Originally released in 2014 as Late Phases (The Hunt is on), Late Phases (Night of the Lone Wolf) is an old-school werewolf flick that manages to recycle concepts explored in other werewolf movies and still come off as an original, exciting story that will impress those new to the genre and those who have seen classics such as The Howling, An American Werewolf in London, and even Stephen King’s Silver Bullet. Screenwriter Eric Stolze does a solid job on the story, subtly paying homage to the werewolf genre while still crafting original characters who are more that typical heroes or victims.
The story centers on Ambrose (Nick Damici, who rules the screen), a cantankerous but likable veteran who has gone blind. Ambrose’s independent, loner nature makes it difficult for anyone to really get to know him, and thus even his son Will (Ethan Embry) is close to giving up. Will elects to take his father to a retirement community, where as Ambrose puts is, people go not to live but to die.
Accompanied by his dog Shadow, Ambrose moves in and quickly discovers that something bizarre is menacing the community. Swept under the rug as “animal attacks” by the local police department, Crescent Bay Retirement Community has a much weirder problem: werewolves. When Ambrose’s neighbor is killed by a werewolf, he attempts to intervene, only to have the werewolf attack him at home. It is during this initial melee that his dog is killed. Ambrose survives the attack, realizing that he has 30 days until the next full moon to prepare to the inevitable second attack. In addition to having a local shady gunsmith craft silver bullets and buckshot, Ambrose attempts to ingratiate himself in the community, primarily by attending a local church run by Father Roger (Tom Noonan, in an always great performance) and his assistant, Griffin (Lance Guest, in a solid performance).
The movie’s final reel has Ambrose suspecting one character, only to realize the werewolf is in fact a pack of werewolves, all of whom are now after him. Ambrose accepts the fact that “the hunt is on” and readies his home for the oncoming onslaught.
The movie’s principal drawback, which amounts to little less than a quibble, is the screenplay’s structure, with relies on movies such as Silver Bullet and The Howling for its storyline. Once jaded horror fans get passed this, the film becomes what it is meant to be: a fun and gore-laden rollercoaster ride whose ebbs and flows lead to one hell of a ride.
The movie’s principal strength is the cast, which is anchored by Nick Damici who does a great job not only with conveying his blindness but also in creating a three-dimensional character who has strengths and weaknesses. Indeed, the character’s arc has him turning his key weaknesses to the strengths necessary to overcome the werewolves. Damici’s one drawback is that he is much too young for the role. The aging makeup does little to augment the illusion.
The supporting cast provides both menace and levity, with the screenplay relying on irony and sarcasm rather than pratfalls and in-jokes for its humor. Not that the story does not have its share of homage, but rather that such homage does not get in the way of telling a hell-raising tale. Be on the lookout for fan-favorites, such as Tina Louise (still vamping), Larry Fessenden (director of the episode “Skin and Bones” for the anthology series Fear Itself and screenwriter for Orphanage, the American remake of Guillermo del Toro’s El Orfanato), and Rutanya Alda (Mommie Dearest, Amityville II: The Possession, and The Dark Half).
Director Adrian Garcia Bogliano does a great job with the budget given, crafting some compelling drama sequences that are interspersed with moments of intense violence and gore. Bogliano has a knack for weaving a sense of mystery, one that enables viewers to figure things out just before the reveal. His work on 2012’s The ABCs of Death and Here Comes the Devil enable him to mix easily subtle tension with outright horror.
Although a low-budget affair, Late Phases (Night of the Lone Wolf) has some good special effects. All effects are practical, giving the movie an old-school vibe that brings forward a sense of the organic that so many modern films lack today. The practical effects for the werewolves could have been better, but they work well enough to keep the viewer’s interest locked to the screen, and that in itself is a compliment.
Late Phases (Night of the Lone Wolf) is worth a viewing or two. The movie has that old-school vibe yet brings with it a sly, modern sensibility with its subtle humor. The cast is uniformly strong, the direction is spot on, and the special effects deliver the goods. Be sure to add this one to your collection.