October 9, 2020
by Carla Hay
Directed by Jim Cummings
Culture Representation: Taking place in a fictional U.S. city called Snow Hollow, the darkly comedic horror film “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” features a predominantly white cast (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class.
Culture Clash: A hot-headed police officer, who wants to be promoted to sheriff, has to contend with an angry ex-wife, a strained relationship with his teenage daughter and widespread speculation that a werewolf is committing a series of murders in his city.
Culture Audience: “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” will appeal to people who like horror films that have heavy doses of sarcasm, some slapstick humor and underlying social commentary.
Because so many horror films follow a certain formula by having extremely heroic protagonists and extremely evil villains, some filmmakers are starting to break out of that formula by having deeply flawed protagonists who aren’t concerned with being likable role models. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is one such film that mostly succeeds in breaking out of this formulaic horror mold, because the lead character/protagonist is a recovering alcoholic who relapses on the job and has a lot of unpleasant personality traits. Jim Cummings is the writer, director and star of “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” which skillfully mixes an old-school horror mystery with modern anti-hero sensibilities.
In “The Wolf of Snow Hollow,” Cummings plays John Marshall, a fast-talking, irritable 39-year-old police officer who works in a fictional city called Snow Hollow, where the local economy is fueled by skiing and tourism. During a busy ski season, a string of murders happen that could ruin Snow Hollow’s safe reputation. Making things worse, witnesses have reported a werewolf-like figure near the scene of the murders, which only take place during nights with a full moon, so there are rampant rumors that a werewolf is on the loose.
John doesn’t believe in werewolves, so he’s determined to not only catch the apparent serial killer but also prove to everyone that a human has been committing the murders. John has ambitions to be promoted to sheriff, because the most recent person who had the position—Sheriff Dave Hadley (played by Robert Forster)—has retired. Dave also happens to be John’s father, although it’s not explained why they have different last names. It’s mentioned in the movie that John’s mother passed away years ago.
Even though Dave has officially retired, he still shows up for work and is in denial over some signs that he’s having health problems, such as a possible heart murmur. John urges Dave to get medical treatment, but Dave is too stubborn to listen. John has his own health problems too: He’s a recovering alcoholic. One of the movie’s first scenes is of John at an Alcoholic Anonymous meeting, where he confesses that he’s still angry at his ex-wife Brittany, who’s the mother of their 17-year-old daughter Jenna.
Out of respect for Dave, the police officers still act as if he’s the sheriff when he shows up for work. Unofficially, John takes charge of the murder investigation, which also includes Officer Julia Robson (played by Riki Lindhome), who is much more even-tempered and methodical than John. John’s way of working can best be described as “abrasive” and “impatient.” He often yells at witnesses, other police officers and anyone else he thinks is acting stupid. He also orders people involved in the investigation to do their work faster, even when they tell him that certain procedures can’t be rushed.
One of the people who clashes with John is the city coroner (played by Daniel Fenton Anderson), who insists that the medical findings show canine bites on the murder victims. In addition, large wolf footprints are found near the murder scenes. Every time John is faced with evidence that the murderer might not be human, he flies into a rage, because the murder victims’ bodies have injuries that could only be inflicted by someone who probably had a knife or some other cutting weapon.
For example, the first murder victim’s body was found with her vagina removed. (It’s not shown on screen, but the state of the victim’s body is described when police officers arrive at the crime scene.) All of the murders victims are female, and John doesn’t think it’s a coincidence.
The first murder victim is Brianne Paulson (played by Annie Hamilton), a tourist who was staying at a local private lodge with her boyfriend PJ Palfrey (played by Jimmy Tatro), who discovered her mutilated body outside of the lodge. The police question two local men who got into a small verbal altercation with PJ earlier that night in a restaurant where PJ and Brianne were dining. The men were being drunk and loud in the restaurant, and one of the men used a homophobic slur, which offended PJ, so he asked them to keep their noise level down.
The friend who was with the homophobic man quickly diffused the situation that could have turned into a brawl, and the two men left the restaurant without incident. The two men also said that they had alibis because they were bar hopping for the rest of the night and had the receipts to prove it. PJ is also questioned as a person of interest, and he maintains that he has nothing to do with the crime and didn’t see the murder happen. There’s no evidence that he committed the murder, so PJ is not arrested.
The next murder victim is ski instructor Hannah Marten (played by Hannah Elder), who was killed while PJ had already left the area. PJ is cleared as a possible suspect for Hannah’s murder, but he’s still on the police’s radar for Brianne’s murder, even though it’s looking more and more like the recent killings are being committed by the same murderer. The next victims are Liz Fairchild (played by Kelsey Edwards) and her baby daughter Miley (played Taigelee Wayne). The killing of a child brings even more urgency and pressure on the police to catch the murderer.
In addition to dealing with the stress of the investigation, John is having family problems. John and his daughter Jenna (played by Chloe East) have a rocky relationship because she’s angry about him being an inattentive parent. John’s ex-wife Brittany (played by Rachel Jane Day) also has a lot of bitterness and resentment toward John, and she sees herself to be Jenna’s primary parent. Considering that John is an alcoholic with a bad temper, it’s easy to see why they might be angry with him.
Over a tension-filled lunch at a local restaurant, John tells Brittany and Jenna that he has to work longer hours than usual because of the murder investigation. Jenna is about to enroll in a university in January on a ballet scholarship, and she was hoping that John would be there for her on the day that she moves to her dorm on campus. Brittany puts John on a guilt trip to make him feel like a bad parent, until John practically explodes in anger and promises that he will be there for Jenna on her moving day.
The pressure of the investigation and another tragic event eventually lead John to relapse back into his alcoholic ways. Who or what is the killer? And will the killer be caught? And will John redeem himself and get sober? Those questions are answered in the movie, which infuses the horrifying scares and mystery with some dark humor that is sometimes politically incorrect. The humor works because it’s actually what people might say if they feel comfortable enough to say it around certain people.
For example, there’s a scene where John and some of the other male police officers are discussing murder victim Brianne Paulson’s mutilated body that had her vagina removed by the murderer. Officer Chavez (played by Demetrius Daniels) comments, “My heart goes out to the boyfriend. It’s the ultimate ‘blue balls’ story.” In another scene, Dave gives a pep talk to his fellow officers and says, in reference to legislation requiring the separation of church and state: “I won’t ask you to pray with me because of the goddamn lawyers.”
Compared to other horror movies, “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” doesn’t get too gruesome with its violence. The visual effects are adequate, but the movie is more effective in its subtle and not-so-subtle commentaries on overzealous cops and how police could abuse their power during an investigation. Although the supporting actors are good (including the late Forster, in one of his last film roles), “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is really a showcase for Cummings and his talent as an actor, writer and director.
Cummings keeps a fairly brisk pace for the movie, which doesn’t let his John character completely off the hook for how he mistreats people. There are a few scenes where John gets some well-deserved payback from people who won’t put up with his nonsense. “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” is a mostly entertaining comedic horror movie, but it will also make people think about the types of cops who are corrupt and bad-tempered, compared to the criminals they are supposed to catch.
Orion Classics released “The Wolf of Snow Hollow” in select U.S. cinemas, on digital and on VOD on October 9, 2020.