Many werewolf films take place in the woods, mountains or various other rugged and elemental vistas that are inherently threatening and suit the mythos. But what about the urban jungle? How many werewolf films can you think of that place their action in a big city? Wolfen is one that does this and as such stands out in the genre for being a moody, eerie inner city horror about a gruff, unfriendly NYC police detective (Albert Finney) chasing down mysterious murderous hoodlums who he soon realizes are some kind of lycanthropic shapeshifters straight out of a Native legend. This leads him on a hushed yet bloody and quite atmospheric hunt through some of New York’s shadiest areas, made all the more spooky by the presence of these ferocious and quite stealthy cryptid hybrids. He’s helped and hindered by many in one eclectic cast that includes Diane Venora, James Tolkan, Rino Thunder, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines as a slick streetwise colleague, a very drunk and very brief Tom Waits and Tom Noonan as an ill fated ‘expert.’ This isn’t a very loud, snazzy or schlocky horror flick and in fact if memory serves it’s more of a mood piece type thing than any sort of thriller or shocker. Finney is sombre, muted, hard to read and even vaguely menacing, while the cast around him are sly, eccentric and always seem like they know more than they’re letting on. The werewolf attacks are hazy, dreamlike and terrifying in an otherworldly sort of way while still retaining enough gore and gristle, the special effects for the creatures themselves wonderful and the use of real wolves (or dogs, perhaps) adds to the earthen, folky aura that collides fascinatingly with this urban aesthetic. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this (a rewatch is no doubt imminent) and I can’t recall everything except that it’s one strikingly distinctive, unique and very immersive big city horror cop flick amalgamation that is well worth checking out.
A 90’s werewolf flick starring Tom Cody from Streets Of Fire, written by the guy who penned The Hitcher and set in the Pacific Northwest.. gotta be a winner, right? Well.. kinda. There are aspects I did enjoy about Eric Red’s Bad Moon and some things I thought were a little weaker. Michael Paré plays a dude who gets bitten by a werewolf in the South American jungle and winds up back home in Vancouver where his affliction puts his sister (Mariel Hemingway) her son (Dennis The Menace) and their German shepherd Thor in great danger. In this version of the werewolf lore it doesn’t have to be a full moon for him to transform, it just happens every night, which causes maximum destruction and carnage in the neighbourhood. So what I liked about this film: obviously I’m a push for that Vancouver scenery and the film is gorgeous, the two main settings being a beautiful character home that Hemingway’s lawyer salary has snagged and a breathtaking lakeside locale where Paré parks his airstream. The film is actually mostly from the perspective of the dog, who is the only one to really figure out that there’s a monster around, POV shots and pacing are used to present him as the protagonist and I really enjoyed that choice. What didn’t work for me: the wolf itself looks cheap a scraggly, not aesthetically pleasing or impressive enough for me. The human characters/acting are not so great either.. Paré is a great presence in anything and does ok but his character goes through a bizarre an unexplained personality change (beyond just being a werewolf lol) midway through the film while Hemingway and the kid are just awkward, stilted and I just didn’t buy that these people were siblings/uncle etc. The dog is great though! He should have his own spinoff film where he goes into business as a werewolf hunter. I wanted to love this based on all the elements involved but it kinda just was an okayish one bordering on a meh.
Hollywood loves it’s dark, R rated takes on classic fairytales and Little Red Riding Hood has gotten the treatment a few times, the latest being an ill advised, awful attempt with Amanda Seyfried and Gary Oldman. To cleanse the pallet of that mess you could check out the gorgeous, creaky, atmospheric hidden gem that is Neil Jordan’s The Company Of Wolves, a lyrical, mesmeric take on the folklore that combines traditional elements with nastier psychological subtext and some terrifying werewolf mythology with effects so gooey they make The Howling look like Balto.
Somewhere in a drafty English countryside manor a young girl (Sarah Patterson) tosses and turns in her sleep as some unknown force beckons her from outside the walls. As we are literally drawn into her subconscious while she slumbers we see her exist in a dream world, living in an enchanted forest with her parents (Steven Rea and Tusse Silberg) and sister. Also with them is her persnickety granny, played with plummy mother-hen fussiness by the great Angela Lansbury. Granny warns her not to venture too far outside the village because werewolves have been sighted, and that the worst kind of wolf a young girl can encounter is one whose fangs are hidden on the inside. This is of course an apparent theme that would fit right in in today’s cultural climate and could teach people a bit about subtlety and restraint when exploring the subject matters. She’s just at that stage between childhood and adolescent that is confusing, alluring and oh so dangerous, and the film uses the fairytale elements to uncover something darker and closer to home lurking beneath. It’s also just a fantastic werewolf flick too, there’s stories within stories told by Lansbury and you can really get lost and swept up in this fantastical world like the dream it ultimately is.
Jordan is a director who clearly cherishes the complexities and challenges of the medium, not one single film he’s released has felt hollow, compromised or candy coated for the masses. This one has absolutely knockout production design, creature effects that will have you covering your eyes (that poor crying toddler when buddy turns into the wolf) and a musical score by George Fenton that’s achingly melodic and threatening in equal doses. As much as all this style is on point though so too are the themes and substance in storytelling, carrying a dense weight that justifies all the visual grandeur. This feels like an important film, albeit absorbed through the scattered prism of a breathless, sweaty nightmare because after all, it is all inside a dream. Until it’s not. One of the best horror films of the 1990’s, nab a Blu Ray if you can but they’re probably scarce. Oh and watch for a diabolical cameo from Terence Stamp too as the Devil himself.