★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Chalk up one for the elderly and the blind! This little werewolf movie surprises in many ways.
Directed by Adrián García Bogliano
There has been a werewolf movie for every generation of film fans, but as of late, it’s been rather quiet on the lycanthrope offerings. One title that you may have missed is Late Phases. One of the reasons why you might have missed it, is that it also goes by the less interesting title of Night of the Wolf. The beauty of the title Late Phases is that it refers to many things in this movie, and isn’t some sort of slapped on title.
This is a rarity in horror, in that our protagonist, Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) is a retiree, starting a new life in a ex-urban retirement village, following the passing of his wife. What’s more, he’s blind. And he has an exasperated son, Will (Ethan Embry). So Ambrose is entering the late phase of his life. But given his condition, he’s not passive. He’s an old vet, who still has a hand cannon (much to Will’s frustration) and his loyal German shepherd, Shadow. Ambrose is difficult, cranky, and not wanting to settle in to this new home, being displaced from his former home to now live next to a bunch of strangers.
The nearby residents roll out the welcome wagon, but Ambrose isn’t too interested in socializing with the new curious neighbors, one of whom is Tina Louise, of Gilligan’s Island fame, still looking fantastic at 80. He does strike up a friendship with Delores, (Karen Lynn Gorney) the woman on the other half of the duplex from him, as she allows him to grouse to her about how his son is meddling, so perhaps Ambrose won’t be completely lonely in his new situation.
That friendship is cut short, however, as the evening after he moves in, the dogs in the apartments get agitated, and a werewolf breaks in to Delores’ apartment and mauls her to death. Ambrose, hearing the calamity next door tries to assess the situation, when the creature breaks into his home. Ambrose manages to get to his pistol, and fire off a couple rounds, but the creature keeps coming after him. He is eventually rescued by Shadow, who gives his life to save his master, getting brutally mangled while chasing off the intruding beast. Poor Shadow.
When the cops arrive, they question Ambrose, who can only describe a large hairy creature, so the cops suggest it was a bear, as the community is right up against the woods, but Ambrose knows better. There was some human willpower in that creature, and he goes about sleuthing who in the community might be the werewolf, and preparing for a fight, should the werewolf come back.
Now with a purpose and a mystery to solve, as well as a fair bit of revenge for the loss of Shadow, Ambrose shakes off his doldrums about his new lot in life, and the old fighting spirit in him returns. He’s not going down without a fight, and he’s fully ready to sacrifice himself to save the neighborhood. He starts integrating himself into the local social events, attending church services and trying to keep his keen remaining senses alert to clues, and his behavior begins to ruffle some community feathers… which may prove helpful if it draws the creature out.
The story follows the traditional werewolf tropes of the full moon causing the transformation, and Ambrose knows it. There is a whole roster of possible suspects, but he’s running out of time. He checks the calendar, and swallows his pride to reach out to Will, knowing that he may not survive the next full moon. And, here’s the other cool revelation for the title, it’s the late phases of the moon, and the transformation of the werewolf. Very clever on multiple levels.
Late Phases was a bit of a revelation. It doesn’t reinvent the werewolf narrative much, but it makes a pretty bold statement, utilizing an under-served population, the elderly, and marrying it up to another underutilized horror group, the disabled. The last great blind protagonist in horror would probably be Audrey Hepburn’s Susy Hendrix in Wait Until Dark. And, we can go back to Corey Haim’s plucky paraplegic Marty Coslaw in Silver Bullet. Hmmm… I’m sensing another horror Deadlist, handicapped horror! I cannot recall however, the last straight horror film to take place in a retirement community. It’s not played for laughs or romance… which is the usual play for senior cinema, but straight scares. Bravo!
Damici plays this role fantastically. His old-school tough guy oozes stubbornness and willpower. He doesn’t go full Daredevil, but he does not let his blindness limit him. Granted, the producers aged Damici up for the role, but he nails the awkward family dynamic of how children communicate with their elderly parents.
The downside to Late Phases is that the werewolves are decidedly not very wolfy. They are almost more feline or bat looking, with their short snouts and pointed ears. And they look nothing like the poster cover. I actually think they look pretty cool, they just don’t look like wolves. If there was a side-by-side movie to compare this to, it would be Bad Moon which had a great looking final werewolf, but a godawful transformation scene. This movie has a pretty slick transformation, not American Werewolf in London good (and really… there may never be a movie to top that), but it had some great subtle touches, with skin splitting practical effects. The arm transformation, not so much, that looked like a prop, but for the most part, pretty cool.
For a different take on a werewolf tale, and to admire Nick Damici’s performance, this film is certainly worth a rental. Late Phases is rated R for gore, violence, and language. I rank this a 17 out of 25 on the Bridge Too Far Meter. Gory, but not too gory. It is available for free streaming if you have Amazon Prime , and it is also available on YouTube, Google, and iTunes.