Why didn’t you tell me Kato Kaelin, star witness of the O.J. Trial, has a werewolf movie on his resume? We need to go on this journey. Take my hand. We will fly like Superman and Lois…
“Will you look at me? Quivering. Like a little girl. Shivering. You can see right through me. Can you read my mind? If so, you know I’ve got a bad feeling about this…”
Randolph Cohlan wrote and directed Night Shadow (1989). The movie was his springboard to disappointment. Cohlan only made one more movie after Night Shadow – Line of Fire (not to be confused with the Clint Eastwood film).
We’re Running With The Shadows Of The Night
Opening credits play over shots of Los Angeles. Kato Kaelin gets third billing. I want to protest this travesty, but third billing is pretty impressive for a poor man’s Brad Pitt in 1989. The real Brad Pitt didn’t break out until 1991 with Thelma and Louise.
A lady named Alex, played by Brenda Vance, hops in her car and vacates the City of Angels. Soon, she is among corn and cows. Vance’s career followed a similar course. She starred in Night Shadow and Line of Fire and that was it. Despite this, she is a likable presence. She has a Francoise Yip-quality.
As Alex cruises along, she passes a broken-down car. The driver gives her the kind of creepy stare gym-going female TikTokers dream about. The driver is played by Rick Scott and looks like a poor man’s Aidan Quinn. Like Cohlan and Vance before him, Night Shadow is virtually Scott’s only credit.
An old man in a pickup truck passes the broken-down car next and offers the creepy man a ride. Wordlessly, the man accepts. He opens the trunk to retrieve his bag and reveals a dead body. It is a solid storytelling shot. Good job, Cohlan. You deserve a Jeremiah-Johnson nod.
The old man tries to make conversation, but the driver says nothing. Apparently, this offends the old man enough to make him draw a pistol. This strains suspension of disbelief. No one would pull a gun on a car passenger who keeps their mouth shut. Jeremiah-Johnson nod rescinded.
The creepy guy reacts by shoving the old man’s head through the window. Obviously, this is a metaphor for how easy it is for men to break through the glass ceiling because they are lifted up by other men. Let’s take a moment to loathe male privilege and up our DEI score…
So Baby, Take My Hand
At last, we get our first dose of Kato. He admires himself in a mirror. Who can blame him? His mullet is beautiful, like it was shampooed with Ranch Dressing and conditioned with Pabst Blue Ribbon. Kato gets busy seducing a girl who is the 1980s personified. She wears a confetti-pattern shirt, pink hoop earrings, and poofy hair. If she has a fungus, it would be Molly Ringworm.
Meanwhile, two guys in ski masks creep up on the house. One carries a shotgun. The other wears a Freddy glove. They break through the door and scare Kato and Miss 1985. They laugh and pull off their ski masks to reveal themselves as an Asian Dude and a Sidekick Guy.
Asian Dude is played by Stuart Quan, who has some fun credits. He was in Big Trouble in Little China, The Shadow, and Seinfeld. He even played a ninja in the James Bond movie, License to Kill.
Kato and Quan rummage in the refrigerator, which contains pie, Preparation H and Ex Lax. They improvise comedy with these items. Let’s just say their results ensure they will never guest star on Whose Line Is It Anyway. Meanwhile, Miss 1985 insists they fix her door. When they leave, it falls off its hinges. Haha! Humor! Surely, this script was punched up by Wes Anderson.
You’ll Be Alright
Alex visits a fancy restaurant with pig-shaped water pitchers and coffee creamers with cow heads. The waitresses wear pink cummerbunds and bowties. Egad! It is the exact same server outfit worn at a local restaurant from my youth.
I had a crush on one of the waitresses and tried to impress her by taking a drink of water and simultaneously sneezing in the glass. I still remember the look of cringe on her face. If only she could see me now, writing for LMO, where the fame and perks flow like Harrison Ford’s prostate. Here’s a live look at LMO Headquarters while Stark makes us repeatedly watch that episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation where Counselor Troi and Beverly Crusher do aerobics…
Quan shows up at the restaurant wearing a crop top that says, “Life is hard. Then you die.” Just when I thought he couldn’t get any cooler… It turns out he and Alex are brother and sister. Quan got a lot more Asian genes, though. He would look right at home driving a long-tail boat. Meanwhile, Alex looks like she probably uses boil-in-a-bag rice.
The creepy killer is also at the restaurant. His outfit looks like a leftover, gently-used ensemble that Bruce Banner would wake up in after a Hulk-out. The killer and Alex stare at each other. A lightning storm is superimposed over their faces. It’s these kind of artistic touches one expects from a master like Cohlan.
Two cops enter. One of them, Adam, sits with Alex. He tells a story about a dog having a seizure in a car, which causes an accident. The dog then choked on a dog biscuit two days later. The owner tried to give it the Heimlich Maneuver. Earlier, I thought Wes Anderson punched up this script. Now, I’m pretty sure it is ghostwritten by Mamet.
