body Parts (its release unfortunately coincided with news of the Jeffrey Dahmer murders, 1991), and a werewolf tale entitled Bad Moon (1996). Bad Moon was panned by critics, but, like most genre movies with any kind of brand recognition, it earned a cult following. Critics and the fans both have valid opinions in this case. The screenplay, based on the novel Thor by Wayne Smith (St. Martins, 1992), does bear some of Red’s hallmarks and approaches werewolf lore from referential perspective about a month before Wes Craven’s Scream (1996) made it cool. On the other hand, it is a pretty sloppy adaptation, rife with unnecessary and repetitive sequences that might have fit the broader confines of a novel, but don’t work within the tighter structure of a film. Red stretches a very small amount of story thinly over an already brief run-time and, despite loads of expositional breaks, the non-dog characters are banal archetypes. Red’s cinematic instincts are solid and Bad Moon is a slick, classy-looking production, but he fails to effectively blend creature horror with familial melodrama. At a certain point, it feels kind of like Carroll Timothy O'Meara has been forced to cull footage from three different versions of the story – one that revolves around the dog, one that revolves around the boy, and one that is an actual horror movie.


Perhaps driven by the modest success of Mike Nichols’ Wolf (1994), there was small resurgence of werewolf movies in the mid/late ‘90s. The medium-budget Bad Moon sat between the likes of Alessandro de Gaetano’s high-concept B-movie, Project Metalbeast (a movie Scream Factory should really look into releasing, 1995), Clive Turner’s attempt at rejuvenating the Howling series (Howling: New Moon Rising, 1995), and Anthony Waller’s belated American Werewolf in London semi-sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris (1997). Red’s film, along with New Moon Rising and American Werewolf in Paris, also had the dubious honor of being the first werewolf movies to feature CG-assisted transformation scenes. Even today, CG werewolf morphs tend to be reviled by the horror fans, but, at the dawning of the technology, such imagery became a joke. I note this for posterity and because Red is aware of the problem. He developed a new ‘director’s cut’ version exclusively for this release, but, unlike most director supervised recuts, this one doesn’t include any new or previously deleted footage (though there was some sex and violence cut to avoid an NC-17 rating, see the extras). Instead, Red has tightened some of the editing and almost entirely expunged the digital transformation at the beginning of the climax. Those that like the CG (which is certainly not the worst of its kind) can still watch the theatrical cut.



Video

Warner Bros. released Bad Moon on barebones, 2.35:1 anamorphic DVD in 2000, then, when that went out of print, they offered the same transfer as part of their manufactured-on-demand Archive Collection. It also ended up in HD on television at some point. Scream Factory’s Blu-ray debut comes fitted with both the R-rated theatrical version (seemingly from the same scan as the HD broadcast) and the brand new director’s version. Since there is no additional footage in the DC, the two transfers are identical. The upgrade in detail is fantastic, especially the complex textures of well-lit, wide-angle shots. Some of the darkest sequences still appear a bit muddy, but there’s not a lot that an HD remaster could do to fix this without softening the otherwise strong black levels. Color quality is punched up and vivid with reds and natural skin tones popping neatly against the lush green and blue backdrops. It’s definitely not a perfect transfer – there are some haloes along the more harshly contrasted lines and some notable blocking (see the last screen-cap, for example) – but fans should still be very happy.


Audio

Bad Moon was produced after Dolby Digital and DTS formats existed, but I’m not sure if it was mixed in 5.1 for its initial release. Regardless, Scream Factory has included 2.0 and 5.1 lossless DTS-HD Master Audio soundtracks on both the director’s cut and original theatrical cut versions. Thanks to its discrete center and LFE channels, the 5.1 version comes out ahead. It is a bit louder, even though the majority of the directional effects tend to mostly be limited to the left and right speakers. Environmental ambience is nicely situated and the werewolf roars are booming. Daniel Licht’s score is about as pure middle-’90s as you can get, in terms of tribal drums, wild tonal shifts, and overall production. The familiarity is actually kind of soothing, even if the melodramatic cues are the most obnoxious thing about the entire movie. Note that the trims made to the director’s cut have created awkwardly abrupt transitions in the score during the man-to-wolf transformation.



Extras

  • Commentary with writer/director Eric Red (director's cut) – For the first commentary, Red is solo and clearly working from a sort of ‘lesson plan,’ and his statements have been edited (he seemingly took breaks), which is good from a preparation and information standpoint, but makes for a sort of dry listening experience. It’s still a valuable track that compares the film to the book, discusses the casting processes in depth, and breaks down the thematic structure well. Unfortunately, Red dumps on Mariel Hemingway a little too freely and rarely accepts responsibility for the film’s many, many shortcomings. He loses steam about an hour into the track and leaves a lot of blank space.

  • Commentary with Red and actor Michael Pare (theatrical cut) – The second track is moderated by Arrow in the Head’s John Fallon (who seems to be on speaker phone). There is a lot of overlap, but the tone of the track is more lively. Again, Red falls back into complaining about everything, but his performance as writer/director and Fallon’s buddy-buddy interview tactics magnify the problem.

  • Nature of the Beast: Making Bad Moon (35:17, HD) – A brand new retrospective featurette that includes interviews with Red, actors Michael Pare and Mason Gamble, special effects make-up artist Steve Johnson, and stunt coordinator Ken Kirzinger. The subject matter covers the original novel, locations, casting, training/working with dogs, physical FX design, digital effects issues, making cuts for the R-rating, and release.

  • Unrated opening scene (6:07, HD) – The completely uncut footage is here, but has been sourced from VHS, so it looks a bit rough.

  • Three storyboard sequences (6:30, 9:40, 4:15, all HD)

  • Trailer



Note: I haven’t kept all of the discs I’ve reviewed over the years, so some, like this one, will not include screen-caps. The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray’s image quality.

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