Review: The Werewolf of Washington (1973)

The Werewolf of Washington

Directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg
Starring Dean Stockwell, Clifton James, Biff McGuire

A werewolf stumbles into the room. It looks around, sniffing. Everyone freezes. The music stops. It’s wearing a suit and tie. All of the sudden, it’s approaching you. You back away slowly, but there’s a wall. It advances closer and closer. You can smell its doglike breath. It puts a paw on your shoulder. It doesn’t want to maul you.

It wants to talk to you about politics.

Yes, it’s that movie. The one your friend likes because “it’s like super topical and funny and really says what people are trying to say, you know?” The one your artsy friend brings to your apartment because “nobody’s heard of it, but I swear it’s a classic. It’s so witty!” It’s that movie you know, beyond shadow of a doubt, will suck harder than … I dunno, a vacuum.

Here’s the scoop: Assistant Press Secretary Jack Whittier is a werewolf. At every full moon, he maims someone. When he tries to tell the President, he’s promoted to official speechwriter for the Vice President. When he tries to tell his ex-girlfriend, the president’s daughter, she kisses him. When he tries to tell anyone else, he’s dismissed. Oh, and also politics.

This is the kind of movie that thinks people mistaking “pentagram” for “Pentagon” is the epitome of political humor. It’s also the kind of movie that takes on the hard issues, like racism. The Attorney General blames a black man for a crime he could not have committed! Even after said black man is mauled by the perpetrator! The Attorney General demands that a popular television show be taken off the air due to its anti-government slant. “We’re going to win back the hearts and minds of the American people,” he says. High-minded hilarity! “I’m worried about national anarchy,” says the president. Ha ha, just like the real president! The Attorney General wants to declare martial law! This is bonkers! Bananas!

Oh, and guess what? The werewolf represents the American people. We’re all on the end of our nerves about the government, and we want change now! We’re monsters in khaki pants! If something doesn’t change, we’re gonna tear and claw our way to Washington and by God, we’re gonna set ’em straight.

Milton Moses Ginsberg (who never again directed a feature-length film) is a true artist. You know, one of those who sits in the local coffee shop and complains about capitalism to whoever will listen. He doesn’t care if there isn’t a full moon every night, which renders the plot senseless, he has stuff to say. He doesn’t care about developing the romantic subplot, he’s just keeping the less educated viewers interested while he paints a picture of America, drip by Communist drip. His direction is sub-Cormanesque, and his editing is at about the high school level. This is one of those guys who knows he’s got talent.

The werewolf element of the movie is even less developed than the heavy-handed social commentary. The transformation effects would be a nod and a wink to The Wolf Man if they weren’t even less technically proficient, and the monster itself is as scary as a lost puppy that can’t stop soiling itself.

The movie fails as a romance. It fails as a comedy. It fails as political satire. It fails at being scary. It even fails at being enjoyably bad. It just exists.

The party’s over and everyone’s gone. Empty cups and aluminum cans are strewn across the hardwood floor. You head to the kitchen to grab a trash bag.

“Hey, man,” says a voice behind you.

It’s the werewolf. He saunters up, tie loosened.

“The whole political system is screwed,” he says. You nod weakly and think longingly of  silver bullets, wolfsbane, and places out back to bury the body.

Links:

Amazon – The Werewolf of Washington DVD
Amazon – Elvira’s Movie Macabre: The Werewolf of Washington DVD
Amazon – The Werewolf of Washington VHS
YouTube – Original Theatrical Trailer
YouTube – Complete Movie

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