[Tearing Through Werewolf Cinema] 'The Boy Who Cried Werewolf' (1972) Was a Boy Who Deserved to Be Eaten
Welcome to a weekly series in which Doris V. Sutherland takes readers on a trip through the history of werewolf cinema...
...The Boy Who Cried Werewolf (1973) opens with single father Robert (Kerwin Mathews) taking a trip with his son Richie (Scott Sealey) in the woods, where they run into a werewolf. Robert successfully pushes the lycanthrope off a cliff to its death, whereupon the corpse reverts back to human form. Robert failed to notice his attacker’s hirsute nature in the dark, and believes that he has killed an ordinary human – albeit in self-defence. Richie, on the other hand, knows full well his dad slayed a werewolf, but he has trouble convincing the adults in his life. He also knows the full implications of his father having been bitten in the scuffle…
Directed by Nathan H. Juran, written by Bob Homel and not to be confused with the 2010 film of the same name, The Boy Who Cried Werewolf is bad. This is evident from its first dialogue sequence: one of those cumbersome “we’ve had this discussion before” exchanges between the father and son, establishing that the kid’s parents are divorced. What really robs the film of any appeal, however, is just how utterly annoying Richie is.
The film is saddled with one of those insufferable “aww gee dad” cinematic sprogs, who spends scene after scene excitedly gushing about werewolves like some nightmare hybrid of Edward Van Sloan and Bobby Brady. Richie becomes so thoroughly irksome that, when his parents get back together for boring conversations about their tedious love-life, this actually comes as a blessed relief – a relief that is then dashed whenever their unspeakable offspring runs into the room and opens his mouth. He does become a little easier to stomach when he gets cowed into submission by the realisation that his dad’s a werewolf, but by then the damage has been well and truly done.
This is unfortunate, as The Boy Who Cried Werewolf has some enjoyably oddball touches that could have redeemed the clunky script. When the werewolf commits his first fatalities, this is not done by biting or slashing as you might expect, but rather by the lycanthrope standing in the middle of the road and waving his arms about until he causes a car to drive off an embankment. Indeed, vehicular mischief is a favourite tactic of his, as he is later seen rolling a caravan to its destruction. Meanwhile, one victim ends up decapitated – and our decidedly eccentric werewolf actually goes through the trouble of putting the severed head in a backpack and burying it, even before turning back into a human.
Also notable is the commune full of Jesus-Freak hippies who turn up as regular characters. Any filmmaker worth their salt will know that throwing in a bunch of hippies is a surefire way to lift up a sagging narrative, and the trick works wonders for The Boy Who Cried Werewolf. The hippie ringleader, who cosplays as either Jesus or Rasputin, is by some margin the most likeable character in the entire film. When he shows himself to be so holy that the lycanthropy-infected Robert is unable to even approach him – instead being trapped behind an invisible barrier, mime-style – it’s hard not to cheer. The fact that the hippie leader is played by screenwriter Bob Homel adds to the charm.
On a more substantial level, the film has a genuinely good premise. Cinematic werewolves have often had loved ones pining over them, but these were almost always girlfriends. Putting the lycanthrope’s own kid in the role is a novel twist that taps into an archetypical fantasy motif: the child who has seen strange phenomena, but is unable to convince adults. (Plus, if you want to go down the Freudian path, the image of the trusted parent becoming a wolf is rife with symbolism.)
While the more inspired aspects of the film aren’t quite enough to redeem it, they do at least make it more bearable. A dedicated b-movie connoisseur may well find something to enjoy in The Boy Who Cried Werewolf, even if they have to grit their teeth whenever the regrettable choice of protagonist pops up onscreen.
By Doris V. Sutherland