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"They can hear a cloud pass overhead, the rhythm of your blood. They can track you by yesterday's shadow. And they can tear the scream from your throat. There is no defense." I love it when you can tell a movie is gonna be great just from it's tagline. Wolfen is one of the most thoroughly underrated films of the 80's if not film history. From moment one with it's dreamy, monochromatic, animalistic tracking shots Wolfen sets itself up as a different kind of werewolf film. With Wolfen you get three movies in one a Dirty Harry-esquire cop investigation movie with Albert Finney and Gregory Harrison turning in fine performances as the ones investigating. A graphically intense horror film, with a menacingly sadistic, creepily cool performance from Edward James Olmos and of course the barely there "Wolfen" creatures. Lastly you get a statement on environmental issues and the hierarchy of society. Tom Noonan in his pre-Manhunter existence gives the movie a touch of class as an animal lover who wants to study the "Wolfen." If you're expecting a comedic werewolf movie such as "The Howling" or "An American Werewolf in London" this film isn't for you. But if you want a great suspense mystery, with dazzling visuals and one of the greatest endings in history check Wolfen out.
Wolfen is an offbeat horror film that doesn't entirely succeed but
works as a fascinating curiosity. Directed by Michael Wadleigh, who
made only one other film (and that was a documentary, Woodstock), it is
a real one-off, though it is too long and lacks crucial dramatic
tension for lengthy periods. Yet, despite its problems, it does remain
consistently interesting, and it's good to see a film of this genre
that tries to do something different with the rules.
Billionaires and the homeless are getting their throats torn out in New York, and evidence seems to be pointing at something not human . Grouchy detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is teamed up with psychologist Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora) to discover the truth behind these slayings.
As this was released in 1981, it sometimes gets spoken of in comparison to the two other werewolf films that came out in the same year: An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. To be honest, this is nothing like those films. Wolfen is not a werewolf film in the traditional sense. There are no fantastic special effects, grisly transformations and no real attempts at suspense. The only tense moments occur in the opening sequence and some scenes near the end. Instead this is all about the mankind's negative influence on the world and the environment, with the film seemingly siding with the wolves and their anger at nature being meddled with. In fact, the film often presents the murder sequences from the wolves' point of view, giving us little opportunity to care much about the victims as we barely see things from their side.
These wolf point-of-view shots are cleverly composed, using Steadicam photography and surreal, bleached out visuals that give these moments a truly fresh, strange identity. Some have commented that John McTiernan's 1987 SF horror Predator's better known use of similar visuals have been influenced by this film. James Horner's chilling, suspenseful music really gives atmosphere to the often excellent cinematography, which presents New York as a grand, wintry, slightly eerie world.
Finney is on good, solid form as Dewey; it's good to see a gruff, older lead character in a horror film; not exactly something you'd see these days. The attractive Venora doesn't have an awful lot to do as Neff except tag along, but it's a good performance. Gregory Hines is a coroner who divulges some fascinatingly morbid information about death in the film's early stages. Edward James Olmos is also memorable as an Indian American who may know more about the mystery behind these murders.
Some may find Wolfen disappointing when they discover it's not the kind of film they thought they were going to see, but further investigation or even an open mind on first viewing will be rewarded with a good, different kind of horror film, with a few great moments.
