Buried Alive Film Fest 2019: Mark of the Beast
Director: Daniel Griffith
Starring: Peter Atkins, Joe Dante, Mick Garris, John Landis, David Naughton
A feature length documentary on the origins of werewolves in cinema and the legacy of the Universal Werewolf.
Initial Reaction K. Mark of the Beast traces the origins of the first werewolf films ever made, then chronicles 1941’s seminal The Wolf Man starring Lon Chaney Jr., and the subsequent sequels, as well as the landmark werewolf films of the 1980s (An American Werewolf in London and The Howling). This history is charted through interviews with filmmakers like John Landis, Joe Dante and Mick Garris, along with various screenwriters and special effects makeup artists. The interviews are brought to life with archival drawings, production stills, behind the scenes photographs and footage from the films themselves. As a werewolf fan, and a fan of classic horror films, this was an enjoyable and informative journey through the cinema of horror past. I would definitely recommend it for those of you who have a particular fascination with the werewolf myth or the classic Universal Horror Cycle, you won’t be disappointed. C. The idea behind Mark of the Beast is pretty simple: It presents the evolution for what we consider the standard cinematic werewolf. The documentary spends most of its focus on the look of the werewolf, the transformation sequences, and the portrayal of the one with the curse. That’s it. It has a great dual purpose. For fans of the famed Universal Monster it acts as a brief history of the creature, and for people just getting into the character, it’s a wonderful introduction. It’s hard to put any major criticism onto the piece based on what it is, however, one does find themselves wishing for more. For myself it felt more like the special features attached to one of the main films mentioned rather than an in depth look at the subject matter of the cinematic werewolf or The Wolf Man’s legacy. We begin the documentary with the first cinematic werewolf and go from there with the discussion how most of the common werewolf lore that we use today (silver, full moon, etc.) all came from Universal’s The Wolf Man franchise. As I understand this is the focus of the documentary but you almost wish they’d spend some time discussing what werewolves were prior to those films, with the idea of lycanthropy throughout history and in folklore. I think it would have added that extra jolt to really show how important that film was, not just to werewolves in movies, but culture in general. On the other end of the timeframe, though I acknowledge the importance of films like An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, it basically ends with those close to 40 year-old films. This is not a criticism of the films but rather stating there are more recent werewolf movies that have helped expand the creature and brought up very important themes. Lastly, I am fully aware of the issues that come with trying to get people to be interviewed so I won’t try to pass too much judgement. However, despite having Joe Dante and Mick Garris, it does feel like the “John Landis Show” for most of the documentary. In the same sense of highlighting more recent projects to see how far the genre has come, it would’ve been nice to be presented with interviews from the younger generations in the field. Horror fans, and especially those interested in Universal Monsters, will find this to be the perfect companion piece to The Wolf Man. But if you’re looking for something more in depth, you may still want to pick up one of the many books on the subject matter. J. Full transparency: when I was a kid I wanted to be a werewolf. I loved the TV show Werewolf and fell in love with the character of Eric Cord and the design of that lycanthrope. The Lost Boys changed my mind and I decided a vampire would be much more rad. Mark of the Beast is a great history lesson on the werewolf subgenre starting from the beginning and moving up through 2010’s remake of The Wolfman. The film makes a poignant observation I think, without even realizing it: it jumps from 1981 to 2010 with nothing in between more or less proving that the subgenre has all but disappeared. That’s unfortunate as all hell but it also seems to make the point that the high marks were both set in ‘81 with American Werewolf and The Howling and I’m not going to disagree. With CGI special effects taking over for practical stuff can we ever get anything as magical as 1981? Even Wes Craven tried and failed miserably so I think it’s a valid question. I wish someone would and could make another badass werewolf film but I’m not going to hold my breath because I think that magic ship has sailed which is unfortunate. There’s some great guests in the film but surprisingly both Rick Baker and Rob Bottin are absent and part of the film details the stellar make-up from each one. If you’re a fan of the subgenre or just interested in the history you’ll love this especially at a brisk run time of only 75 minutes. And for the record, The Howling is the superior werewolf film if for no other reason then Dee Wallace. This is where I would normally make a snide comment about John Landis because the guy is loved too much but I’ll show a little reserve for once. Response C. I think we all agree that Mark of the Beast is a great documentary on the legacy of Universal’s The Wolf Man and what is now considered the werewolf standard. Highlighting such films as The Howling and An American Werewolf in London are crucial as they’re constantly considered the greatest werewolf movies made. However, my issue still does lie with the gap from those 1981 films to 2010’s The Wolfman. By disregarding (almost) three decades you lose incredible movies that used the werewolf as a powerful metaphor. Key examples would be the use of the werewolf as a theme on coming into womanhood/sexuality (1984’s The Company of Wolves, 2000’s Ginger Snaps, and 2014’s When Animals Dream). There are many other great stories to have come out since 1981 but I won’t bog you down with all the different types of metaphors used. There’s also multiple discussions that could’ve been had about the shifting image of werewolves in modern culture that would offer great content for the documentary. Such as, taking on more of a supporting or servant-like role like: The Monster Squad, Van Helsing, Underworld franchise, or Twilight franchise (not the greatest examples but a presentation of them in modern day popular media). There’s the use of werewolves becoming more of a creature threatening the protagonist than being a curse upon the protagonist (Wolfen, Silver Bullet, Bad Moon, Dog Soldiers, Brotherhood of the Wolf, or Late Phases). I know that you could argue that they only wanted to focus on Universal’s The Wolf Man (as in the title) but to mention such films as The Howling opens up the discussion. And the “legacy of the Universal werewolf” does span across all studios. So it was good but in the end, with the days following since my initial response I am left in a state of “what could have been.” J. I’m not gonna beat you over the head with the same idea but the 1981 - 2010 gap is the most troubling thing for me. There’s a lot of stuff that could’ve been included and a lot of stuff that isn’t so mainstream too which would’ve been nice. I’m still a little puzzled at certain guests that were not present too but that could’ve easily been a scheduling conflict among other things. Baker and Bottin would’ve been welcome. K. I can definitely see where Craig is coming from on this and the observation that this plays like a DVD special feature. While there certainly have been werewolf films in the intervening years between the 1980s and now, I think Josh hit the nail on the head with the point that there have been no werewolf films in recent years that have been as resonant in pop culture as The Howling and An American Werewolf in London. So, I vote Craig makes a documentary on werewolves to cover all the missed opportunities here. (Also, full disclosure, I too wanted to be a werewolf. In fact, I still do, that’s why I don’t own a razor). C. Then I will! You heard it here first, folks, with enough interest and support from all of you, I (with Bloodhound Pix) will begin work on an extensive documentary about lycanthropy. It will begin with Sabine Baring-Gould’s Book of Werewolves (1865) and examine real cases and myths of lycanthropy across all continents (even Antarctica, why not?) before reaching a more universal lore created by the “cinematic werewolf.” I’ll even make it multiple episodes. If that sounds up your alley then hassle Ginger Nuts of Horror and Bloodhound Pix on social media to light a fire under my butt. Bloodhound’s average score: 3 1/2 out of 5