In name alone, American Werewolves is brilliant. Seth Breedlove’s 2022 documentary teases two relatable concepts in the tradition of Unsolved Mysteries and all the “Searching for” productions of the past 10 years. A generic title allows for creative flexibility and practical marketing plans. A popular American show like Unsolved Mysteries works so well because the general public enjoys saucy true crime tales, especially when the cases in question remain unsolved. (You are welcome for that insight.) Unsolved Mysteries always delivers on the premise; one won’t push play and find a logical story in which all the available evidence makes sense. The series doesn’t promise American unsolved mysteries — just unsolved mysteries in general. So, when I see a title like American Werewolves, I envision a tale about regional U.S. folklore and how passed-down stories about monsters influence American culture. Unfortunately, American Werewolves mostly focuses on a specific area of Western Kentucky — where people from the north woods talk about the mysterious Dogman, where southerners chat about the legend of Bigfoot. Since Breedlove’s title betrays the specific narrative focus, die-hard horror fans may feel underwhelmed by the viewing experience. Meaning, the 80-minute film feels like a middle episode in an American Werewolves-themed docuseries, rather than a grand anthropological exploration of monster mythology in various U.S. regions.
American Werewolves — or, as I call it, “The Dogman Legend of Western Kentucky” — is indeed worth checking out, despite the misleading title. The documentary immediately feels big, primarily due to an 80s-style score, neon green graphics and even a shot that’s similar to an opening landscape visual in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980). Structurally, Breedlove (who also edited American Werewolves) divides the film into several testimony sections. The overall pacing allows the audience to stay engaged throughout, even if some of the interviews are fueled by fear and paranoia rather than actual evidence. According to IMDb, Breedlove has directed several monster-themed documentaries in recent years with specific titles — The Mark of the Bell Witch (2020), On the Trail of Bigfoot: The Journey (2021), Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou (2021) — and that storytelling experience shines through in American Werewolves.
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The talking heads in American Werewolves complement the overall aesthetic. As local historians provide basic context about Dogman and Bigfoot, the score rumbles underneath like a classic John Carpenter composition. And some interview subjects seem genuinely terrified as they remember being stalked by a six-foot creature with a canine head and pointy ears. But whenever American Werewolves cites ancient or Native American history that could theoretically explain the supernatural presence of Dogman, Breedlove moves on to the next interview. The documentary links Woodland Indians to a wolf cult and skinwalkers but doesn’t fully examine the cultural nuances, most notably the possibility that some locals might pose as Dogman as a way to continue Western Kentucky traditions.
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If Western Kentucky locals speak with such passion about Dogman mythology — which is the case in American Werewolves — then it seems likely that someone (or perhaps a group of people) would carry on traditions by performing as a legendary creature. If one strips away all the nostalgic 80s music and neon lights from Breedlove’s documentary, it doesn’t offer much cultural depth beyond the “weird things happen in Western Kentucky” premise. American Werewolves is worth a look, though, because of the regional specificity and its basic exploration of trauma. For example, one interview subjects says “I pissed my pants that night” while recalling a Dogman encounter. It’s a moment that touches upon a specific kind of sadness — a fear of the unknown, a feeling of dread when reality doesn’t make sense. As a whole, American Werewolves takes itself seriously but doesn’t fully engage with Western Kentucky prank lore or Native American traditions that could help explain Dogman sightings.
1091 Pictures released American Werewolves digitally on July 5, 2022.
Q.V. Hough (@QVHough) is Vague Visages’ founding editor.