Wolfen not wolves, like a terrifically spiritual Edward James Olmos explains it to us is a truly inspired and solid horror film that belongs to the best genre-achievements of the 80's. Terrifically set in the pauperized wastelands of New York, where an ancient terror unconquerably reigns. Only when someone of political importance vanishes in these suburbs, attention is drawn and an investigation is started. Albert Finney is well cast as the confused police officer who slowly has to face the fact that the murders in his district are committed by inhumanly strong forces, more and more resembling to animal attacks. The script of Wolfen (based on Whitley Strieber's novel) is a compelling one and it's filled with original and imaginative ideas containing spiritual motivations and even historical elements. A basic script like that, accompanied by a stunning photography and convincing acting can only result in a terrific, overlooked horror classic. Two thumbs up for this film! Director Wadleigh even satisfied the more mainstream horror fans as his film includes a couple of bloody killing sequences and a constant frightening tone. Finney and Edward James Olmos are the most impressive cast members, yet they receive good feedback from Tom Noonan (in one of his earliest roles), Gregory Hines (I don't believe I ever saw him in a horror film before) and Diane Verona. Fans of action-packed werewolf film may face a disappointment when purchasing this film, but all other open-minded cinema audiences are in for a really pleasant surprise. Wolfen is highly recommended and thought-provoking entertainment!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I won't spend time arguing about the merits of whether "Wolfen" is
going to be an "effective" or "gee-whiz" entertainment for you and the
kids next Saturday night. What I will argue is how the craftsmanship
that went into this film far exceeds the multitudes of celluloid treats
that have been shot in the last decade.
Director Michael Wadleigh truly understood how to embrace the two sensory communicators that movies deliver to an audience, that of sight and sound, and wove a tapestry of motifs that help elevate a mere "super-wolves-preying-on-humans-in-NY" tale into something that "feels" like it's so much more.
So many contemporary directors of popular features, notably those who churn out horror flicks, frame scenes and trim shots down to movements and moments that simply, and I mean, VERY simply, propel the plot points. Period. Sure, there's quirky camera angles out windows, across streets, and up drain pipes, as well as amped up door slams and sudden weird little-girl yowls, to give it a "cool," slick MTV style feature film look. But it's all to service the plot point at that very moment in the narrative. If it's a piece of business that will be used again in the film, it will be hamhandedly shoved in our faces at first so we definitely WON'T forget it a half hour later. Very little thought is put into motifs -- things that aren't overt, but instead are picked up by the subconscious.
So, what were some of the things Wadleigh did? Take a look at the opening 10 minutes of this film. Sure, Christopher and Pauline Van De Veer get snuffed in Battery Park by mysterious wolfen. Dewey Wilson copters in from Staten Island, back on a case after a long absence. And at the morgue, no residual traces of a weapon are found on the bodies. All routine, yet key plot points. Now look and hear what Wadleigh spent time doing with his film-making craft to give the movie subtextual resonance.
Pauline Van De Veer cradles her pearl necklace in her mouth while riding in her limo. Dewey arrives at Battery Park munching on donuts. He stands at the morgue, eating a cookie, whole. A few moments later, Dewey is at his desk, smoking a big cigar. Why did Wadleigh choose to have these very specific scenes of business in the movie? To layer his film with motifs of "the mouth." The wolfen survive and attack with their mouths, and the humans subtly and continuously remind us of this, whether it's the sloppy sounds of Finney and Venora's passionate kissing or Hine's potato chip crescendo-crunches while surveilling the wolfen.
This film is packed with linking symbolism and subtext like this that aren't overt, but give it that extra weight, which makes it more than just an average horror flick. The wind chimes in Battery Park jingle exactly like the mirrored vertical shades in the Van De Veer penthouse, and with both of Dewey's visits to that domicile, we're cued audibly by those shimmering curtains, perhaps subconsciously, back to those precursor windchimes in Battery Park as a harbinger of the first attack. The visual cues of a Native American on horseback on the Battery Park windmill, a shadowy figure of ancient evil cast across the windmill's sails, the Haitian voodoo ring on the bodyguard's finger, a shaman necklace a derelict trades for some hallucinoginic pills, and the decrepit centerpiece, that of a crumbling, abandoned Christian church, are all somewhat subtle subtext images that enforce underlying belief systems and mystical notions that coincide with the fanciful existence of the centuries-old wolfen in our midst.
What about the wolfen's keen visual senses? Wadleigh shrewdly counterpoints that "dated effect" of the wolfen (as some of you dismissively characterize it) by focusing a spotlight on our limited human visual senses throughout this picture. And again, it's not huge plot points. It's simply subtextual to lend the film more weight. Whether it's Dewey not quite able to see the wolfen at the top of the church stairs, to his not quite seeing them beyond his car hood in the rain, to the derelict's altered point of view stumbling around the Bronx under the influence of drugs, to the need of humans to enhance their visual capabilities with computers (as in the case of the heat color-coded detection device used by Van De Veer's security chief), to finally, the absolute breakdown in human visual acuity...the mystical "vanishing" of the wolfen from everyone's sight in the penthouse at the film's finale.
