Open with a dark and stormy night, with the silhouette of ominous headlights in the distance and the building musical score behind it. Behold, a plain white male runs out of gas in the middle of nowhere. Deciding to hoof it instead of waiting for another vehicle to come along, he and his canvas-topped sedan are murdered by a pack of wolves…or something like a wolf intentionally left abstract.
Enter the key ingredient in 70’s made for TV horror movies that is a glaring absence from the giant blockbuster thriller remakes of today…the wah pedal. When the guitar kicks in with the wah and the horn section is blaring, funky-walkin’ jive killers can’t be far behind!
The investigating sheriff (Philip Carey) turns to retired big game hunter John Weatherby (Peter Graves) to track the animals that killed the stranger. Spin off a brief side-plot regarding his struggling relationship with the local coffee shop owner, and get back to the important part, the night shots of more grizzly murders.
Without so much as an “I’ve run out of gas”, another nondescript white male in a bad tweed jacket is chased by the camera and killed just one night after the first out-of-towner. With the creatures’ M.O. identical to the first killing, hunter John reveals that the animal changed from four feet to two to none according to the tracks. So far, he’s had better luck tracking down the coffee shop lady (Pflug).
Local bad dye job tough guy Byron Douglas (Clint Walker) is ominously introduced as a man with a heavy grip and no ability to be surprised. He’s another slick hunter who presents a side of intrigue in a story with no clear antagonist. And he drinks bourbon out of one of those plush, shag carpet types of bars that were a sign of the times. He also delivers a message that people have to fear in order to value their lives. Maybe Leigh Whannell (Saw) saw this as a toddler and it stuck with him for decades.
At this point, it should be evident that the primary entertainment value of Scream of the Wolf is pure nostalgia over actual horror, but it’s still been entertaining. Graves is at the top of his perplexed and pensive delivery, and Walker fulfils the “leading suspect by being introverted” role well. As with all made-for-TV flicks, this one suffers from sudden chops where commercials are required. A majority of the movie is shot at night, so there’s a lot lost in some of the long-range shots.
The movie plods along for a time before the “twist” ending where everything is explained. Things change into a battle of wits frantically paced by a high-pitched string section before the dramatic conclusion. (Note: “frantically paced” and “dramatic conclusion” were only written to perpetuate very old and common turns of phrase, still used in TV joiners for this kind of movie.)
Extras include a DVD dictionary, a movie trivia game (fortunately not limited to this movie), and a Max Fleischer color classic called Cobweb Hotel. This 1936 short features Jack Mercer as the voice of an innkeeper spider who lures in two newlywed flies. It uses a repetitive and colorful music score and a bevy of cartoon violence to tell its simple little tale but was an interesting addition to the DVD package. There’s also a DVD-ROM function that accesses the same features.