In The Monster Times #32 (April 1974), R. Allen Leider says The Werewolf of Washington (1973) was filmed in a “semi-documentary” style. I’m not sure that’s what i’d call it, but the first third or fourth of the movie is full of short shots that fade to black before starting a new one. At first, I thought this was a clever way to work within a low budget; I mean, the scenes are contained to one location and require no camera movement.
Unsettling at first, I quickly grew to like it. Unfortunately, once Jack Whittier (Dean Stockwell) returns from political “banishment” in Budapest due to his affair with the President’s daughter, the scenes stretch longer… and longer. By the time we hit the bowling alley scene (if you’ve seen it, you know what I mean), the pace has slowed to a crawl and the movie has become tedious.
It took me a while to realize The Werewolf of Washington was intentionally meant to be a comedy. The first part has humor, sure; however, once the pace decreases, the amount of humor increases. It’s uneven balance is its biggest downfall… well, that coupled with writer-director Milton Moses Ginsberg’s breaking of the cardinal rule of comedy: it’s best delivered in quick, short bursts, not in extended scenes where it becomes unfunny and painful.
This is a movie I really want to revisit someday and dig into further. It’s so much more “not bad” than I thought it would be. I want to know about the politics of it, which are clearly trying to be lampooned in the early 70’s era of Richard Nixon, Vietnam and Watergate. Besides making our elected leaders look like fools, I wonder if there was deeper satire that I’m missing. The Monster Times acknowledged this angle right from the start:
…we at TMT want to squelch certain scurrilous rumors that have been circulating about this film. Let’s make this perfectly clear: Werewolf of Washington was produced by a fine team of monster-type people and is not to be confused with any film taken at the Watergate Hotel. Nor is the film an edited version of any major political figure’s home movies. We know how easy it is to start these gossipy things and we just want to set the record straight.
Since I can’t responsibly write about its politics, I’ll attempt to write about its monster movie aspects. I don’t know why it’s white, but the werewolf makeup isn’t otherwise bad. Makeup creator Bob O’Bradovich uses vintage Lon Chaney transformation effects that, while a little too long, nevertheless do an effective job. They allow Stockwell to perform a number of facial exercises, especially with his jaw.
The Werewolf of Washington is neither particularly scary nor gory, but I really liked one scene where a potential victim seeks safety within a phone booth. The monster knocks it over, then climbs on top, pawing at the glass. This is partially shot from within the phone booth and is one of a few shots that are actually unique. Another one is a more simple shot of Stockwell walking toward the camera with the White House looming large behind him.
As for the non-political humor, I liked the occasional wordplay. For example, after he’s attacked in Budapest, a gypsy woman warns him about the sign of the pentagram. Stockwell replies, “Ah, the Pentagon is behind this!” There’s a reversal later in the movie when Stockwell is on the other side. He says, “pentagram” and someone else hears it as “Pentagon.” It’s still funny to me, but less so because it resides in the long, slow, mostly unfunny parts.
You can tell the folks at The Monster Times were thrilled to have an exclusive and were just a little overenthusiastic about The Werewolf of Washington:
The people at Diplomat pictures, who produced the film, show promise at being in on a new wave of horror films. Writer-director Milton Ginsberg has taken the headlines and a lot of imagination and transformed them into a ghoulish stew of comedy and horror with a satiric twist that makes one wonder how much imagination really is in the picture and how much “secret stuff” may be leaking out. It is also gratifying to note that we are approaching a period when some monster films are being produced as vehicles to express opinions and not just as amusements.
This is giving the filmmakers a little more credit than they deserve. Besides, the best horror movies always reflect the times in which they were made; that’s nothing new. Would there have been a boom in 1950’s sci-fi if not for the Cold War and fear of the atomic bomb? The difference is that most movies are more subtle. There’s nothing subtle about The Werewolf of Washington. Nevertheless, it fascinates me.
Written by Milton Moses Ginsberg
Directed by Milton Moses Ginsberg
Starring Dean Stockwell, Katalin Kallay, Clifton James, Biff McGuire
RT 90 min.
Released in October 1973
Home Video Mutant Sorority Pictures (DVD)
R. Allen Leider, White House Werewolf!
The Monster Times #32
April 1974, United States, Monster Times Publishing Company