Werewolf of Washington (1973)

Let’s be clear. No one sets out to make a bad movie. No one. Why would you? What’s to be gained from it? That said, we can all agree there most certainly are bad films out there. Great lumps of celluloid taking up space, with little cause or reason to do so. Some of these films are justifiably forgotten, like culling your friends list on Facebook. Others stay with us because of their beguiling awfulness. Yes, the plot doesn’t make any sense. Yes, the acting is shoddy. Yes, the shrews are clearly dogs in fur coats. Yes, you did naht hit her, you did naaaaht, oh hai Mark! But we hold them to our bosom, because of the joy they bring.

Werewolf of Washington is not one of those films. But it feels like it should be. Dean Stockwell (Quantum Leap) plays a journalist-cum-press assistant for the President of the United States of America. He’s got money, he’s got charm and he’s a hit with the ladies. He was also bitten by a werewolf in Romania and cursed to change every time there’s a full moon. Which in Werewolf of Washington’s case – seems to be every night. Throw into mix diminutive mad professors, mysterious walking sticks and superstitious foreigners and this should tick enough boxes for some. So where does it go wrong?

Billed as a comedy horror, the ‘humour’ (we use quotations as we’ve not performed any scientific experiment to confirm that it is indeed humour) comes from the fact that once Stockwell is aware of his new killer instinct, he does everything in his power to get people to believe him. Remember this is before the days of Facebook. None of this ‘I’m a werewolf #yolo’ nonsense here. So, we’re led – well, pushed – down 90 minutes of Stockwell gurning and shouting as a human, and walking on his hands and knees when he’s a wolf. Seriously. Hands and knees. All the while, no one believes him. Instead they point fingers at the hippies and Black Panther movement for the rising body count. It’s a satire of the Nixon administration folks!

It’s important to note that if a drama or a horror is bad, we gather our enjoyment by poking fun. We relish in the absurdity of the overwrought pathos or sight of bats bouncing around on elastic. If a comedy is bad… Well, you can hear a pin drop for a mile. And that’s Werewolf of Washington’s problem. It’s really not very funny. You almost hate it for wanting to make you laugh. It even makes a stab at the old joke of ‘I used to be a werewolf, but I’m alright nooooooooooooooow!’ It all just feels sluggish and embarrassing. When Stockwell in full wolf get up traps some prey in a phonebox and terrorizes her, it’s an admittedly well-directed scene. But it’s only a couple of minutes and the rest of the film fails to live up to it before or after. It depresses you enough to want to go back in time and say, ‘Sod the jokes! Just do more scenes like that!’

Not liking a film just because it doesn’t elicit a sense of schadenfreude is mean, we admit that. But with poor effects, wooden performances and a script that falls apart just by looking at it from the corner of your eye, the only thing Werewolf of Washington has left going for it, is the hopes that it will one day be a cult film embraced by the loving. As long as there’s An American Werewolf in London, this is never going to happen.


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