The truth is frightening: Good werewolf movies are hard to find. Too often the creature designs are uninspiring. The films typically rely on unrealistic CGI for their monsters, or on the other end of the spectrum, feature cringe-worthy makeup. Perhaps worst of all are the formulaic plots which simply have, well, no bite.
Wolves is hoping to break that werewolf curse. Arriving on VOD October 16th, before its limited theatrical run on November 14th, Wolves revolves around Cayden (Lucas Till), a popular high school football player with lots of friends, a pretty girlfriend and a promising future. However, when Cayden’s feral spirit begins to emerge and his parents end up ripped to shreds, he blames himself. Now on the run, a confused Cayden’s search for answers lead him to Lupine Ridge, a small town entirely populated by werewolves. At the local bar, Cayden immediately becomes smitten with owner Angelina (Merritt Patterson). He also encounters the movie’s big bad wolf, Connor (Jason Momoa), who doesn’t take kindly to strangers.
“Werewolves are tough to do,” says producer Steven Hoban, who was instrumental in developing the Ginger Snaps trilogy. “They don’t have the sexy thing that vampires have going for them. Zombies are just a cipher for viruses. Werewolves are more complex and you always need to get into personal stories. You do that with a bunch of hair on your face and that’s not sexy. It was one of the reasons I had real reservations about [Wolves]. In Ginger Snaps, we had our werewolves on all four paws. That’s really tough to pull off visually, to do it from an effects stand point of view. I had sworn after the third Ginger Snaps I was never going to do another movie where I needed a guy in a suit on four legs. That was one of the first things I discussed with director David Hayter. He wanted them to be more human than wolf. I thought, ‘I’m okay with that.’ That has been done many times before as well, so it came down to beyond the characters and what these creatures had to accomplish, what were they going to look like? That’s when I said, ‘If I’m going to be involved, that’s where we spend all of our money.’ The number one concern is what are these werewolves going to look like? That’s why we hired David Elsey.”
Academy award winner Elsey’s makeup magic is on full display when ShockTillYouDrop.com joins Wolves out on location in the fall of 2012. It’s close to midnight and chilly, but the cast and crew have assembled at an isolated farm an hour outside of Toronto. The sprawling premises serve as local resident Tollerman’s (Stephen McHattie) farm, which is made up of a large barn, the requisite sinister cornfield and a decimated fence.
Tonight’s scene consists of werewolf Cayden running down a worn cement path in front of the barn, yelling. It may not sound like much, but it’s here where the showdown between Cayden and Connor will soon take place. The sequence shoots numerous times with different lighting and speeds before it’s a wrap.
“The werewolf suit is like having a suit of armor,” offers Till, while relaxing in full makeup. “It constricts your movement and it’s really hot. We had to get used to that. We had to learn how to walk like a wolf and move like a wolf.”
At this point, X-Men/Watchmen scribe Hayter, who is making his directorial debut on the script he penned, has time to sit down in the barn and talk about his take on werewolves.
“I’ve always loved American Werewolf in London,” Hayter says. “That’s the greatest telling of this particular classic mythology that there’s even been. When this opportunity came up, I really looked at as many werewolf movies as I could possibly stomach. There aren’t a lot of great ones. It’s a problem genre. I really loved Ginger Snaps, which was done by our producer Steven Hoban, but that’s not why I’m saying it. It’s a brilliantly executed story of two sisters growing apart because one is hitting adulthood. If you’re going to do something new with this, you have to find a real- grounded metaphor to apply. Those were the two that really inspired me.”
“Wolves is about a young man who faces some personal tragedy and heads out on the road in search of where he comes from,” Hayter continues. “It’s very much structured in a classic western style and a lot of it is shot in a classic western style. It’s more about being a young man and coming to that period in your life where you start going from a boy to a man. You’re dealing with the huge emotional impact of sex, rage, violence and the complexities of adulthood. That’s what I applied to this metaphor. If every other werewolf film is about destroying the beast inside, this is about learning to get control of it and learning to use it for your own benefit and power.”
The barn may currently be empty except for a few people, but hours ago, Cayden and Angelina were apparently doing the dirty deed up in the hayloft. The intimate moment commenced with them as humans before they shifted halfway through.
