Welcome to 4:3 & Forgotten — a column where I get to look back at TV terrors that scared adults (and the kids they let watch) across the limited airwaves of the 70s. This week’s entry is a creature feature! I love thrillers, killers, and the such, but my heart belongs to monsters, and in addition to a great cast it’s also written by the legendary Richard Matheson. It’s time to open your ears as we take a look at 1974’s Scream of the Wolf.
When: January 16th, 1974
No one in movies ever runs out of gas on busy roads or city streets, and that trend continues here as a guy stutters to a stop on a moonlit country road. He starts walking only to hear howls and growls in the not-so-distant night, but after making it back to his car for safety he realizes just how impractical canvas-top convertibles are while under attack by something with teeth, claws, and a taste for blood. The police call in John Wetherby (Peter Graves), a local writer with hunting experience, but even he’s baffled by wolf-like prints that change in shape and depth before disappearing altogether.
John, in turn, tries to engage help from his friend Byron Douglas (Clint Walker) — a legendary big game hunter with experience stalking and killing peculiar prey — but Byron has no interest in joining the hunt. His reasoning and behavior leave John unsatisfied, but what can he do, Douglas has about two inches and fifty pounds on him. John instead works with local law enforcement, but it results only in local law enforcement joining the growing ranks of the dead. He makes one last plea with Byron, much to the chagrin of John’s highly suspicious lady friend Sandy (Jo Ann Pflug), and the big man finally relents.
This may not be good news.
Scream of the Wolf is a perfectly okay little thriller that never quite shines even as it’s never quite dull either. Credit for the latter goes as much to its cast as anyone working behind the scenes as Walker and Graves are both engaging performers, especially under genre circumstances. Both feel slightly removed from supernatural possibilities, and it works to ground the drama. Graves is no stranger to the weird stuff of course, but Walker feels like he’d be more at home hunting grizzly bears.
Director Dan Curtis is best known for the world of Dark Shadows, but his genre dabblings include Burnt Offerings (1976) on the big screen and TV terrors including The Night Strangler (1975) and Trilogy of Terror (1973). He does solid enough work here, but restrictions both in budget and gore leave a bit too much to the imagination. We hear growling but see very little well past the point where viewers will be wanting something more substantial than the film’s offering.
The script comes courtesy of a true master, but while Matheson also birthed the likes of Duel (1971), The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), The Omega Man (1971), The Legend of Hell House (1973), and man more genre gems he also had bills to pay. He had four scripts produced as TV movies in 1974 including Scream of the Wolf, and something had to give. Here what’s missing is a substantial effort towards diverting viewer attention in order to tease suspects and red herrings.
Because any viewer with more than a few thrillers under their belt will 100% immediately suspect Byron of the killings. He’s a jerk, he’s more than a little imposing, and he says loud and clear that he’s not helping in the hunt because he likes seeing people in fear. Matheson gives him a man-servant named Grant, but it feels like far too obvious of a ploy meaning if there’s a werewolf stalking inland California you can be damn sure it’s Byron.
Or is it?!
Look, Scream of the Wolf is fine. Unlike the best TV movies from the 70s or even the most memorable, there’s nothing onscreen here that might have stuck in viewers’ brains for the past four decades. Seeing Byron sitting in giant chair comes close as Walker is a big, broad-shouldered man who’s utterly dwarfed by this chair, and the absurdity of the arm wrestling competition that Byron challenges John too comes even closer. Ultimately, though, this shaggy dog story is worth watching solely for fans of Matheson, Curtis, or its two leading men.