In case you're wondering what skinwalkers are, be advised that it's apparently merely a fancy Navajo term for that old horror movie standby, werewolves.

This latest cinematic incarnation of these nasty creatures revolves around two warring clans, one violent and one peaceful, whose fate rests in the hands of an asthmatic preteen boy. Opened Friday in limited release without press screenings, "Skinwalkers" is a thoroughly undistinguished addition to a genre that probably reached its peak a quarter-century ago with "An American Werewolf in London."

Sadly, this effort, featuring creature effects by no less than multiple Oscar winner Stan Winston, is a low-budget piece of schlock that doesn't even manage to impress on a technical level. Lon Chaney Jr. transformed into a werewolf more convincingly.

The plot centers on sickly, small-town boy Timothy (Matthew Knight), who is approaching his 13th birthday. The event is a watershed, as it apparently marks the point that will enable him to control the fate of his family, who unbeknownst to him and his widowed mother (Rhona Mitra) are werewolves.

They're good werewolves, though, in that each night they're careful to have themselves tied up so that they cannot do any violent mischief. Less altruistic is another group of skinwalkers, led by model-handsome Varek (Jason Behr) and model-pretty Sonja (Natassia Malthe), who are trying to kill the boy so he won't interfere with their nocturnal fun.

Because most of the encounters between the two tribes occur during the day, what results are not epic battles between savage creatures but rather a series of simple gunfights, with Timothy's pistol-packing grandmother (Barbara Gordon) proving a particularly mean shot. Eventually, another of the boy's relatives, Uncle Jonas (Elias Koteas, a Canadian actor probably wishing that Atom Egoyan made more movies), reveals that the feud between the two bands of werewolves is as much familial as it is philosophical.

Utterly lacking in thrills of any kind, the PG-13 film even lacks the gore quotient necessary to satisfy demanding horror buffs. Choppily edited, poorly acted and displaying strictly B-movie production values, it will quickly assume its undistinguished place amidst the thousands of similar genre efforts crowding video store shelves.

AfterDark Films
Director: Jim Isaac
Screenwriters: James DeMonaco, James Roday, Todd Harthan
Producers: Don Carmody, Dennis Berardi
Executive producers: Robert Kulzer, Brian Gilbert
Director of photography: David A. Armstrong, Adam Kane
Production designer: David Hackl
Music: Andrew Lockington
Costume designer: Antoinette Messam
Editor: Allan Lee
Varek: Jason Behr
Jonas: Elias Koteas
Rachel: Rhona Mitra
Zo: Kim Coates
Sonja: Natassia Malthe
Timothy: Matthew Knight
Katherine: Sarah Carter
Doak: Lyriq Bent
Will: Tom Jackson
Grenier: Rogue Johnston
Adam: Shawn Roberts
Nana: Barbara Gordon
Running time -- 90 minutes
MPAA rating: PG-13