“I’ll just say I intended to do one of the wildest sex scenes in the history of cinema,” notes Hayter. “It’s a dicey proposition because it’s got to be sexy and beautiful. At the same time, it’s somewhat twisted.”
Patterson admits nothing could have prepared her for werewolf sex. “You can’t think too much about it,” she says. “It is about the wolves having sex, but it starts with them as humans. They love each other, but then with all the emotions running high, they turn into wolves. It’s still very human-like, just maybe a little more aggressive sometimes.”
On the topic of the werewolf aesthetic, Hayter echoes Hoban’s sentiments. Having these creatures resemble wookiees or hybrid dogs was not an option. Multiple drawings were tinkered with and concepts refined. Furthermore, the duo acknowledged how difficult and expensive digital fur is to master. That, combined with other challenges, made the decision to go the practical route over CG werewolves much easier.
“You can’t put a large snout on an actor and not have it look ridiculous,” reasons Hayter. “You have to be careful about long claws on male characters because they will look like women’s fingernails. There are just certain elements that typically go on a werewolf’s makeup that throws the audience off and interferes with how cool and elegant the design is. You don’t have that problem with vampires. They are just handsome, pale-skinned with beautiful eyes and cool teeth. It really took a lot of reverse engineering to find a design that I felt represented the best part of wolf anatomy and the coolest angles.”
“I love to see effects in camera,” Hayter says. “I think the way the light plays on them tells the audience it’s real. When something is completely created in the computer, especially organic creatures, it never looks right. Gollum in the Lord of the Rings is one of the rare exceptions, but he wasn’t covered in hair. You can do photo real Iron Man with metal edges, but hair, flesh and muscle I don’t think the technology is there yet.”
“It was important to me that when one of these creatures is slashing at you, you see the light on the claws and feel the weight of the creature coming at you,” he continues. “In a way, it’s an old-school feel, but in another way, it has a lot more reality to it.”
Patterson had no prior experience with prosthetics or special effects makeup. Nonetheless, she soon found herself in full body and face casts for the role. There were teeth moldings for the fangs. Patterson’s eyes were even measured. The bubbly actress found the whole procedure inspiring.
“Personally, when I’m playing a regular character, as soon as I put wardrobe and makeup on, I feel like the character,” says Patterson. “This is multiplying that by 100. It puts you right into character. How can you not feel like a wolf? The process is long, but it’s worth it.”
Another element that separates Wolves from other lycanthropic fare is the setting. Hoban feels the secluded community creates a social context that allows them to explore a unique hierarchy.
“There are two kinds of wolves in our movie,” explains Hoban. “One is the pure bred, which means you’ve been born with it. Your parents were werewolves. Then there are wolves who have become such because they’ve been bitten by a werewolf. They are really the mongrels of the werewolf world in our story. Cayden is a pure bred. He has considerable power and therefore a considerable capacity to do good or bad.”
Despite the presence of werewolves, Wolves is being considered more of an action-adventure thrill ride with supernatural overtones than a full-fledged horror. Viewers shouldn’t get upset, though. The R-rated film still contains plenty of shocks, violence and blood. All it means is moviegoers can expect some intense and innovative combat sequences between the characters.
“I wanted the fighting style to be very realistic and physical and mostly in camera without a lot of enhancements,” explains Hayter. “It’s using the physical power of the wolves and using knife fighting techniques for the slashing. What a wolf will do if it is fighting you is try to get ahold of your head, bend your neck back and pull your throat out with its teeth. It’s been a combination of claw slashes, bite movements, power blows and people being thrown immense distances.”
“David was pretty particular that it didn’t look like rehearsed fighting or martial arts,” reports Till. “It had to be something instinctual or natural that a wolf would have.”
Wolves sounds promising. There’s certainly plenty of pedigree and passion behind it. As for the soft-spoken Till, he’s hungry for more Wolves and horror. At the time of this set visit, he had already completed the thriller Stoker. The Curse of Downers Grove is currently waiting for a release date and production on the mysterious The Disappointments Room has kicked off.
“I’ve had a lot of luck in the genre category,” concludes Till. “I think I might stick with it. It’s what I watch, so why wouldn’t I do these movies? I would like to do sci-fi and horror. I’d love for someone to make a Dead Space movie. I’ve had a lot of fun with that game. When horror is done right, everyone can appreciate it.”