Jack Whittier is a presidential aid but after an affair with the President’s daughter he requests a post in Hungary. There he is bitten by a werewolf and upon his return to America as a press secretary he proceeds to wreak havoc around the White House every full moon as the werewolf of Washington. Despite his best efforts to tell everyone, no one will believe him as the body count begins to rise.
Intended to be both a comedy and a political satire with horror elements thrown in for good measure, The Werewolf of Washington sort of fails on all counts. Released in 1973 in the midst of the Watergate scandal in America (only a few months before Nixon resigned), the film is definitely one for the older viewer who was alive at the time or who has a passing interest in politics.
Apart from one or two half-decent scenes, The Werewolf of Washington is a pretty lame horror flick and the werewolf scenes sometimes seem to exist entirely in their own separate film as if they were only added to a pre-made political drama. The early scenes in Hungary promise much with some effective imagery and plenty of the Wolf Man lore coming into play – gypsies, mysterious canes, etc. But once it the story gets back to Washington, the horror elements seem to work fine on their own when they need to but they uncomfortably mix with the political scenes and the humour. Taken on their own merit, the attack scenes do have a certain aggressiveness to them (the scene in which the werewolf rides atop a car pulling into a service station is highly memorable) and the werewolf transformation scenes may look a little dated now but certainly manage to convince with it’s frame-by-frame transformation. The werewolf looks alright too, with a streak of silver in him as opposed to the generic black werewolf we’re used to seeing.
Dean Stockwell is quite good as a man torn between his two lives and puts plenty of energy into his performance with the make-up on. He leaps and bounces all over the place as the werewolf and has the mannerisms down to a tee. But this is where the problems lie. Once the werewolf scenes are over, the political satire is terrible. I have no real interest in the goings of the White House and most of the jokes would have gone straight over me. I have a limited knowledge of the Nixon scandal but if I want to know more about it, I’m sure to watch something a little more explanatory than The Werewolf of Washington and its attempts to parody it. Having said that, Biff McGuire is hilarious as the President – he reminded me a bit of the Lloyd Bridges portrayal of the President of the USA in Hot Shots! Part Deux.
I’m guessing that the comedy (such as characters getting their fingers stuck in bowling balls – oh the hilarity!) is intended to soften the damaging blows of the political satire but the truth is that the gags fall flat too. The political satire is rarely scathing and it’s as though director Milton Moses Greenberg (now there’s a name) was a little too worried about making anything overly damaging in its depictions of the government, sleaze and corruption at the highest levels and all manner of back corridor dodgy dealings in the White House.
The Werewolf of Washington never once comes across as a horror film and aims for the Watergate scandal parody route with little effect. Neither work very well and you get the feeling they could easily have ditched either theme and had a better film as a result.