An ideal retirement community...NOT.
Tough-as-nails blind Vietnam war vet Ambrose McKinley (Nick Damici) is moved into a charming retirement community by his son, Will (Ethan Embry). Ambrose is an embittered and unpleasant sort whose abrasive personality alienates all around him and led him to being a drag as both a husband (to his recently deceased wife) and father, but his son nonetheless does his best to try and be supportive of his dad while getting his own life and marriage underway. Upon moving into the community, Ambrose is greeted by a "charming" trio of resident women (one of whom is Tina Louise, aka Ginger from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) who act as a welcoming committee, but he acts like an asshole to them, allowing them to glimpse his revolver and stating that he's a weapons expert in spite of his blindness, and immediately gains a rep as a jerk with possible violent tendencies. His only friends in the world are his service dog, Shadow, and Delores (SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER's Karen Lynn Gorney), the sweet neighbor lady whom he meets when moving in and who lives in the closely-connected residence on the other side of his living room wall. And it should be noted that the moment they cross the threshold into the retirement community, Shadow bristles and instantly assumes defense mode as something triggers his animal senses...
Ambrose's life in his new home veers straight into weird territory when he feels a torn area on one of his walls and finds a broken claw embedded in it. Then, on his first night there, he hears through the thin walls separating his place from Delores's and bears aural witness to her horrible disembowelment by what sounds like a ravening wild beast. The already on-edge Shadow is instantly up and on guard while Ambrose fumbles blindly for his gun, but the poor, brave pooch is simply no match for the monstrosity that bursts through the front door in search of prey. But Shadow does not die in vain, for he saves his master's life, and Ambrose puts his loyal companion out of his misery with a shot to the head.
Once the police arrive and Ambrose relates what he heard, he overhears Delores's grieving daughter note that she'd heard ominous stories about the community and its monthly rash of pest turning up murdered, but did not believe them. Ambrose, being a tough motherfucker and not at all an idiot, pieces the evidence together after being told that it was a full moon the night before, and comes to the very correct conclusion that it was a werewolf that killed Delores and almost did him in. He tells no one of his deduction, probably realizing that saying a werewolf was on the loose would further brand him as a crank and a dangerous loony, so he spends the weeks until the next full moon preparing for Round 2 with the monster that killed his dog and neighbor. As the weeks go by, Ambrose trains himself physically, digs a deep hole in his backyard that is obviously a grave — but for whom? — and has a shady local gun dealer make him silver bullets and a single shotgun shell loaded with silver shot. None of his odd and intense behavior goes unnoticed by his neighbors and, unfortunately, the werewolf is a local and also not an idiot, so counter-measures are set in motion as the next full moon nears...
The beast emerges.
Werewolf movies are my very favorite flavor of horror story, and genuinely good ones are few and far between, so it was with great delight that I recently experienced LATE PHASES for the first time. It's a werewolf movie, yes, but it can more accurately be described as a tour de force character study about a bitter, alienating old man's handling of the encroaching end of a life that he has made dismal for himself and his loved ones while preparing to take on a supernatural menace in mortal combat without the benefit of sight. Think of Ambrose as Paul Kersey from the first DEATH WISH movie, only minus the conscientious objector attitude and with the level of personal intensity and toughness cranked up to eleven. Nick Damici's performance in the role is nothing short of stunning and once you see this film, you will ask where the hell he's been all these years and why is he not more well-known.
Ambrose (Nick Damici), utterly refusing to go out like some weak pussy.
The entire cast is solid, but it's Damici that will have you talking once you've seen the flick. His Ambrose is a bad motherfucker to the core, and I salute him as one of the hardest opponents a werewolf was ever stupid enough to fuck with.
As described, the film's first werewolf attack happens maybe five minutes past the opening credits, so there is no mystery as to what Ambrose is up against, but that's not the point. The point is getting to know what kind of a person he is and what goes through his head as he readies to put his military-trained boot up a big, furry ass, so we don't get more lycanthrope action until the climax. If you're coming to LATE PHASES expecting wall-to-wall werewolves like what you got with the superlative DOG SOLDIERS (2002), you won't get that, but the climax is riveting and very much balls-to-the-wall, plus it throws in some very clever and interesting surprises...
Bottom Line: LATE PHASES comes from out of nowhere to round out my list of the Top 5 best werewolves movies I've ever seen, and when that list features THE WOLF MAN (1940), THE HOWLING (1981), AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981), and the aforementioned DOG SOLDIERS, I think the merits of LATE PHASES speak for themselves.
Promotional image for the DVD release.