Adam is played by Tom Boylan, who also lacks credits. He looks a bit like Jay Leno got chin reduction surgery and a receding Magnum P.I. hairdo. Adam and Alex have a romantic history. Before they can cave in to repressed feelings, Adam is called away to look at a body found in a dumpster
The body is the old man from the truck. The coroner briefs Adam about the extent of the wounds and the time-of-death. The old man’s wife enters the scene, and Adam takes her into his manly arms. Good move. Now he has a back-up babe in case things don’t work out with Alex.
Surrender All Your Dreams
Surely, I am 195 minutes into Night Shadow by now. It is veering into problems that often affect low-budget horror movies. It is bogged down in establishing characters that aren’t compelling and building a world that isn’t interesting.
Since Night Shadow is bogging down, let’s speed up the play-by-play. Aldo Ray pops into the film as a wannabe Randall Peltzer from Gremlins. Aldo has wacky fish flashlights and wears a wacky shark hat. Fun fact: Aldo voiced Sullivan in The Secret of NIMH.
Kato and Sidekick Guy have a spitting contest. They also attempt to rap before Kato pretends to pour beer in his ear and spit it out of his mouth. You got to hand it to Kato. He didn’t show up to collect a $4.95 paycheck. He’s here to perform.
A town meeting is held where a mayor wants to do as little as possible, so as not to cause a panic. Obligatory Jaws plagiarizing complete. The coroner also gives her third rundown on the injuries and time-of-death of the victims at this meeting. Her dialogue is likely written by someone who did zero research on pathology beyond watching TV shows with coroners in them.
As a C+ student, I respect that.
Quan wears another crop top. To complete the look, he really needs a headband, a stage, and a director wearing a scarf shouting…
“That’s not how Richard Beymer sang ‘Tonight!’ Fortissimo, bitch! And, you call that prancing!?”
Perhaps the standout scene of Night Shadow is a stylized medieval dream sequence in slow motion. Alex channels Gozer from Ghostbusters while Quan eats a hand with meal worms on it. “Want some?” he asks Alex as his eyes flash red. On the one hand, one wants to applaud the effort. On the other hand, the line between effort and embarrassment is often very thin indeed.
To Me Tonight
Night Shadow picks up a bit in the second half, like an old person going from a walker to a wheelchair. Quan karate chops a biker gang. He and Kato break into the creepy guy’s hotel room and find a dresser full of rotten meat. Kato steals an old book that appears to be something like a Necronomicon for werewolves. The creepy guy is so incensed at this that he transformers into a werewolf.
Shortly after, Kato is killed. He walks down a dark alley and monologues a baseball scene of a player trying to hit a homerun for his sick mother. It’s actually kind of funny. The werewolf appears and kills Kato by impaling him with a pipe. This is a neat idea, as it shows the werewolf is not a mindless creature but maintains its human intelligence.
From there, we go to Quan on a motorcycle being chased by the cops, which leads to the finale at an old mill. We get our first look at the werewolf. It’s a decent costume, certainly no worse than other werewolf suits I’ve seen. It is hinted that the werewolf blew into town because he wants to make Alex his bride. Usually, vampires are the ones after brides. Nice touch to make it a werewolf. The werewolf then exits life Jaws-style, blown up by a bullet through a gas tank.
They’ll Come True
Night Shadow is a misguided movie. It spends too much time on uninteresting characters. For example, a hotel manager and the coroner get quality minutes in a 90-minute movie. They have nothing to offer the story. Likewise, the Adam and Alex storyline gets more time than it should. The movie really should have focused on Quan and Kato trying to solve the mystery of the werewolf. Quan has sweet karate moves, and Kato clearly has that mystical something cameras love. There is an entertaining movie in that dynamic. Perhaps, in the reboot…
On the other hand, Night Shadow is a sincere effort. Cohlan had a dream to make a werewolf film. He scraped up the cash, got some actors and actresses to help him realize his vision, and put his imagination to celluloid. Night Shadow lacks assets at all levels to achieve magic, but a mute, vagabond werewolf descending on a small town is a solid premise. Cohlan’s influences are clearly Jaws, The Howling, and The Terminator. Those are solid influences.
I also like the idea that a werewolf doesn’t have to lose its human intelligence in wolf form. It is a concept I, myself, explored in my Nazi werewolf novel, DogSS of War. For this reason, I feel a kinship to Cohlan. We both got werewolves on the brain, which inspired a creative act that only our moms care about. I’m here for you, Cohlan. Bring in it. Let’s hug it out.
In The End
Like Superman and Lois, we made it through our flight into the starry skies of low-budget werewolf movies. Good werewolf movies are few and far between, yet I love a good werewolf movie. This is why I continually subject myself to any werewolf movie that comes down the pike. Hope springs eternal. Mayhap I will hit upon a hidden gem. Alas, this time I did not…
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