We are Drive-In mutants
We are not like other people
We are sick
We are disgusting
We believe in blood
If life had a vomit meter
We’d be off the scale
As long as one Drive-In remains
On the planet earth
We will party like jungle animals
We will boogey till we puke
The Drive-In will never die
So here we go, Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. It’s the Last Drive In, season 1, episode 8. One of the first things that jumps out at me when watching him talk about the film Wolf Guy: Enraged Lycanthrope is just how broad his palate for cinematic lore is. He is truly a lover of the medium in all its multiplicitous expressions, and the more bizarre the better. Wolf Guy is no exception. It appears as a robust homage to movie storytelling and an excellent example of Japanese exploitation cinema in the 70s. Or at least that’s my impression. Judging by Wolf Guy I can only assume that Japanese audiences at that time craved the uncanny hybridization of plots that bursts from the seams of this flick. It’s not a perfect film but it sure hit a bunch of my ‘cool’ buttons and my appreciation has only deepened with further viewings.
First off, it's got martial-arts great, Sonny Chiba, and I am a sucker for martial arts movies. It taps into a strong nostalgia vein. As a kid, martial arts movies were a treat, seeming less violent than many of the westerns they so often mimicked. Now they weren't really any less violent than all the stagecoaches, bullets and blood fare. But it kind of felt like it was. This only mattered because I am a peace loving man at heart. The violence in martial arts movies always seemed to have a rational, philosophical element, that was often too subtle, if not absent, in the matinee cinema classics that made John Wayne and Clint Eastwood hyper-masculine screen idols. Not that they were stupid characters, lacking intelligence or common sense. They were just motivated by their guts and passions. For vengeance. These elements are present in martial arts movies too, but you get the mystique of the philosopher martial artist layered into it.
Wolf Guy doesn’t exactly go in for the mendicant monk mystique but it’s got Chiba in his prime. He’s lithe and limber with all the zap and pow of a thunderclap. Wrap that up in this weird 70s genre combo of a movie and you have the recipe for fantastic. It's gritty with all the tonality and saturation of color that I have come to associate with movies from my birth decade. And then you’ve got a kicking soundtrack. The music is in that over-the-top porn style of jazz that can only be made with Wah-wah pedals and Moog synthesizers of yesteryear.
The film doesn't quite know what to do with itself though. Is it a horror film? Is it a gangster film? Is it a government thriller? Yes, yes, and kind of.
“One look at Wolf Guy and the babes just drop their panties.” - Joe Bob Briggs
Chiba's character, Akira, cannot be reduced to any one thing. He is always more than the sum of his many qualities, with only his lycanthropy coming closest to most defining “him” outright. It is neither a secret nor an openly spoken subject, but it flavors all of his dealings with the depraved and violent humanity seeking to control or destroy him. Chiba’s wolf nature is the one element that makes Wolf Guy an actual contender as a horror film. That and the tasteful gore peppered throughout. Otherwise, it's a 70s style noir with a rough and tumble reporter on the crime beat trying to track down the underworld connection in a series of bizarre killings. Not exactly boring but somewhat pedestrian as far as movies go. But thankfully the reporter in this flick happens to be a nimble lycanthrope with a pedigree for trouble.
The plot, meandering at times, tries to combine multiple story-lines from the manga the movie is based on. But this means you get a whole lotta bang for your buck. It also means that character development is minimal if not altogether missing. I get the feeling that if I wanted to dig a bit deeper and tap into my inner film critic there might be something about xenophobia and genocide hidden in the story’s message. There’s also an argument to be made that Chiba’s Akira represents a part of Japanese identity and being that has been suppressed by the overbearing influence of Western values. Which would make much of the film’s influences ironic. But in the end it doesn’t really matter.
This movie works best when it's not trying to make sense. There is a strange poetry in watching Chiba monitoring the phases of the moon in anticipation of that moment when he’ll be at his peak power and the spectacle this promises. This is when we are treated to some of the most entertaining displays of martial arts vigor, once the moon has waxed fully, and Wolf Guy is truly unleashed.
(*This article is excerpted from a longer piece, which will appear in the upcoming eighth issue of The Joe Bob Briggs Fanzine.)
Written by Jason Manriquez
Staff Writer & Social Media Manager, Joe Bob Briggs Fanzine, Last Fanzine on the Left, published by Paddy Jack Press.