There are literally a dozen more motifs running in this film. I only have a 1,000 words I can print. But this movie is truly a prime example of what lacks in film-making today. Craft, pure and simple. Care and thought put into each scene, each shot. Other layers of meaning beneath the simple plot line. Give "Wolfen" another look. I guarantee you will see and hear things that weren't apparent to you before. Will it be a better horror flick to you? Probably not. But you will appreciate a time when directors knew what to do with a camera, what to do with images, and how to make audio cues signal subtle, and subconscious, recognition bursts that, when woven together, all gave a film more gravity and impact. Oh, how I wish Wadleigh had directed more movies.
"Wolfen" is one of my favourite horror movies.The atmosphere is very creepy,the acting is great and the film is quite gory as well.I remember seeing this one when I was young and it scared the hell out of me.It's a shame that most of the modern horror movies can't do the same.Try to find this marvelous,eerie flick-it won't let you down.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Spoilers. There isn't anything particularly new about this production.
Even the ecological aspect has been used before. And the director uses
suspense-heightening techniques that were honed to perfection back in the
early 50s by people like Jack Arnold. There is either creepy music or utter
silence and the character is alone and senses danger. Suddenly a hand
reaches into the frame and taps the character's shoulder. The character
jumps but it's a friend's hand. I didn't count the number of times this
hoary device is used in one or another of its incarnations. A character
sitting alone in the darkness suddenly has a wolf's hide flung over him (by
a friend). A woman investigating a suspicious noise in her own apartment is
shocked when she spins around and sees a shadow figure -- but it's only her
reflection in a mirror. The director has also used an irritating
photographic technique to signal the presence of wolves. We have learned
from Fergie (the expert lupologist) that wolves have an enormous range in
their visible spectrum of light, from ultra violet through infra red. For
much of the movie we are looking at events from the wolves' point of view.
To render this enhanced visibility the director has chosen to overhue the
images or to make them suddenly flash. It's truly a distraction, especially
coupled with the use of a shakey hand-held camera whose movements are
accelerated. Something similar happens with the wolves' hearing. They can
detect sounds from "earth tremors" to about 100,000 cycles per second.
(Ours runs from about 20 cps to 20,000 cps, tops.) The enhanced hearing is
suggested by making the sound of a man crunching Fritos audible from across
the street, but also by overlapping the same sounds slightly out of synch.
If that were actually the way wolves heard noises, they wouldn't be around
The story doesn't make a heck of a lot of sense either, when you come right down to it. Let us skip over the fakery of the mysticism attributed to Indians who work the high steel in New York City -- mostly Mohawks in real life. As a cultural anthropologist I've lived with and studied Chippewa, Tlingit, Cheyenne and Blackfeet. They are religious in a way that goes beyond our concept of visiting church on Sundays. They may use peyote too, but they are serious about it. Among the Cheyenne the ceremony is preceded by a very long fast, lasts for 24 hours, and takes place in a social context, accompanied by drums and songs. Here, Eddie gobbles some kind of psychedelic substance after coming out of a bar, tears off his clothes, and runs growling and croaking alone through the night. Don't American Indians have enough to contend with? Must we do this to their image too?
The wolves' roles should have been more carefully thought out too. They feed off the sick, the abandoned, in their own quiet Darwinian way. But then why did they attack Van der Whatever and his wife and eat their brains? The guy was an alpha male, so eating him doesn't exactly prune the herd of misfits. And sometimes the wolves can recognize a friend when they see and smell him -- they let Finney and Venora go after cornering them in an office. And sometimes they don't. Fergie, the expert, weeps with pity and love for wolves, but it doesn't matter. They eat him too.
