Well, once more old Oscar Wilde was right: Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it. (That Oscar, what a wet blanket!) For ages I’ve been wishing that the werewolf movie would return to the world of werewolves in trousers. You know, the classic lycanthrope like Henry Hull in Werewolf of London (1935) and Lon Chaney Jr. in The Wolf Man (1941). I’d even go for Oliver Reed in The Curse of the Werewolf (1961)—a movie whose very trailer would send me scurrying to the safety of the theater lobby (hey, I was 7 years old).
I’m just a traditionalist, I guess, but I like my werewolves in humanoid form—actors festooned with yak hair and fake fangs—and not these overblown cartoonish CGI creations that have been thrust upon us in recent years. And that’s what we get in James Isaac’s Skinwalkers: the return of werewolves in trousers (not to mention a lady lycanthrope in a leather bra). But guess what? It still isn’t any damned good. To borrow that immortal self-critiquing line from the director’s own Jason X (2001), “This sucks on so many levels.”
I’ll freely concede that Skinwalkers was compromised when the powers that be decided to harness it to a PG-13 leash after Hostel 2 and Captivity proved that the bottom had dropped out of R-rated horror (it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that those two flicks fellate a moose, could it?). Fair is fair and all that, but silly is silly and crap is crap, and no amount of blood and boobs could have turned this into a good movie.
First of all, the story is preposterous. You’ve got your good werewolves (the ones who’ve never tasted human blood and consider their awkwardly hirsute time of the month a curse) and your bad werewolves (the ones who like killing and view their monthly moonlight mayhem as a hoot). According to the movie’s dubious mythology, all this is about to be settled by the arrival of a half-breed boy, Timmy (Matthew Knight, The Grudge 2), who on his thirteenth birthday will have the power to lift the curse. (Is this some kind of werewolf Bar Mitzvah?) The good werewolves—headed up by Timmy’s Uncle Jonas (Elias Koteas, Zodiac)—are protecting the lad. The bad werewolves—headed up by Timmy’s father, Caleb (Jason Behr, The Grudge)—are determined to see that the kid doesn’t survive to see that fateful birthday.
That’s the plot, but it hardly conveys the ridiculousness of the trimmings—starting with the fact that Timmy’s mom, Rachel (TV actress Rhona Mitra), doesn’t know her supposedly late husband was/is a werewolf (she never noticed he disappeared every full moon?). She’s equally ignorant of the fact that she lives with a family of werewolves in a town that appears to be comprised entirely of werewolves—and one wise Native American, Will (TV actor Tom Jackson), who exists to explain the folklore (before falling prey to the horror-movie rule that all ethnic characters are slated for the chop early on). Somehow she’s just missed the fact that everyone’s basements—and Will’s truck—are equipped with elaborate S&M-looking leather harnesses that they have to be strapped into every full moon to prevent them from indulging in murder and mayhem.
If this isn’t silly enough, there’s also the fact that the whole town is heavily armed—including Timmy’s pistol-packin’ Nana (TV actress Barbara Gordon)—in case the bad werewolves show up, which, of course, they do. The evil ones come riding into town on Harleys (shades of 1972’s cheese-fest Werewolves on Wheels) and an unintentionally hilarious shoot-out follows. This is the highlight of the movie (not in the least because the Harleys really give the theater’s subwoofers a workout), which should tell you all you need to know about the movie. The rest is a protracted and predictable chase. It might have worked if anyone had realized that it was all more amusing than frightening, but no, the filmmakers and the actors take it very seriously.
As for the trousered werewolves themselves, they’re pretty lame. Despite the highly touted Stan Winston Studio design, the barely-seen monsters are on the cheesy side, which is perhaps why we never get a good look at them. Now, if you want to see them better, the studio urges you to send in your ticket stub for a drawing where you can win a life-size “Skinwalker” of your very own, which would doubtless be more fun than the movie. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sexual material and language.