Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves is a 2015 historically-accurate drama designed in the noble effort of being intentionally bad.
Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves was written and directed by Ross Patterson, whose previous writing credits include FDR: American Badass and Poolboy: Drowning Out The Fury. Heller Keller marks his first directorial effort, however.
The cast for the movie includes Jessie Wiseman (Bellflower), Lin Shaye (Pledge This, Ouija, Insidious, Surf School, Critters), Barry Bostwick (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Spin City), Alanna Ubach (Hung, Waiting), Richard Riehle (Office Space), and writer/director Ross Patterson in his fictitious persona of filmmaker St. James St. James.
The plot of Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves, in case it isn’t completely self-evident, is summarized on IMDb as follows:
In yet another masterpiece by St. James St. James, this film explores the true story that government didn’t want you to know about how Helen Keller really lost her eyesight and hearing: Nightwolves.
The concept of making a good-bad movie on purpose isn’t something new, but it is something that has been difficult for anyone to pull off well. The constant stream of knockoff movies from The Asylum and similar studios are certainly self-aware, but they usually aren’t terribly entertaining. Other outfits like Troma are equally self-aware, but lose a lot of their potential charm in the pursuit of humor. On its surface, Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves looks like it could easily be just another one of these movies, in the vein of Mega Piranha, Sharknado, or, more aptly, Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. Basically, just an idea with the semblance of a movie attached.
Despite those appearances, Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves is crafted more like Robert Rodriguez’s Planet Terror or Scott Sanders’s Black Dynamite than like The Asylum’s Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies. This is not just a self-aware movie like the droves you can find in your local bargain bins: it was clearly made with an affection for its genre, and in an honest attempt to replicate a very elusive aesthetic. It doesn’t always nail what it is aiming for, but it hits far more than it misses. Gags comes from the use of poor editing, ill-placed stock footage, low budget monster effects, sound gaffes, and laughable mismatched voice-over work: all staples of bad horror movies.
The movie does resort to some low humor that wouldn’t be out of place in a Scary Movie film, but these broad stereotypes and vulgarities stuck me as more attempts to mock the genre than honest gags to be played for straight laughs. Still, whenever the movie stoops to actually delivering Helen Keller jokes or playing off of the flamboyantly gay character, it grinds to a halt, regardless of whether it was done ironically or earnestly.
All of that said, I found this to be an immensely enjoyable experience to sit through as a bad movie fan. It is very easy for this kind of project to drift into excessive parody and lose its charm, but this movie manages to toe that line effectively. Bad movie aficionados should at least give it a shot, even if they are sticklers for the earnest and honest classics.
I was lucky enough to attend an in-person screening of Helen Keller vs. Nightwolves, which included a meet-and-greet with star Jessie Wiseman and writer/director Ross Patterson, at my local independent theater, the Gateway Film Center. Along with some great conversation and an amusingly raucous crowd, I managed to come home with a decapitated Helen Keller head signed by both the star and the auteur.