Friday, April 1, 2011

'The Werewolf of Washington' is old political satire that's still timely

The Werewolf of Washington (1973)
Starring: Dean Stockwell, Biff McGuire, Clifton James, Jane House, Barbara Spiegel, and Thurman Scott
Director: Milton Moses Ginsberg
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

The newly appointed assistant press secretary to the President of the United States (Stockwell) is bitten by a werewolf and subsequently goes on a killing spree under the full moon in Washington, D.C.

"The Werewolf of Washington" is a satire that should delight lovers of horror films and political comedies equally. Set firmly in the same universe inhabited by Larry Talbot of the 1940s Universal creature features it has its hapless wolfman prowling the corridors of power in the United States' capitol rather than in some hazy Modern Gothic never-neverland. Fans of the Larry Talbot adventures will catch onto the fact this is comedy from the very first scene and the film only gets funnier as it continues to echo the 1941 film "The Wolf Man" for its first several minutes... right up to the point where our hero flushes the Gypsy charm that was to stop his transformation down the toilet. Then the political satire kicks into high gear, and the film is off and running like a dirty presidential campaign.

This is a fun, offbeat flick that could well be considered a classic if it wasn't so incompetently made on just about every level but the script. The editing is bad, the pacing is off at several points--unfortunately, all the key ones; with the one where Chinese premiere, the U.S. President, and the transforming werewolf are together high over Washington D.C. in a helicopter being nearly ruined because of it--and the camera work and lighting is mostly awful, serving more to undermine a sense of dread than enhance it.

But the films weaknesses are almost overcome by a sharp script that is brought to life by strong performances from talented actors. Dean Stockwell is particularly good in this film, delivering an edgy and far-roaming performance that will have you laughing in one scene and feeling sorry for him in the very next one. He is ably supported by the rest of the cast, especially Biff McGuire (as a president whose brain is only as active as his teleprompter or whatever advisors happen to be around) and Clifton James (as an Attorney General--or maybe VP... I'm a little confused on this point, based on references within the film--with terminal foot-in-mouth disease) are both lots of fun.

Another selling point for this film is that, although it was made as a satire of Washington politics in the days of the Nixon Administration it works equally well almost 40 years later; the President is a fine analogy for Obama, and the loudmouth AG/VP is a near pitch-perfect spoof of Biden, and all one would have to do would replace South-East Asia references with the Middle East and this film would be reshot without any other script changes and seem completely fresh and original.

I'm not sure if that's a fact that should make us laugh or cry over how long our political system has been rotten and how little "change" the Paragon of Hope and Change has brought us.

Despite its flaws, "The Werewolf of Washington" is a film that's well worth checking out by anyone to appreciates well-crafted political satire and horror spoofs.

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