Monster Movie Madness: Fred Olen Ray’s Dire Wolf (2009)

Matty sings the praises of the prolific auteur’s visually striking bloodbath. 

Fred Olen Ray has fine form when it comes to ‘man in a suit’ monster movies. 1985’s Biohazard is a blast, as is Deep Space (1988). Dark Universe (1993) and Biohazard’s pseudo sequel, Biohazard: The Alien Force (1994), both of which Ray produced, are tremendous homebrew sci-shockers by protege Steve Latshaw, and Ray’s own directorial return to the territory, Hybrid (1997) — a stealth remake of David DeCoteau’s Creepozoids (1987) — is a ragged but richly atmospheric Alien (1979) riff. All are gravy and all, most importantly, feature a cool spread of monsters designed by such rubber-slinging luminaries as Kevin McCarthy, Jeff Farley, and John Carl Buechler. And though Ray hasn’t made one since (as of this writing anyway), the prolific auteur’s last suit-er, 2009’s DIRE WOLF, is a cracking continuation of this rock solid trend.

A gorgeous, brightly shot film full of vibrant primary colours that augment its EC-like sheen, at Dire Wolf’s core is, of course, another brilliant monster. While very obviously a costume, it’s a joyously tactile creation that’s brought to life on screen by SOTA FX and creature performer Gregory Paul Smith. Story-wise, the eponymous beast is the result of scientific noodling; a half human, half prehistoric canine chimera that breaks free of its lab prison (an opulently pulpy set — kudos to production designer Peter Dang) before heading to a Californian backwater nearby to chow down on the residents. And chow down it does! The dire wolf literally tears apart the townsfolk. Having largely eschewed graphic bloodletting and gratuitous violence in the years between, Dire Wolf harkens back to the kind of primal savagery that defined Ray’s rough n’ ready slasher flick Scalps (1983)The attack scenes are exhilarating, and the stylised, Tony Scott-esque kineticism of Theo Angell’s crisp camerawork — achieved by increasing the shutter speed — intensifies their ferocity. Every drop of blood is captured with a crystal clear clarity that, as Ray himself says, makes them look as though they’re suspended mid-air. Coupled with the comic book colour scheme, it renders Dire Wolf a striking visual experience.

As you’d expect from a writing team comprised of Ray, Dark Universe and Biohazard: The Alien Force scribe Pat Moran, and Naked Obsession (1990) director (and longtime Ray associate) Dan Golden, Dire Wolf also boasts a sturdy, well-written script that demonstrates a keen understanding of genre conventions, and boasts a nice line in quirky character touches. In regards to the former, as well as being briskly paced and meticulously structured to maximise the creature carnage (according to Ray, despite being produced on spec, during its making Dire Wolf was rigorously cross-referenced with a dos and don’ts list the helmer had procured from SyFy’s film division, the plan being to sell this near perfect example of formula to the channel as one of their Originals — sadly, for whatever reason, SyFy didn’t take the bait), we get a neat ‘psychic connection to the monster’ angle that results in a pair of tense yet surprisingly sweet moments, the first of which gently tips its hat towards James Whale’s Frankenstein (1931). For the latter, the character stuff, Dire Wolf is imbued with the same pleasing hang-out quality that permeated Ray and Golden’s previous director/writer collaboration, Venomous (2001). Amidst the eye-popping mayhem, we spend a lot of time in the company of Dire Wolf’s cast — Maxwell Caulfield’s OCD-addled, vaguely Twin Peaks-ian sheriff, and his out-to-prove-himself son (Blake Griffin) in particular — which lends the film an immersive and well-rounded sense of place and person.

Also known as ‘Dinowolf’.

USA ● 2009 ● Sci-Fi, Horror ● 87mins

Maxwell Caulfield, Dawn Ann Billings, Blake Griffin, Gil Gerrard ● Dir. Fred Olen Ray ● Wri. Fred Olen Ray, Pat Moran, Dan Golden

Dire Wolf


 

Follow Matty on Twitter @mattybudrewicz

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