Welcome to Cult Corner where we dive through the bargain bins to determine if a movie is trash or treasure. Today’s pick: Fred Olen Ray’s Dire Wolf.
Dire Wolf is a fairly basic story. Scientists cook up a man-wolf hybrid made from combining the bone marrow of a fossilized dire wolf and the stem cells of a frozen human embryo. It gets loose because of course it does, and then it goes on a rampage because of course it does. The local town’s game warden is then set on a mission to figure out what’s tearing up the townsfolk. Dire Wolf plays out like a Syfy Channel Original, but stars a really dumb-looking practical werewolf in place of what would generally be a really dumb-looking CGI shark or snake.
The cast here is serviceable. A lot of the dialogue is pretty terrible and much of it is just blatantly expository, so it’s tough to judge the acting, but for the most part it works well enough. The main characters are fairly likable, albeit a bit bland and unmemorable. The game warden in particular is kind of uninspired. He’s a bit of a pushover and acts incredibly inconsistently. He tells us early on that he doesn’t carry a gun and doesn’t like them, yet we see him pick one up only 30 minutes into the film. He has a whole backstory about his parents and past tragedy, but it never really goes anywhere. The side characters are the real strong points in the cast. They’re a bit more hammy in their performances and most of them are pretty unlikable, which makes it a joy to see them get mowed down.
Like I mentioned before, this movie plays out like a Syfy Channel Original, and in terms of budget that’s really the most accurate description I can give it. The science lab set looks like something out of Battlestar Galactica and the rest of the movie takes place in a small town and a forest. There are a ton of exterior day shots with little variation in lighting. The werewolf itself looks like a high-end Halloween costume. In the broad daylight, it’s pretty goofy, but if it were to pop out at you in the dark at a local haunted attraction it’d be pretty scary. That’s really the downfall. If they had snuck some darker forest scenes in, this could have made the costume look much better and would have changed the tone of the film completely, for the better.
Likewise, the plot is so blisteringly formulaic that I can’t help but feel like I’ve seen this movie before. There are no real twists or turns and the story goes exactly where you’d expect it to. Clearly the wolf-man hybrid being cooked up by the government isn’t a cure for cancer. It’s no surprise that it’s meant to be used on the battlefield. We’ve seen this plot point in everything from every Asylum movie to Jurassic World. The small town game warden and local sheriff are both archetypes. The side characters would all feel at home in just about any slasher movie. It’s all extremely familiar.
The thing that really makes this stand out however is the gore. The first time the wolf pops up and kills someone it took me completely off-guard. Blood and intestines fly everywhere as this dumb wolf mask pretends to bite a screaming extra, and the deaths maintain this level of intensity throughout the entire movie. A lot of them play out pretty similarly so it does get slightly stale by the end, but given that they started out so good I’m okay with that. We see guts, blood, exposed rib cages, severed limbs, and it’s all thanks to a very unconvincing monster. It’s easy to cheer when these scenes happen, and they happen often. For a movie this low budget, cheesy, and formulaic, this one twist makes the whole thing worthwhile.
At the end of the day, Dire Wolf is fun. It’s painfully cliche, it’s low budget, the werewolf costume looks cheap, the acting is passable at best, and the writing is by the numbers, but goddamn, those kills are wonderful. This is just dumb fun. It’s inoffensive, dumb fun. That’s it. I have no more to say. Watch it if you’re in the mood for a cheesy sci-fi werewolf movie with some incredibly gory deaths.
Here at Cult Corner we cover the weird and obscure. Given the low budget that these movies often have we feel the need to recognize that entertainment value and quality aren’t always synonymous. That’s why we have opted for the “trash or treasure” approach in lieu of a typical rating system. After all, Troll 2 is incredibly entertaining but it’s no 8 out of 10.