RT Obscura, a new bi-weekly column by renowned critic Kim Newman, sees the writer plunging the depths of the Rotten Tomatoes archive in search of some forgotten gems. In his second column, Kim looks at 1975 TV movie The Werewolf of Woodstock.
The oddest thing about this 1975 TV movie is that it seems to be intended seriously – despite the self-consciously ridiculous title, and the obvious comic potential of a lycanthrope cavorting through stoned crowds at the rock festival and being taken for just another longhair on a bad trip. The six-year gap between the famous festival and this production might excuse the outrageously dumb hippie caricatures if we assume the filmmakers were trying for a portrait of a time already receding in memory. Then again, maybe not.
After a few tiny snips of non-music news footage that establish the year as 1969, the festival is over and the site is strewn with rubbish – though pristine grass under a light scattering of paper cups doesn’t suggest half a million kids have recently writhed here. Bert (Tige Andrews), a local resident who seethes at the mere thought of hippies, drunkenly storms out to vandalise the still-standing stage and gets struck by lightning which, we are told, is similar to a kind of electric discharge proven to alter the cellular structure of lab rats (!). Meanwhile, a no-name rock group (including a young, bouffant-haired Andrew Stevens) hit on the idea of making their demo tape on that abandoned stage so they can send it to record companies with ‘recorded at Woodstock’ on the label.
When the full moon rises, bandaged Bert transforms into a swollen-faced, big-mouthed, hairy-gauntleted werewolf and goes on a mild rampage, killing a cop and the hippies’ dog. In a beauty and the beast lick, he merely abducts Beckie (Belinda Balaski), the dog’s grieving mistress, and the spaced-out chick develops sympathy for the snarling, inarticulate brute.
Top-billed Michael Parks (currently a regular in Quentin Tarantino films) models a Mike Nesmith woolly hat as a California cop who has come into town with his partner (Meredith MacRae) to learn from the local heat (Harold J. Stone) about policing pop festivals because his state is about to have one too (let’s hope he means Monterey not Altamont).
The cops stand around talking about the situation, reasoning that a lightning-strike might have turned Bert into a monster (even among invented movie werewolf mythologies, this explanation is cracked). And then they get their friends in evidence control to manufacture a silver bullet just in case the creature can’t be taken alive.
The lively monster romps around in broad daylight and even drives a red dune buggy, but Andrews mostly huffs and growls as if he were in a chimp-mask on a children’s show – then again, being the only lycanthrope ever to be forced from his lair (paws over pointy ears) by rock music played through loudspeakers could hardly have inspired the actor to greatness.
Though Beckie pleads for the creature’s life, it gets shot and takes a fatal fall from a half-built building – transforming back into an angry, dead farmer under the end credits. Produced by Dick Clark (for the benefit of British readers, a figure in the US music industry who hosted their version of Top of the Pops for decades), this was one of a clutch of 1970s US TV movies shot on videotape for late-night broadcast and has all the aesthetics of daytime soap.
It’s not enough to claim that cheapness undid the project, since a great deal of the best television drama in Britain was shot on tape in the 1970s and even the Colin Baker period Doctor Who never seemed quite as hampered by the format as this. The cast give read-through level performances, with the exception of Balaski (later to face a slightly more terrifying werewolf in The Howling) who gets stuck with the dippiest, shrillest lines but tries to give them some sincerity.