Bad Moon

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While on assignment in the jungles of Nepal, photo-journalist Ted Harrison (Michael Paré) and his girlfriend Marjorie (Johanna Lebovitz) are attacked by a werewolf; killing the later and cursing the former with lycanthropy. After months of searching for a cure for his lycanthropy, Ted takes his trailer and goes to live with his sister Janet (Mariel Hemingway) and her son Brett (Mason Gamble). Despite Ted’s best efforts to control his lycanthrope persona the violence just seems to keep mounting though only the family dog Thor (Primo) seems to know the terrible truth behind Ted’s attacks.

Eric Red’s Bad Moon (1996) adapts Wayne Smith’s novel Thor, retaining Thor as the protagonist. There are a number of things that make Bad Moon a singular entry in the werewolf sub-genre of horror, but having a dog as the lead is the most overt and unique. Not only does Bad Moon tug those same heart strings as Lassie Come Home (1943) or Far From Home: The Adventures Of Yellow Dog (1995), but manages to ground the supernatural terror of the werewolf in a familiar domestic setting via the character of Thor.

In addition, the very treatment of lycanthropy in Bad Moon suggests that the infamous curse is more akin to mental illness. Ted’s voiceover as Janet reads his diary frames his lycanthropy as a disease that he has been desperately trying to treat. Prior to this revelation, there is a subtextual tension between the siblings where it is clear that Janet suspects something is wrong with her brother on an emotional level. Unlike The Howling (1981) or An American Werewolf In London (1981), the curse of lycanthropy is treated neither as a form of living damnation nor as a celebration of animal instincts in Bad Moon. Instead, Bad Moon proposes that lycanthropy is a long term debilitating illness that is stigmatized by media representations (werewolf movies).

What these other better known werewolf films offer than Bad Moon does not are excellent special effects. The worst part of Bad Moon in this regard is the morphing effect used for Paré’s transformation into a beast. Otherwise the werewolf suit used in Bad Moon is actually one of the best practical effects for this kind of creature post-The Company Of Wolves (1983). The suit used in Bad Moon has its limitations but those are well hidden by Red’s direction so that the excellent design is all that makes an impression.

All this considered it’s pretty surprising that Bad Moon performed so poorly at the box office back in the nineties. Presumably the modest scale and intimate setting of the narrative coupled with having a dog as the lead simply pit Bad Moon against the grain of the more popular horror film conventions of the time. There is no sense of comedic irony or outright eroticism to the horrors of Bad Moon which opts to embrace suspense and family drama instead. Luckily the years have been kind to Bad Moon and in retrospect it stands out as one of the great creature features of the nineties.