The Hair of the Beast (Le Poil De La BÊTe)
Director – Philippe Gagnon, Screenplay – Stephane J. Bureau & Pierre Daudelin, Producer – Real Chabot, Photography – Steve Asselin, Music – Alexis Le May & Martin Roy, Visual Effects – Hybride (Supervisor – Thierry Delattre), Makeup Effects – Lifemaker FX Inc., Production Design – David Pelletier. Production Company – Films du Boulevard
Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge (Joseph Côté), Viviane Audet (Marie Labotte), Gilles Renaud (Seigneur de Beauport), Antoine Bertrand (Vadeboncoeur), Patrice Robitaille (Dutrisac), Marc Beaupré (La Framboise), Marianne Brûté (Sophie Labotte), Marie-Chantal Perron (émérentienne Chiasson), Sebastien Huberdeau (Jean-Baptiste de Beauport), Pierre-Luc Lafontaine (Pierre-Armand de Beauport), Marie-Therese Fortin (Sister Margot), Michel Barrette (Aurelien Chiasson)
Quebec, New France, 1665. The thief Joseph Côté is arrested by authorities and sentenced to be hung as soon as the priest arrives. Instead, he manages to make an escape. Fleeing, he comes across the dead body of the priest lying in the field and takes his robes. He arrives at the lands of Seigneur de Beauport and seeks shelter among the villagers. At night, they tell the story of Father Brind’amour who fought and killed a werewolf. Just then, a beast attacks the camp and Joseph stands to drive it off, not before he is bitten in the leg. As the villagers tend Joseph, they find Father Brind’amour’s journal among the priest’s belongings and believe that he is the legendary werewolf slayer. At the same time, seven young women have been brought to the village from Quebec to be chosen as brides for the sons of the seigneur and his men. They are sequestered in the chapel but Marie Labotte encourages her sister Sophie to sneak out to pursue one of the sons. The villagers lock Joseph up, believing that he will now become a werewolf because of the bite, but he makes an escape. When Sophie fails to return, Marie goes searching for her. She encounters Joseph whom she saw back in Quebec and they fall into one another’s arms. In between this, they must face the threat of the werewolves prowling the area, the villagers seeking to burn Joseph as a werewolf and the guards from Quebec come to hang him.
The Hair of the Beast is a Canadian werewolf film, made in the Quebec province and shot in the French language. Director Philippe Gagnon is mostly known for work in Canadian-shot tv movies and mini-series, although did previously direct In a Galaxy Near You 2 (1999), the film spinoff of a French-language Star Trek spoof tv series. The Hair of the Beast did not end up having a widespread release beyond Francophone territories – indeed, was not even screened in any Canadian provinces outside of Quebec.
One is immediately reminded of Christophe Gans’s Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). Both are films with an historical French setting – although where Brotherhood of the Wolf is set in feudal France, The Hair of the Beast has a colonial background. Both feature a cross-section of society from the era, serfs and lords, dealing with the ravages of a wolf-like creature through the countryside. What is particularly standout here is the film’s creating of a textured and credible historical setting. The countryside is also shot in a way that makes for a beautifully photographed film.
The Hair of the Beast proves rather amusing in its whiplash plot complication – how Guillaume Lemay-Thivierge poses as a priest but swears and cannot remember the rites during a funeral service and how this is immediately taken by the villagers as proof that he is turning evil from the werewolf bite; how he escapes and spends the night with Viviane Audet and then begs her to give evidence that he was not on a killing rampage, only for her to abruptly realise that this would mean she would be tried for witchcraft for seducing a priest. These complications, masquerades and opposing factions interweave and play off each other with amusing dexterity.
On the other hand, the film proves far less interesting when it comes to precisely the reason it is being reviewed here – its werewolf. Any actual appearances of the wolf, at least as anything other than a figure hidden in the shadows, do not occur until the last ten minutes. When we do finally get to see the transformed wolfman, it is a CGI effect that disappointingly only looks like a ratty wet dog.