Movie of the Week: Werewolf (Wilkolak)

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In the closing months before the end of World War II, the Nazi concentration camp Gross-Rosen is liberated by the Allies.  Among those who have survived the torture and killings are a group of orphaned children.  They are rounded up and put on a truck they hope is bound for safety.  Where they end up is an abandoned mansion with no water or food for the starving victims.  The Russian soldiers tell them to make do with what they have until they can return with provisions. 

The children are under the care of one adult, Jadwiga. She does her best to maintain order among the eight orphans and to prolong what rations they have and those they find in the house. Helping her is Hanka, the oldest among the kids and their leader by default. Hanka is a mother to the little ones and the older boys obey her with no small amount of infatuation.

As food and water are depleted, Jadwiga and the orphans scour the countryside for berries and whatever they can find to eat and drink. Aside from the dangers of the woods, they have to be mindful of drunk Russian and German soldiers running around killing each other. It’s on one of these scavenges for supplies that the children find Jadwiga mauled and dead. The children bar themselves in the mansion, some with the belief that the SS officers from the concentration camp have become werewolves and are determined to kill the kids one way or another.

Finally, at the point of starvation, two Russian soldiers arrive with nothing more than a couple of bottles of vodka and the driver with lovin’ on his mind for Hanka. While the very psychologically scarred young man Wladek seems somewhat thrilled to watch the driver attack Hanka, another teen, a German orphan more than happy to be nameless except to answer to Kraut, uses a golf club to save Hanka.

As all of that is transpiring inside the mansion, the other Russian soldier is outside. He is the first to discover what really killed Jadwiga. When Gross-Rosen was liberated, not all the Nazis were killed or taken prisoner. Some escaped into the countryside. Among those running free and living off the land are the Alsatian guard dogs. These four-legged terrors are hungry, vicious and trained to kill. And they kill whatever gets in their way, and then they eat their kill.

With the screams of one Russian meal bringing the other one out of the house, the orphans become trapped inside the mansion with the dogs doing their best to get in and eat them. Of course, with the kids starving, dog could be a gourmet menu item.

Yeah, I know, concentration camp children fighting rogue Nazi guard dogs sounds ripe to be gauche low-budget fodder, but this is actually a really serious movie. And a very good one. For all the places Werewolf could have veered off the rails into full tackiness, it didn’t, and that alone is an admirable trait. There are some very tense moments between the children and the dogs, and between the children themselves.

I didn’t know what to expect going into this movie. Is it straight up horror? Is it war drama? It’s a near perfect mix of both. This is a movie I wish I had written, and that doesn’t happen often.