The trouble with hairy

Pub date October 29, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionTrash

HALLOWEEN SCREENING What’s most shocking about Oliver Stone’s W. — beyond anything in the too-mild movie itself — is that it’s simply dramatizing a still-seated US president. That still feels like a breach in our near-extinct public decorum, however much Shrub has degraded the office’s dignity.

Yet there’s precedent: one prior era brought a slew of movies about its Disaster-in-Chief. Once Watergate broke, filmmakers from late radical-left documentarian Emile de Antonio to future Roller Boogie (1979) director Mark L. Lester weighed in with parodies.

Little-noticed then, these films have only grown more obscure since. But one gets revived as the Pacific Film Archive’s Halloween choice this year. Despite all its flaws, it remains one of the more hilarious metaphors ever for political corruption. We’re talking The Werewolf of Washington.

Werewolf was the second and last feature by writer-director Milton Moses Ginsberg, whose Coming Apart (Rip Torn as a psychiatrist having sex with his female patients) created a minor splash in 1969. That film was an early exercise in faux-found footage narrative à la The Blair Witch Project (1999). By contrast, his hairy 1973 follow-up looks as stylistically square as the Nixon White House, last bastion of political Lawrence Welk-dom.

This is one of those movies hinged entirely on a crazed lead performance. Dean Stockwell, old-Hollywood child actor turned counterculture collage artist turned weirdo cult actor (1986’s Blue Velvet, 1984’s Dune) plays Jack Whittier, youngest member of the White House press corps. Sweetheart to the president’s daughter, Whittier jilts her by taking an assignment in Hungary — where something not-quite-human bites his ass. Returning stateside, he’s recruited as press secretary to a president (Biff McGuire) unlike Tricky Dick in look or manner.

But Werewolf‘s satire is indirect, if not exactly subtle. Despite pleas to be fired — even arrested — Whittier keeps getting kicked upstairs. He’s too much an asset to a paranoid administration under scandalized fire. That value is not unrelated to mysterious man-beast slayings of various loudmouths exposing the administration’s ethical canyon-gaps. Victims include critical journalists, inconvenient political wives, and ill-fated DC residents who stumble across supernatural murder scenes.

The Werewolf of Washington is crude, sloppy, aesthetically ugly, and deliberately ridiculous. But Stockwell is hilarious, particularly during those twitchy lycanthropic transformations where he turns shock-white haired and fanged. This genius turn floats an otherwise flimsy film.


Fri/31, 8 p.m., $5.50-$9.50

Pacific Film Archive, 2575 Bancroft, Berk.

(510) 642-5249,