Writer: Mark Pirro
Stars: Michael Palazzolo, Taylor Whitney and Kent Butler
By the time 2016 ends, I’ll have reviewed 35 pictures to remember important contributors to cinema on what would have been (or, in two instances, were) their centennials. Curse of the Queerwolf, released in 1988, is the most recent of them and by far the cheapest to make. Low budget pioneer Mark Pirro shot it on 8mm film for an estimated $10,000, which was four times what he spent on his debut feature, 1983’s A Polish Vampire in Burbank. That picture grossed over half a million dollars in home video and cable TV sales, allowing him to shoot Deathrow Gameshow on 35mm for $200,000 and see it distributed worldwide by Crown International. I own it on PAL VHS, a tape which contributed just a little to the million and a half dollars that it made. Perhaps because Pirro had to sue Crown for royalties due to him, he leapt back down the budgetary scale to shoot this, his third feature, which grew out of a small character role in A Polish Vampire in Burbank of a queerwolf in a hot tub.
Now, which ‘important contributor to cinema’ could be in a $10,000 feature called Curse of the Queerwolf, you might ask? Well, that would be Forrest J. Ackerman, the original fan, whose importance to fandom cannot be underestimated. He coined the term ‘sci-fi’ and invented cosplay. He wrote for the first fanzines and lent his name to a character in the first Superman story (published before the comic book). He co-founded LASFS, the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society, the oldest continuously operating sci-fi club in the world; in addition to running LosCon, it also owns Westercon, a regional sci-fi convention which my better half is chairing in 2017. He published Famous Monsters of Filmland and represented some 200 authors as a literary agent, from luminaries like Ray Bradbury to outsiders like Ed Wood. He also collected everything he could and, over half a century, exhibited it to over 50,000 fellow fans at his house, known as the Ackermansion. The fact that he appeared in over 210 films is almost a footnote to his incredible career.
I love Z-movies too, when they’re made with imagination and passion. It’s been so long since I’ve seen Deathrow Gameshow that I’m unable to remember much about it but I do remember that I laughed aloud a lot while watching it and I did the same with Curse of the Queerwolf. The story is the standard werewolf legend we know from The Wolf Man and Curse of the Werewolf, among many others. Pirro even nods overtly to the classics that came before by giving torches to the men who trail the queerwolf (or dickenthrope) at the outset (that’s torches with fire like villagers always carried to Frankenstein’s castle rather than torches like British flashlights). Sure, this is a contemporary story and one of these modern ‘villagers’ is wearing sunglasses, but they still have old school torches which they never extinguish, even while travelling by car. Either Pirro couldn’t afford pitchforks too or they were too dangerous to have sticking out of moving vehicles. It doesn’t matter. The torches rocked.
I should add that Larry is a nice guy, but he’s easily led. He’s managed to land a lovely girlfriend, Lois, and things seem to be going really well for them. He loves her, he cares about her and he wants to settle down with her, but it’s a scary proposition, leaving his bachelor days behind, and his best friend, Richard Cheese, really doesn’t help him to move forward. Dick is a complete lech, who is convinced that he should keep Larry from falling into matrimony. So he takes him to strip clubs (‘We just got here four hours ago’) and bars to pick up girls. Larry does feel guilty doing this but he gets talked into it anyway; it’s how he finds himself necking with a young lady on Dick’s couch who turns out to be Paula McFarland. It’s only after she bites him on the ass that he realises that she’s a man pretending to be a woman. The four ‘villagers’ with their torches promptly invade the house and chase poor Paula out into the night so we can tie into that opening scene and start to move forward with Larry as the new queerwolf.
Not all the cast were this inexperienced, of course, and I’m not just talking about Forry Ackerman’s 210 bit parts. Another victim of Richard Cheese at the Sweet Holy Mama Therapy Clinic is Conrad Brooks, a legendary Z-movie actor, best known for playing a cop in Plan 9 from Outer Space. He made a bunch of pictures for Ed Wood and also worked for Coleman Francis on The Beast of Yucca Flats in 1961, before calling it quits on his screen career. It was Pirro who talked him back for his debut, A Polish Vampire in Burbank, and he’s appeared in many of Pirro’s films since. He’d also go on to work for other modern day B-movie legends, such as Fred Olen Ray, David DeCoteau and Donald G. Jackson, among many others, in a filmography that is packed full of movies with outrageous names that are either awesome or awful or both. Ackerman may not have seen Dr. Horror’s Erotic House of Idiots, The Saturn Avenger vs. The Terror Robot or Test Tube Teens from the Year 2000, but he would happily have done so and probably enjoyed the heck out of them.
My reviews often act as recommendations, somehow even when I’m writing what I think are negative ones, but this film is going to polarise people without any commentary on quality. Some people are going to read this, be horrified that such a picture exists and make sure never to watch it. Others are going to seek it out just because they now know that it was made; I’m certainly going to lend it to the gay couple in my family who didn’t just enjoy The Gays but laughed uproariously at it. I’m sure that some won’t be able to buy into the fact that a feature shot on 8mm for $10,000 could contain anything of quality, but I’d suggest that there’s quite a lot, even in places you wouldn’t expect. Every werewolf movie has to have a transformation scene, for instance, and this one has the one you might expect, with Larry watching in horror as his wrists go limp, but it also has a very believable shot of fingernails extending, complete with bright red nail polish. It’s not Rick Baker’s An American Werewolf in London but I was still impressed.