Canada (2014) Dir. Lowell Dean
Whatever you may want to say about this low budget retro horror flick, it delivers exactly what it says in the title – not that it could really give us anything else!
In the small town of Woodhaven, alcoholic cop Lou Garou (Leo Fafard) is sent to investigate alleged satanic activities in the area as reported by his friend Willie Higgins (Jonathan Cherry). Lou discovers a local political candidate being sacrificed by occultists but is knocked unconscious. When he awakes the next morning Lou discovers a pentagram carved into his chest, strange hairs growing out of his face and an overly sensitive sense of hearing and smell.
That night while at the bar run by the sultry Jessica (Sarah Lind), a full moon hits and Lou transforms into a werewolf just as he is being attacked by the goons of a local drug dealer (Jesse Moss) and slaughters one them. Realising that he maintains his human intelligence and cognizance Lou tries to get to the bottom of the occult activities as the Wolfcop!
Marking Canada’s entry into the world of lycanthropy, Lowell Dean’s script offers a slightly different take on the werewolf mythology in so far as attaching it to the occult rather than the product of feral werewolves selfishly passing the curse on. At first this seems incidental as Lou seems more intent on dealing with the drug dealings ruining town whilst piecing together the puzzle of a previous case involving his father.
Eventually though everything comes full circle in a manner than almost echoes Hot Fuzz in terms of (not so) shock revelations of the hitherto mysterious antagonists. The conceit is the politician’s death means the cancellation of the annual “Drink & Shoot Festival” which was only cancelled once before when his father was a cop. Aiding Lou in his investigation is his colleague Tina (Amy Matysio) who also has a personal history with the town, specifically the bar Jessica now owns.
I won’t go any more into the story or plot since the film is only 73 minutes long and we’ve pretty much covered most of the events already. While played straight the tone is very much humorous as you might expect, with witty one-liners, clever visual gags, silly laughs and a few unpleasant misses. Arguably the most contentious scene will be the sex scene between Jessica and Lou in his wolf form, which isn’t as explicit as it might have been but will raise a few questions about some people’s level of humour.
Elsewhere a gang of raiders wearing pig masks get their comeuppance at the hand of the big bad wolfcop (see what they did there?) while Jessica is dressed in a red shawl and carries a wicker lunch basket when seducing Lou, whose name, in case you hadn’t noticed, is a pun on “Loup-garous”, the French term for “Werewolf”.
One key change they have made to the mythology is in the transformations – in this case, Lou doesn’t sprout hair from his body like Lon Chaney Jr and others did before him rather he sheds his human skin and his wolf body grow underneath! Quite how the skin grows back once the transformation period is over is anyone’s guess or what happens to the hair is never explained; there doesn’t seem to be any signs of moulting.
But it is a painful and horrific visual and the film’s $1 million Canadian – much of it raised via a Kickstarter style fund – would appear to be wrapped up in these scenes, a deliberate throwback to the glory days of Jack Pierce, Bud Westmore and most obviously Rick Baker. Wolfcop is more An American Werewolf In London than Twilight in terms of effects, with Lou’s hirsute form courtesy of a good old-fashioned latex mask, which should look tacky but has a tactile charm to it.
The modest budget is exposed when compared to the CGI heavy output of the modern era but Dean and his special effects are well aware of these limitations and play up to them rather than trying to disguise them. This gives the film that knowing tongue-in-cheek attitude which old school horror fans – by that I mean those of us from the VHS era – can enjoy as a nice homage/nostalgia trip to see guys with faces actually ripped off or proper limbs being severed and not computer generated facsimiles.
Obviously this isn’t a film where the performances should be judged with a critical eye, suffice to say that the cast seem to know what they have let themselves in for and accommodate accordingly. Leo Fafard takes a while to warm up as Lou, his best work coming behind the mask, while Amy Matysio brings a sense of the modern woman to Tina, as a no nonsense female officer who can handle herself better than the men. Conversely Sarah Lind is simply sex on legs as Jessica. Hoooooowwwwwwllll!!
There is a lot more this film could have achieved in terms of story and character development had it been given a bit more time. Whether this was due to budget constraints or not, 73 minutes feels insufficient to fully explore the plot and most importantly Lou’s acclimatising to his newfound wolf powers and body; instead he seems to get use to them in a flash and much of the psychological adjustments he must make are never once considered.
Just before the end credits roll, were are informed that Wolfcop II would be with us in 2015, which clearly hasn’t happened. Dean has publicly stated back in March that he was working on it so whatever the holdup is, he will be pleased to know there is a rabid audience waiting for it.
While Wolfcop works as a hugely fun slice of retro horror silliness for fans of a certain vintage, it is worth approaching this with low-ish expectations to get the most enjoyment out of it – and enjoy this you will!