So is there any reason to watch this film? I think so. The reason such tried and true formulae like these survive is because they work. (This is known as cinematic Darwinism.) This one would do better without the dazzling and bewildering photographic business, but it works pretty well as a scifi/monster movie centered about locations in the South Bronx, which here looks a lot like Frankfurt, Germany, did in 1945. The acting is quite good as well. Gregory Hines is more than a simple sidekick, although how he gets from pathology to being a street sniper is brushed over without explanation. Albert Finney does well by his American accent. His drollery -- the script is occasionally pretty witty -- is casual and offhand. And Diane Venora -- wow! She's a beautiful woman to begin with. And she's given a flattering do and just the right amount of Hollywood makeup. Not much is asked of her in the role of Finney's new partner, drawn into the case because of her knowledge of cults and symbols. She is, more or less, to Finney what Joan Weldon was to James Arness in "Them." There is a love scene between them, but we see it through the eyes of the wolves who have followed them home to an apartment and evidently climbed the walls in order to peek through the windows on an upper story. Blast! Both the images and sounds are distorted beyond anything other than minimal recognition. Well, I suppose it's a novel way to show lovemaking, although no "Hiroshima mon Amour." Largely because of the performances and the occasional bright spot in the script, and because of the relatively new locations, I rather enjoy it. It's worth spending time on. And I agree with Fergie. We should stop killing wolves. There are too many of us and too few of them.
Wolfen is something different to the many monster films floating around.
you watch this film expecting to see the usual mix of no brain slash and
gore then you will perhaps be disappointed or as was in my case pleasantly
surprised. Reading from other comments on this film it is easy to see that
it has been widely misunderstood.
Wolfen is not a Werewolf/Horror film although at times it does attempt to be so, which is where the confusion arises for the viewer. On one side we have the Wolfen portrayed as highly evolved beings merely protecting their environment yet on the other side they shown to be remorseless killers as and where the plot dictates. However do not let this paradox put you off a film that is both scary and genuinely thought provoking.
The scenes set in and around areas of urban decay, particularly that of the church, are chilling and suspenseful. Whilst the Wolfen POV camera work is groundbreaking and still effective by today's standards. Wolfen on the whole is a well made film, excellent use of music (or lack of it)to generate suspense and quality actors and acting help bring you into the story behind the Wolfen.
For those that wish to critisise the beach scene when Edward James Olmos dances naked across the sand as demeaning to Indians, well I think they're rather missing the point. Surely the film is trying to show the prejudices of Albert Finney's character rather than belittle any Indian custom.
In summary a film with a message that chooses to show intelligence and reason in its horrors.
Wolfen(1981) Satisfying, surreal horror flick about unknown super wolves that are terrorizing the streets of New York City. Albert Finney,(in desperate need of a haircut) is the troubled, alcoholic police captain who has been assigned to find out why people are showing up dead at an alarming rate. The best part of this movie is the ingenious cinematography work by Gerry Fisher and the movie is directed by Michael Wadleigh( Woodstock). Finney is good, as usual, and Gregory Hines, in his film debut shines as a hip coroner working with Finney to solve the murders.The leads, the story line, plus a good supporting cast including Diane Venora and Tom Noonan helps make 'Wolfen' a pretty interesting film.
Intelligent thriller about a police officer (Albert Finney) following the trail of a series of murders plaguing the city of New York which seemed to have been caused by wild wolves. Film has a great cinematography, a creepy atmosphere, some thought provoking statements and a fine cast, but yet it doesn't never quite connect. Rated R.
This film is a classic horror set in modern day USA and it is because of
that it makes it all the more scarier. Who is safe when the events can take
place in our policed society.
Finney is superb as ever and Gregory Hines covers his role well. the film produces some unexpected shocks.
Considering the now outdated effects that they had to work with back then the movie still delivers and is a treat to watch. Particularly for the time it was made it is pretty gory but not overly so like some of the other dross turned out at that time.Not repeated on TV as much as it should be make sure you catch it when it is shown as it may be a long wait until the next time..
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