In naming a movie WolfCop, you are pretty assuredly guaranteed an audience of at a certain kind of vintage VHS (or Laserdisc)-obsessed cinephile. For my own part, I understood as soon as I heard the title it was only a matter of time until I saw it. WolfCop lives up to its cinema dork-savvy title, but takes some time getting there.
The plot: Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) is a hard-drinking sheriff in a corrupt Canadian town. In the days leading up to the towns famous annual Drink n’ Shoot, Lou is sent to investigate a disturbance complaint in the woods, where he is promptly attacked and placed in a ritual by hooded cultists. Waking the next day with scant memories of the attack the night before, Lou finds his senses are heightened, he has a greater empathy for dogs, and that he’ll transform into a werewolf during the phases of the full moon. With heightened sense, strength, and near invulnerability, Leo proves to be a better cop as a wolf than he ever was as a man, and begins taking down the troops of a local drug lord (Jesse Moss). Aided by gun shop owner/weirdo Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry) and honest human-cop Tina (Amy Matysio), WolfCop delves into the town’s dark, supernatural secrets that may have had a hand in his father’s mysterious death 32 years before.
WolfCop plays the line between tribute and parody that eludes many throwback genre projects. Similar to how the eminently wonderful Black Dynamite is both the perfect parody of blaxploitation movies and the purest expression of what makes that genre great, WolfCop strikes me as a film that wants to be a parody and synthesis of the best elements of low-rent 80s direct-to-video horror and action movies. In this pursuit, WolfCop is only partially successful. What made a film like Black Dynamite stand out in a sea (okay, more like a large lake) of blaxploitation parodies was the way the film pared the genre down to its best elements, cutting out most of the fat in a genre of films that have more filler than some care to remember. WolfCop doesn’t do much to gouge away the frequently plodding, exposition-heavy moments that tend to clutter up VHS B-movies. The script occasionally feels like it doesn’t trust its audience, in its dash to set up the blood and mayhem to come, conveniently feeding information in blocks instead of making the audience work for it. For example, a pair of radio DJs set up loads of exposition as the same info is being given to the audience visually. Here, I’d invoke the rule of “show, don’t tell” or at least of finding a way to include the same information naturally in the script. The script doesn’t spend much energy building its world before playing around in it. The result is WolfCop feeling at times like it’s fast-forwarding to get to the good parts instead of addressing (or parodying) why those parts aren’t good in the first place.
Luckily, once the film gets in gear, it doesn’t disappoint. The action in WolfCop is pretty much exactly what you’d like from a movie called WolfCop. Hitting the gratuitously violent sweet spot between action and slasher horror, the fights in this movie are bloody, gross, and immensely satisfying. These scenes are aided by some spectacularly gruesome practical effects. Leo’s transformation is particularly effective, utilizing tried and true makeup and prosthetics to create body horror on a tight budget. Horror comedy can be tricky to pull off correctly, but I laughed and felt revulsion in the right places. The unabashed horror joy the film takes in WolfCop’s crimefighting unfortunately leave the ending wanting in comparison; the films real joy is in tearing into small time thugs instead of the main villains, though this can be chalked up to how slightly the supernatural forces closing around small-town Canada are felt until the last act.
The acting in WolfCop is the right kind of adequate. Its never quite clear if the actors are as in on the joke as the writers and director, but provide the stilted dialogue it calls for nonetheless. The delivery is frequently at porn dialogue-level– possibly anticipating the deeply uncomfortable sex scene in the film’s back half– in a manner most fitting with the seedy, porn dialogue-level films which are being paid homage. Leo Fafard, feral-looking to begin with, wins the award for the person already most likely to turn into a werewolf. Jesse Moss’s nameless Gang Leader gives WolfCops‘s most charismatic performance, devouring the scenery in the scant scenes he’s given. Amy Matysio’s Tina– the only unambiguously good person in town– isn’t given a whole lot until the end of the film, but those moments, and the few bits of comedy she has, make her and endearing presence.
WolfCop isn’t quite the all killer, no filler B-movie I was hoping for, but it certainly lives up to the expectations of its illustrious title. The director has promised a sequel, and with the heavy lifting of exposition out of the way, I’m hoping he follows through on that promise.