“Bad Moon” is a bad movie. Writer-director Eric Red’s lame attempt to update the werewolf myth is too silly to be suspenseful, yet not quite awful enough — or intentionally funny enough — to qualify as camp. Warners unleashed this mongrel without benefit of press previews, but that won’t stop the bad word from quickly spreading. Expect a quick consignment to the video dog pound for this ho-hum horror opus.
Based on the novel “Thor” by Wayne Smith, pic begins in the wilds of Nepal, where photojournalist Ted Harrison (Michael Pare) is mixing pleasure with business. But just as he’s enjoying some energetic lovemaking with a comely co-worker, his camp is attacked by a huge, hideous werewolf. Ted’s half-nude girlfriend is ripped to shreds, but Ted survives by blasting the beast with a shotgun. Unfortunately, before Ted pulls the trigger, he’s bitten by the werewolf.
Flash ahead a few months, to the Pacific Northwest, where Ted’s sister, a feisty lawyer and single mother named Janet (Mariel Hemingway), lives with her 10-year-old son, Brett (Mason Gamble), and their pet German shepherd, Thor. Janet is overjoyed when she gets a call from her wandering brother, who just happens to be living in an Airstream trailer nearby. She invites him to park the trailer in her backyard and stay awhile. At first, Ted is reluctant to accept her hospitality. But after a few hikers are found brutally murdered in the area where he is camped out, Ted decides it might be a good idea to try a change of scene.
The police suspect a grizzly bear is responsible for the killings. But of course Ted is the real culprit. Each night, he turns into a marauding werewolf. One of the few clever touches to be found in “Bad Moon” is a scene in which Ted and Brett discuss werewolf lore while watching a telecast of “The Werewolf of London.” Ted laughs at the hokiness of the old movie, and wonders aloud why everyone believes that a full moon is necessary for a werewolf to appear. In his considered opinion, he tells his nephew, “any moon will do the trick” when it comes to turning a man into a beast. The nephew, it should be noted, is highly skeptical.
For the first 40 minutes or so, Thor is the only one in the household who suspects Tim is not as harmless as he appears. But then Janet stumbles across Ted’s personal journal, in which he reveals his lycanthropic tendencies, and some photos of Ted’s murdered girlfriend.
So what does Janet do? Ask her brother to leave? Grab her son and drive to another state? Melt down her knives and forks to manufacture silver bullets? Of course not. Instead, she does the kind of stupid things that characters like Janet always do in movies like this. Indeed, she even arranges for Thor to be carted off to the pound after the dog bites her brother during a scuffle. (Actually, Ted started it, but she fails to notice this.) Fortunately, Brett manages to free Thor, just in time for a last-minute rescue that resembles nothing so much as the climax of a silent movie starring Rin Tin Tin.
To his credit, Pare manages to keep a straight face, and even generates a smidgen of sympathy for his plight. He genuinely believes that, by moving close to his loving relatives, the good vibes might cure his evil tendencies. Eventually, he discovers just how wrong-headed a notion this is. But, what the hell, he meant well.
Hemingway sounds flat and unconvincing most of the time, but it’s not entirely her fault. The script calls for Janet to find her brother trying to restrain himself in the woods by chaining himself to a tree before he turns into a wolf.
“What the hell is going on?” she inquires. That may be a logical question, but unfortunately, it seems more than a little ludicrous in this context. Gamble , last seen in “Dennis the Menace,” is slightly more credible as Brett. But neither of these two-legged actors can hold a candle to Primo, the German shepherd cast as Thor. The dog is marvelously expressive, especially in closeup, and has a great deal more camera presence than anyone else in the movie.
Thanks to the special-effects team, Pare is able to morph into a reasonably persuasive werewolf. Other tech credits are average. At 79 minutes, “Bad Moon” is one of the shortest major studio releases in recent memory. Even so, it’s not nearly short enough.