After two teenagers are brutally killed in a heavily wooded park, the town's sheriff closes down the park under the belief that a murderer is on the loose. However, considering how badly the bodies were mauled and some of the odd evidence at the crime scene, like claw marks on the car and clumps of animal hair, an animal attack isn't ruled out either. Things go from bad to worse for the sheriff once he learns that it wasn't just any animal that attacked these people, it was a Sasquatch. With a forest full of hunters, teenagers and survivalist, the sheriff has a new problem to solve: How do you stop a Sasquatch?
Of all the online screening rooms, in all of the internet, I never expected David Prior's "Night Claws" to walk into mine. Of course by walk I mean play and by mine I mean Midnight Releasing's. I guess that stupid "Casablanca" reference was a wash. Eh, whatever.
Truth be told I'm not exactly the biggest David Prior fan; I hate "Sledgehammer" with a passion, but I thoroughly enjoyed the nudity in "Killer Workout" (and the movie is not that bad either! *ba-dum-chi*) and I only saw "Deadly Prey" within the past few years. Don't judge me, I'm slow. Like I said, I'm not the biggest fan but I don't have anything against the man either. I was definitely interested to see "Night Claws" once I realized Midnight Releasing had made a screener available because I haven't seen anything Prior has done in the past two decades. So I was curious to see how an established b-movie director would do in this day and age.
"Night Claws" is about a small town that has to deal with the mysterious death of two teenagers -- torn to pieces and mutilated, it seems like the vicious crime of a deranged madman. Sheriff Kelly shuts down the park where the grizzly scene took place in order to investigate the crime properly and hopefully catch who, or whatever, is responsible and before anyone else gets hurt. Unfortunately things get complicated when a woman named Sarah Evans, claiming to be a federal scientist, says the attacks were done by none other than Sasquatch. With hunters, partying teenagers and a lost survivalist group stuck in the woods it's only a matter of time before the bodies start to pile up.
Nothing against Prior, but when I read the plot synopsis I immediately expected SyFy quality and by that I meant absolute trash. CGI monsters, TV friendly gore, a cast of fresh faces that can't act -- basically unwatchable dreck. Very surprisingly, "Night Claws" was better than that -- much better, actually and I found myself enjoying it quite a bit. Maybe it came from Prior's past experience from making low-budget movies in the 80's and 90s, but "Night Claws" had that older b-movie charm that's missing. These days everything is harder, faster and louder. This movie actually takes its time; opening up with a viscous mauling by the creature, we are guaranteed that "Night Claws" is a bonafide monster movie. Now, these days you'd get about 10 minutes of exposition, character development and some assembly of a plot. With "Night Claws" you get the monster mutilation in the beginning and then the next 45+ minutes of the movie are spent properly setting up the characters and the storylines before it descends into low-budget horror goodness.
Certainly some things aren't perfect; I don't know why Ted Prior's character is being such a dick for no apparent reason and tries to pick a fight either everyone. But I don't give a damn either! Sometimes with b-movies, you've got to take the random with the camp but only as long as it remains entertaining, which "Night Claws" was. Is it a great movie? No, certainly not. But it is of the quality that you would expect from a director who's been making entertaining cheese since the 80's. People are going to snub their noses at the lack of monster action in the movie but it was nice to see a movie actually build up to the action as opposed to it just being scene after scene. Instead of becoming bored and desensitized by the whole thing 1/3 of the way in, you're anticipating the Sasquatch melee.
Unfortunately, this is where the movie hits a major hurdle that keeps it from being exceptional. Everything is coming to boil; the anticipation builds for the audience because you know that the deadly attacks from the Sasquatch is only moments away when the sun sets and all the characters are trapped in the woods at night. But, sadly, when the movie shoots for night, you cannot see a single thing. Obviously filming day-for-night, the color correcting to make the scenes look like they are actually taking place at night are turned so dark that you have no idea what's going on or what has happened to who. Only being able to hear the characters, and getting to see tiny random bits of clothing, you are almost left to guess as to what's actually happening. Perhaps not a bad thing for low-budget movies (got to be able to hide the budget restraint sometimes) but this is the climax of the movie -- the point where shit gets real, as the kids say. There is no greater way of screwing that up than by making it to where the audience cannot see anything that is transpiring.
I was very much set on liking "Night Claws" and giving it a positive review, and I guess I did for the most part. But it's not as positive as I was hoping it would be all because when it came time to the movie's crucial moment, not being able to see anything, made everything that it had built up come crashing down. Still, I have to give the movie credit since it's better than anything SyFy has produced since….since…ya know, I'm not sure they've produced anything that's worth a damn. Anyway, "Night Claws" isn't a total loss as it is pretty good overall; it was well produced, looked good, has some funny moments and it actually features a cast that isn't a bunch of nameless twenty-somethings. And hell, when you do finally see the actual creatures (and there is a scene in the end that lets you seem them in all of their practical FX glory) it's hard for the inner horror nerd to not become giddy, even if the movie is almost over. I don't know how well "Night Claws" will be received by hardcore Prior fans, but in the end, problems and all, I still had fun watching it.