The 70s were a great place for made-for-television horror movies and the king of these outings was director Dan Curtis, the man behind the long-running Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, but Curtis was also notable for his collaborations with legendary horror author Richard Matheson that resulted in such gems as The Night Stalker and The Strangler which later spawned the wonderful Kolchak series, and the success of those lead to Matheson and Curtis re-teaming for a murder mystery, one with a bit of a lycanthropic twist to things.
The tagline for the ABC Movie of the Week was “Death comes out of the woods on four paws and returns on two feet. A beast? A Human? Only the dead know” and that pretty much sums up Dan Curtis’ Scream of the Wolf, a murder mystery that pitted Mission Impossible star Peter Graves against a threat that may or may not be an actual werewolf. Based on the short story “The Hunter” by David Chase, this film deals with a series of brutal killings perpetrated by some unknown creature and after a man is found mauled to death in his car Sheriff Vernon Bell (Philip Carey) enlists local adventure writer and former hunter John Weatherby (Peter Graves) to investigate what soon becomes a series of killings, by an animal that Weatherby soon discovers “Ran on four legs! Walked upright on two! Then erased its own tracks!”
Weatherby tries to solicit the aid of his old friend Byron Douglas (Clint Walker), a world-renowned big-game hunter, but Byron declines stating that he’s too busy preparing for his upcoming trip to South America. This strikes an odd cord with Weatherby as any hunter worth his salt would be interested in tracking down such a mysterious beast, but our heroic author clearly isn’t that goof of a mystery writer or he would have spotted the red flags surrounding his “old friend” as it’s pretty obvious from the outset that the reason Byron doesn’t want to hunt the creature, which we already assume is a werewolf, is because he himself is the werewolf. Now, I’m not saying Weatherby is an obtuse idiot, blinded by his friendship with Byron, but I think even the Scooby Gang would have solved this mystery by the 15-minute mark.
And just how obvious is Bryon the guilty party? Well, he crashes a diner date between Weatherby and his on-again-off-again girlfriend Sandy (Jo Ann Pflug) and brings up that he and Weatherby once tracked down a wolf in Canada, a creature that many believed to be a hunter-turned-werewolf, and a wolf bit Byron during this encounter, and he then offers this wonderful piece of wisdom, “You never could accept that the life of a predator is superior to that of its victim” and if that wasn’t creepy enough, when a patron of the restaurant walks up an asks Bryon “What’s the pleasure that full-grown and presumably intelligent men get from murdering defenceless animals?” he responds that he can’t “tell him” but “The pleasure I get from killing, I could show you what that is, though I doubt you’d die with the nobility of an animal. Shall I show you?” It’s at this point that not only are red flags blowing in the breeze but neon on arrows surrounds Byron declaring that “THIS IS THE KILLER” yet, even when Sandy is attacked later that night, after she showed complete disdain towards Byron, Weatherby still resists the idea that his old pal is a killer.
And sure, jumping to the conclusion that a werewolf committing these unspeakable acts would normally be considered “silly” but a creature whose wolf-like tracks go from four legs to two legs is either a werewolf or someone trying to make the world believe there is a werewolf at large, in either case, the chief suspect is Bryon Douglas and Weatherby ignoring this is even sillier than the idea of a lycanthrope on the loose. The film then tries to set up Bryon’s assistant Grant (Don Megowan) as a possible suspect but by this time the only people not positive it’s Byron, including the viewer, is Weatherby and that’s just sad. Even when the two of them go out hunting the creature, and Bryon is presumably killed, we never doubt for a second that he’s going to turn up alive for a final confrontation with the thick-headed Weatherby. What is worse than the unbelievable actions of our protagonist is the film’s complete lack of action, even for a made-for-television horror movie this is some weak sauce because not only do we see nothing of the kills, which is odd considering they are all from the killer’s point of view, and the tense only tense moment of this movie is when Bryon challenges Weatherby to an arm-wrestling contest.
When the film eventually gets around to the big reveal that Bryon is, in fact, the killer “Gasp” most sensible viewers will have walked away in disgust by this point, but those that managed to stick around don’t even get to see Peter Graves fight a werewolf as it turns out that Bryon had simply faked the tracks with pieces of the animals he had killed over the years and covered his scent and he’d used an attack dog to kill and maul the victims. Why the director of two great Night Stalker movies, which both had supernatural threats, would produce such a low-rent offering of this is the true mystery here. Did Curtis not have enough of a budget to pull off a real werewolf movie or was this “Scooby-Doo Ending” always his intent? I’ll give it that Bryon’s motivation for the killings, to make people feel alive in their fear, was kind of interesting but the execution was lacklustre and overall disappointing, and when Peter Graves shoots Clint Walker in the back he’s not the only one who feels betrayed.
• The film’s first victim runs out of gas but leaves his headlights on when he walks off to look for help, if he hadn’t been killed by the “werewolf” he’d still have to deal with a dead battery if he got back to his car.
• The Sheriff asks author John Weatherby to investigate a murder scene, but the victim was horribly mauled and animal tracks were found near the victim, so isn’t “murder” a bit of a strange assumption?
• Peter Graves plays an author embroiled in a brutal mystery, which does seem to be a popular occupation for protagonists in horror movies.
• While staking out Bryon’s home, the Sheriff’s deputy sees movement and goes inside to investigate, but he has no probable cause or a warrant, good thing he’s mauled to death or he could have been brought up on charges.
• The Sheriff and Weatherby repeatedly try and get Bryon to hunt for the creature, but is he the only hunter in the bloody State? You’d think every big game hunter around would have descended on this small town for a chance at bagging this man killer, and certainly, anybody would be better than Weatherby.
At 74-minutes in length Scream of the Wolf barely qualifies as a movie and is made all the worse for it being rather boring as well, a real crime for a horror film involving a possible werewolf, and while Clint Walker’s portrayal of a sociopath hunter added a certain spark to the proceedings it wasn’t enough to compensate for the film’s poor direction, a weak script, amateurish camerawork and abysmal cinematography, which is a shame considering that Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson have proven they can deliver the goods when needed. So, what happened? Was this simply a paycheck movie and Curtis and Matheson just took ABC’s money and slapped together this unengaging mess with the hope that no one would bother to tune in? Well, whatever the case may be, this is a horror film that is disappointing on almost every level and one I can only recommend to die-hard Clint Walker fans, I know you’re out there.
Scream of the Wolf (1974)
Movie Rank - 4/10
Peter Graves and Clint Walker face off in this tepid movie-of-the-week horror entry that will most likely cause horror fans to nod off before reaching the film’s “startling” conclusion, both Dan Curtis and Richard Matheson should be ashamed of themselves for their involvement in this rather disappointing colloboration.