Alpha Wolf Lives!
By Pat Jankiewicz
Bloodshot co-creator Kevin VanHook on reinventing the werewolf!
Director/Producer Kevin VanHook is an amazing hyphenate. Besides being a filmmaker, the Detroit Michigan native started out writing and drawing comics for Marvel and DC, including Superman, Batman and the ever lovin’ blue eyed Thing. He also co-created the vampire hitman Bloodshot, now being played in a big budget movie by Vin Diesel.
His wild imagination made him one of the true auteurs to watch on The Sy Fy Channel, where his ideas were always bigger than his low budgets, which didn’t matter because of the clever ways he would work around it.
As a comic book artist, he was able to bring that larger than life approach to the screen, frequently designing his own creatures and even the costumes that his characters would wear.
He made a fun giant mummy movie, The Fallen Ones and Slayer, where Lynda Carter and Casper Van Dien try to keep a lid on a new breed of vampires who can handle daylight.
Now VanHook turns his attention to the werewolf genre, with the fin and energetic ALPHA WOLF, re-teaming with Starship Troopers ‘ Casper Van Dien as the man who engages in carnivorous lunar activity. (Since his character’s name is “Jack Lupo”, he was kind of asking to be bitten.)
VanHook wanted to make ALPHA WOLF because “I’ve been fascinated by werewolves since I was a small boy. I saw all of the movies on TV. I watched the classic Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr., the Oliver Reed Curse of the Werewolf —even Michael Landon in I was a Teenage Werewolf!
“Of course, in my late teens, I was treated to An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. Lots of furry goodness. Once I became a film-maker, I dealt with vampires a few times, but never werewolves. Then my buddy Wes Caefer wrote a great little werewolf script and I had my chance…”
Of course, a werewolf movie can be expensive and having an impressive werewolf is the only way the film will have credibility.
“It was definitely challenging to do a proper werewolf movie—complete with transformations—on a budget, but we planned pretty thoroughly and we were fortunate to be able to work with Barney Burman— who is part of the great makeup effects family dynasty that goes back for decades.
“Barney is also a film-maker in his own right and really understood what we were going for. He brought in some talented young artists to help out on set, including Daniel Rose, who handled the primary application.”
ALPHA WOLF gets points for never stooping to a CGI werewolf.
“We made a point on this film to primarily use practical effects and keep the CGI to a minimum—primarily for some fire effects and a little gore. We have a wonderful practical werewolf suit and sculpt, so we wanted to show it off.
“While doing a vampire flick with fangs and blood is definitely cheaper and easier, it’s just a different thing altogether to see a fully-formed werewolf standing in front of you on set,” the director says happily.
“Most of my input for the makeup effects were limited to early conversations with Writer/Producer Wes Caefer and Makeup Wiz Barney Burman. Barney had a pretty good plan going into it. Daniel Rose led the on-set application.”
The shoot was brisk. “We shot the film pretty quickly—probably a full week less than most of my features, but we had a pretty small cast and very focused locations. We primarily filmed in the Topanga Canyon area, which sadly is still evacuated because of the horrendous fires we are experiencing in Los Angeles and Ventura Counties.
“I tend to make the kinds of films I would watch and that I enjoy filming. Part of that has been working with friends. On Alpha Wolf, I was able to team up with Casper Van Dien, who I had worked with in two other films.
“We are family friends and it was great to just hang out and work for several weeks and spend time together. We also brought in the incredibly talented Jennifer Wenger, who plays Casper’s character’s wife— wonderfully, the two were recently married in real life.
“Interestingly enough, I had cast her first and then Casper ended up being available and we made it happen. Their chemistry and ability to play off each other brought a great believability to their relationship. Going with that theme, we reached out to cast another friend of Casper’s and on-screen rival Patrick Muldoon. So we managed to get a mini Starship Troopers reunion on Alpha Wolf!
“As a director, I try to see what an actor feels are the natural choices for them first and then I adjust if it just doesn’t work for me. In Casper’s case, he instinctively had a great take on both the werewolf persona and the angry man before the transformation. ”
VanHook has always been into monsters.
“Some of my earliest memories were being thrilled by horror and science fiction movies. I was lucky to be a Famous Monsters kid. I read Fangoria and Starlog. I watched Friday and Saturday Night horror films with terrific hosts that showed Universal Monster movies, Hammer flicks— George Romero Zombie films—the world. And then the world expanded when VHS came on the scene and I discovered film-makers like Sam Raimi. ”
Did VanHook lile being pne of Sy Fy Channel’s go-to directors? “Yes! When I started making films, the SyFy Channel was a natural outlet for these creature features and it was in the heyday of when they were doing a new original film about every other Saturday night.”
now that he”s tackled mummies, vampires and werewolves in his films, who was the hardest?
“All the classic monsters bring their own challenges,” he admits. “My film The Fallen Ones was probably my most difficult to pull off because I was showing split-scale—a 42 foot mummy (played by my son Cameron VanHook) and regular human protagonists, but all of the monsters bring their unique challenges.
“Slayer was a vampire film that featured an elaborate creature suit (worn by Cameron again) and was shot in a massive cave far below the ground in Puerto Rico where film-making logistics were extremely difficult.
“The biggest challenge with the werewolf in Alpha Wolf was dealing with a hot suit in a warm September. Actor Dirk Ellis and Casper both suited up and did a fantastic job. These guys were in incredible shape and it still taxed them—just from the heat and weight of the suit.”
The monster he’s most interested in now is his character Bloodshot, being played by Vin Diesel.
“I was recently flown over to Capetown, South Africa to visit the set of Bloodshot, a new Sony feature film based on the comic book character I co-created years ago for Valiant Comics.
“The film stars Vin Diesel as Bloodshot and co-stars some wonderful actors like Guy Pearce and Eiza Gonzalez and Sam Heughan. It was amazing to see something I conceived and wrote about so long ago now come to life and shot for the big screen.
“I think my comic book background and experience as a visual storyteller– first on paper, then on film– has influenced how I compose a frame. There’s definitely a trace of me in the look of my films, I think– at least in terms of composition.”
Alpha Wolf is available on iTunes, lots of VOD and streaming outlets. You can also order good old hard media—Blu Rays and DVDs from Amazon, Wal-Mart, Target, Barnes and Noble and all the major DVD sales sites.