Movie Review: President Wolfman
(President Wolfman will screen at the 2012 Spooky Movie Film Festival, which runs Oct. 10-18 at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring, Maryland.)
With his second feature now under his belt, filmmaker Mike Davis has definitively proven that his “Green” film movement is a coolly adaptable approach to making highly entertaining movies.
For those not in on it, a “Green” film is one composed entirely of public domain footage strung together with a new storyline. Davis perfected this technique with his first feature, the rollicking but not quite as dirty as it sounds Sex Galaxy, a futuristic romp sourced primarily of an old Russian sci-fi flick.
Davis’ follow-up, President Wolfman, is primarily composed of the ’70s schlock flick Werewolf of Washington, which stars Dean Stockwell as the White House press secretary serving under the President who is turned into a lycanthrope that devours the citizens of our nation’s capitol.
In the new “Green” version, Stockwell is promoted to POTUS and is named, coincidentally enough, President John Wolfman. (Although one pronounces his last name quickly as though it’s one syllable.) However, a “Green” film doesn’t just present the original film with re-dubbed dialogue. Instead, Davis completely reworks and reconfigures Werewolf of Washington and adds in other public domain footage to construct an entirely new narrative.
Davis is especially prone to tossing in scenes from other sources in order to make a really good joke. For example, a staid White House party scene is transformed into a ’60s psychedelic LSD party from what appears to be an old anti-drug film and an educational driving film enhances the sad story of the First Lady who perishes in a fiery crash.
While there are lots of wild tangents strewn throughout President Wolfman in service of the jokes, what makes the film work so well as a cohesive whole is a very structured, well conceived plot. The werewolf storyline is actually tangential itself from the main storyline of Congress attempting to sell the U.S. to China to create the world’s greatest superpower: Chimerica!
No, this isn’t super-serious political satire, but Davis at least makes his film feel very modern, despite all the period footage, by tapping into the modern concern of a U.S./China rivalry. It also puts a twist on the typical werewolf main character, who is usually just a sad victim of fate. President John Wolfman, on the other hand, is a stridently heroic figure who needs to veto Congress’ diabolical plan, if only he can overcome his newfound thirst for blood.
There’s also plenty of good character drama and complications that also prevents the proceedings from devolving into one-joke-ness. The newly single President Wolfman must also make time to raise his son properly and to engage in a new romantic relationship.
Its really quite astounding how many balls Davis keeps in the air, with the main Chimerica plot, all the incidental subplots, the completely random transgressions, the seemingly dozens of source material films that he snipped from — all the while maintaining a genuinely cohesive narrative that at times is gut-bustingly hilarious.
Furthermore, seeing as how his primary source is a horror flick, Davis is also balls-to-the-wall committed to tossing in just enough asides to startle, disturb and gross-out his audience. Some of the more over-the-top moments include real burnt to a crisp corpses, a freakish re-animated severed dog’s head and, in the film’s most outrageous scene, a live birth thrown in for good measure. (Actually, that all of this is out there free for public consumption might be the most disturbing aspect of it.)
For all of President Wolfman‘s more ludicrous moments, the film is to be most admired for just how smart it all comes across. From the fantastic deadpan voiceover delivery of Marc Evan Jackson as the titular character, who provides a wonderfully consistent tone whether his on-screen visage is Dean Stockwell or the dad in a safety film, to the paying of attention to such small details of the on-screen time/date identifiers that quickly devolve from “Senate Floor; Washington D.C.; 3:25 p.m.” to “Awkward Moment, 10:36 p.m.”
What Davis has truly done with President Wolfman is to show that a “Green” movie composed of recycle footage shot for other purposes can be as complex, involved, fun and just plain funny as any movie composed of original footage.
Watch the President Wolfman movie trailer: