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LATE PHASES (review)

Review by Dean Galanis
Produced by Larry Fessenden, Brent Kunkle, 
Greg Newman, Zak Zeman
Written by Eric Stolze
Directed by Adrian Garcia Bogliano
Starring Nick Damici, Ethan Embry, 
Lance Guest, Erin Cummings, Rutanya Alda, 
Tina Louise, Caitlin O’Heaney, Karen Lynn Gorney, 
Dana Ashbrook, Tom Noonan

The werewolf film Late Phases resembles a cross between the Stephen King adaptation Silver Bullet and the Don Coscarelli cult fave Bubba Ho-Tep.

It’s better than the former and not quite as good as the latter, but it’s got a nice, old-school vibe, fun practical werewolf effects and make-up, and a blast of a cast for genre fans, led by the terrific Nick Damici. Damici is a blind Vietnam vet who, as our story begins, is being taken to a retirement community by his son (Ethan Embry, quite good and seemingly channeling Hank Azaria), presumably to spend his remaining years.

As Damici says later, “This isn’t a place where people come to live. It’s a place where people come to die.”

Damici is none to happy about the move, but he’s none too happy about anything; he has deep regrets and some nightmarish memories, and is plainly a bitter, miserable man.

After a vicious (and well-staged) “animal attack” leaves his neighbor dead, Damici soon pieces it together that the community is under siege by a werewolf once every full moon (how he comes to this realization is kinda glossed over; thankfully, the filmmakers don’t drag out the protagonists’ resistance to a supernatural explanation for an interminable stretch, but really, he just accepts it too readily).

Damici spends the next 30 days preparing for a battle with the mystery werewolf. He feels out potential candidates: the local priest (Tom Noonan, good as always), an acolyte of the priest (Lance Guest, in a good turn, though it was a shock when I realized it was him; he’s no longer the fresh-faced lad from Halloween 2 and The Last Starfighter), neighbors Tina Louise and Rutanya Alda. Twin Peaks’ Dana Ashbrook and cult fave Larry Fessenden are also on hand, and Karen Lyn Gorney from Saturday Night Fever even has a small role!

The majority of the film deals with this preparation, which also serves as a character study and a showcase for Damici’s talents. He is wholly believable as an older man (he’s aided by the very effective old-age make-up that is thankfully understated) and as a physically blind one. I found this stretch to be interesting and enjoyable, but it didn’t have the punch of a Bubba Ho-Tep. It seems with a rewrite or two, Late Phases could have been a minor classic, so there’s the mild feeling of a missed opportunity, but there’s still plenty to enjoy and admire here.

There’s a nifty transformation scene (though it’s accompanied by a “Don’t stand there and gawk! RUN!” character, á la The Howling), and the climax is exciting, with the unusual thrill of watching an old blind man devising ways to trap and defeat his foe. The whole notion of a man beaten down by life, who’s made life miserable for his loved ones, and then gets a shot at redemption is irresistible, and it’s well-handled here.

The make-up and effects crew deserves kudos, as does Wojciech Golczewski for his nifty score.

If you’re expecting a wall-to-wall monster mash, you’ll surely be disappointed.

But if you’re a discriminating genre fan – and especially if you’re a fan of werewolf movies – do give Late Phases a shot.

Its pleasures far outweigh its problems.

LATE PHASES arrives on VOD November 14th and in select theaters November 21st
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