Having been only nine years old when David Janssen died on February 13, 1980, I had never heard of him until discovering him last year when I bought a DVD of "The Swiss Conspiracy." I had never even heard of "The Fugitive!" David plays the main character in "The Swiss Conspiracy," which is my favorite obscure movie of all time. So I was very happy when I saw a DVD containing two of David's other movies - "Moon of the Wolf" and "Prisoner in the Middle" - at Dollar Tree! Of course, I bought it! And the bin there also included a DVD that contains "Moon of the Wolf" and "The Swiss Conspiracy!" "Moon of the Wolf" is a B movie but it's about as good as B movies get! It's fun and fast paced horror mystery that makes the most of its 75 minutes.
The movie, set in the small Bayou town of Marsh Island, Louisiana, opens with a young woman named Ellie Burrifors being found dead. It initially appears that she has been killed by wild dogs. But the doctor who performs the autopsy, Dr. Duten (played by John Beradino), informs Sheriff Aaron Whitaker (Janssen) that Ellie was first knocked unconscious by someone who was probably left handed. So Whitaker begins investigating Ellie's death as a murder.
The first suspect becomes Ellie's brother Lawrence (Geoffrey Lewis). Even though he appears to be distraught about his sister's death, he acknowledges to Whitaker that he once hit her. Whitaker asks Lawrence to demonstrate how he hit her and when Lawrence does, Whitaker notices it was a left handed punch.
But shortly afterward, Whitaker learns that Ellie, at the time of her death, was pregnant by the almost 50-year old Dr. Duten - who did not mention the pregnancy in his autopsy report. He acknowledges that she wanted to marry him and keep her baby but that he wanted her to have an abortion. He becomes another suspect.
The elderly Tom Gurmandy Sr. (Roayl Dano), whose son was one of those who discovered Ellie's dead body, continually blames the death on the Lukaru (I'm just guessing at the spelling) and no one knows what he's talking about. He speaks only French and always seems to be senile, weak and hysterical - which means, of course, that he turns out to be right on target! During the course of the investigation, Whitaker encounters the woman who becomes the closest thing he has to a love interest in the movie - his former classmate Louise Rodanthe (Barbara Rush). She has just re-located back to Louisiana after leaving New York under cloudy circumstances. She now resides with her brother, tycoon Andrew Rodanthe (Bradford Dillman).
Whitaker and Louise acknowledge having had crushes on each other when they were classmates. They go to a restaurant together and seem interested in each other. No full fledged romance between the two develops but a movie like this doesn't need a love story.
When Lawrence learns of his sister's pregnancy, he believed that Dr. Duten killed her. Lawrence assaults Dr. Duten and ends up in jail for it. But while there, he and a police officer are killed by a creature who is apparently immune to bullets and is powerful enough to knock down the bars of a jail cell.
This leads to the realization by Whitaker and the other Marsh Island residents that the killer is a werewolf. A town wide effort to identity and kill the werewolf quickly ensues.
While the werewolf concept is certainly corny, the movie is executed way too well to be dismissed as junk. Janssen is excellent as Whitaker, a character similar substance but much different in style than his character in "The Swiss Conspiracy," David Christopher.
Both characters are somewhat mild mannered but tough, largely emotionless and have dry, sarcastic senses of humor. But Christopher is a polished, suave former U.S. Department of Justice official while Whitaker is a typical small town sheriff, a hick who isn't well educated. Nailing both roles is a great achievement. Janssen is quickly becoming one of my favorite actors and I'm very much looking forward to seeing much more from him, starting with the aforementioned "Prisoner in the Middle." The rest of the cast in "Moon of the Wolf" is excellent as well. And the movie, which contains little blood or graphic violence, is a very welcome reminder of the era in which horror movies created suspense and intrigue mainly through clever writing rather than mega-gore.
Some other reviews of this movie have criticized the technically quality of some of its DVDs. But the copy I have is very good. Not pristine, but about as good as could be expected for a 1972 made for TV movie.
In conclusion, I recommend "Moon of the Wolf" to all Janssen fans and anyone else who enjoys the guilty pleasures of a good B movie! 8/10.
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