I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it on a continuous loop until it stops being true: we live in a golden age of home-video releases - a veritable utopia for film nerds and collectors. It seems like every other week a new company pops up willing to release high-class editions of seemingly every film in every genre imaginable. Here at Cinema Sentries, our hearts just gush at the amazing bounty made available every Tuesday.
Let us turn our thoughts over to one of our very favorite production companies - Arrow Video. They consistently do top-shelf releases of some of the most obscure, low-budget, genre films around. I’m sitting here holding in my hand a beautiful new release of an old Sonny Chiba flick that nobody but the most serious cineastes and academics of arcane filmography has even heard about much less seen. Since its release in 1975, Wolf Guy has never been given a home video release even in its native Japan. Beyond its limited theatrical run, it might have periodically ran on late-night television or been given sporadic revival screenings (from bad prints) but mostly it's simply drifted off into obscurity and perhaps a little notoriety amongst genre nerds on message boards.
It's a golden age, my friends, a golden age. But before I wax so poetic I slip off this page and break my neck, let's discuss the actual film for a few minutes. In my article about this past week’s new Blu-ray releases, I ended my thoughts on Wolfguy with “I must have this. Now” It's true the summation of the film is a shot straight through my wheelhouse and right into my exploitation-loving heart.
And I quote: “Sonny Chiba stars in this horror film based on a Japanese manga about the only survivor of a clan of werewolves who relies on his full-moon powers to solve crimes.”
If that doesn’t make you all tingly inside, then you probably ought to stop reading this right now.
Ah, but bad news, friends. This is one of those instances where the blurb on the back of the box is misleading. Technically what it says is true, but the execution does not live up to the hype. Chiba stars as Akira Inugami, who is in fact a werewolf, I mean wolf man, er wolf guy, but if you are looking for a nice b-grade version of an American Werewolf in London transformation, then you’ll have to keep looking. Not once does he turn into anything wolf like. The full moon does make him invisible, apparently, and he is a pretty good jumper, and sometimes his punches leave scratch marks, but wolfie he is not. In fact, were it not for the title of the film, you could easily make it halfway through it without realizing he's a werewolf, er--wolf man, I mean wolf guy.
He is a private detective and one case leads him to (what else?) a pretty girl. This particular girl had the bad luck to fall in love with the son of a high-ranking so and so and when the dad found out his son was in love with someone below his station, he hired a gang of baddies to gang rape her and give her syphilis. The girl now works as a low-rent stripper and periodically unleashes her Ju-On style grudge in the form of a raging tiger spirit to slice and dice the guys who done her wrong.
Inugami first tries to warn the baddies of what’s going down, but when they kidnap, eviscerate, and transfuse his blood into one of their own in hopes of making their own bad-ass werewolf fighter, he decides to unleash his hidden kung-fu, wolf man (sorry wolf guy - who the hell made the ridiculous decision that they had better not steal the wolf man trademark?) bad-assness right back at them.
But seriously there is no wolfing out. Not a hint. Not even a little fang or some extra hair.
The action is a lot of fun, though. There is a reason Chiba became an international superstar. He can tear up a fight scene like nobody else. There’s plenty of '70’s exploitation arterial spray, poorly choreographed action scenes, funk soundtrack, and women taking off their clothes at the drop of a hat to keep even the most jaded of genre lovers watching.
For horror fans, they even include some apparent real-life surgical footage (though it remains in negative format to keep the censors at bay) when the bad guys cut out Inugami’s guts. In the film's greatest and most WTF sequence, we find him laying on the bed with his insides on the outside and as he reaches towards the full moonlight shining through the window the guts pull back inside as his torso heals itself Wolverine style.
For what it is, Wolf Guy is a pretty great mash-up of '70s action-horror complete with everything you’d expect from that sort of thing. Just don’t go in expecting anything resembling an actual wolf man (sorry wolf guy - seriously what wimpy lawyer decided they couldn’t use wolf man for this thing?)
As per usual, Arrow Video has created a really wonderful release with Wolf Guy. The video quality is terrific considering it's a low-budget foreign film from the '70s that’s not seen the light of day since that decade. There is plenty of grain present and the occasional blip in quality that's likely present on the original print. But I noticed no compression issues or any other difficulties with the transfer. Audio is good as well, though it certainly wasn’t designed to impress.
Extras include new interviews with Sonny Chiba, director Kazuhiro Yamaguchi, and producer Toru Yoshida. Plus the usual reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, trailers, and a couple of nice essays in the booklet.