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*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An almost forgotten gem. I really liked the eery atmosphere in this
one; great actors, great music - and really outstanding cinematography.
I've never seen New York portrayed as grim and terrifying - and yet as
beautiful - as in this film. I wouldn't call this a werewolf movie and
it's certainly not your usual horror film either; although it does have
many characteristics of a genre movie (even some pre-Predator style
distorted camera effects), it is very much its own beast. There are no
fancy transformations, no groundbreaking visual effects from the likes
of Rick Baker, Rob Bottin or Stan Winston - but there are superb
visuals of another kind. And there's tension, suspense and a
fascinating story that gripped me right from the start. There are also
some very graphic, gory moments, but they are few and far between.
Director Michael Wadleigh has an interesting background: he was the
dude who made history in 1969 by making Woodstock happen. He took
Strieber's werewolf novel and brought something personal to it. Call it
a mythical eco-horror thriller if you will, it's certainly something
special. 7 out of 10 from me.
Favorite films: http://www.IMDb.com/list/mkjOKvqlSBs/
Lesser-known Masterpieces: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls070242495/
Fun B-flicks/low budget films: http://www.imdb.com/list/YV1Lxq7WLkU/
Favorite TV-Shows reviewed: http://www.imdb.com/list/ls075552387/
"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.
1981 was a good year for werewolf movies. American Werewolf In London (one of my all time favorite movies), The Howling, and this, Wolfen. Wolfen came out last, and well, they sure didn't save the best for last, did they? Wolfen stars Albert Finney, with the most scariest looking mullet in screen history he plays a pudgy cop who is investigating a series of bizarre deaths in the Battery Park area of New York City. Bit by bit, as the story unfolds, he finds out that the attacks aren't made by a human, and more strangely, there's a connection between them! Despite it's interesting cinematography, the whole story thing is ridiculous, and hardly holds up. Albert Finney embarrasses himself (again) and the rest of the cast try in vain to raise themselves above the cheesy script.
*** 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 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.
I can understand why horror fans would be disappointed in this film? But who cares? There are enough stupid horror movies around to satisfy those who need gore and screams. Wolfen tackles some very heavy concepts all within the context of a police procedural, and I never really felt the movie was stereotyping Indians. There is just a lot of material to cover and I thought the scenes with the Indians were amazingly focused and powerful. The acting is absolutely phenomenal--I wish Finney and Hines worked together in other movies...the atmosphere in this film really conveys the desolation of the burned out slums, and there is a feeling of like, "Wow, what the hell ARE we doing with the earth." But it never got preachy and I think Finney portrayed the more subtle realizations brought forth by this great film. Scott in Boca Raton, FL
Albert Finney makes a great drunken cop up to his eyeballs in something strange, who manages to piece together the obvious and realizes why apparently unconnected events have meaning. His delivery is entirely appropriate to the subject matter.
I notice that the lady playing Pauline Vanderveer was Miss Universe from 1975, Anne Marie Photamo. Now was that really Anne Marie's naked body on the table or just a body double? Pretty heavy scenes, realistic I must say about the morgue. Somebody please answer.
gregory hines? was axctually really good in this film ;so was finney.One of my favorite films,though it had one or two sappy parts,the Indian dude was crusty.but still a very cool horror film as I recall growing up. I have rented it many times since and still enjoy it. Just the whole vibe of the film is really cool. Any lesser actor than finney could have taken this film down the wrong road into crapland,but finney knocked it out of the ballpark. The scenes for the movie were just spot on as well.Excellently directed too. Some of the scenes were a bit violent,but not in a slasher kind of way.This is back when horror films still had a plot of sorts.
I have seen plenty of horror films, some good, many bad, and I think
Wolfen is a keeper. I thought it was interesting, suspenseful,
thought-provoking, and way more intelligent than most I've seen. I know
some found it preachy or pretentious, and I can understand why some
would react that way. Still, I thought it was far and away better than
most of the so-called horror films released during the same period.
As for the original book is concerned, my best friend and I were both disappointed in Streiber's novel, which we thought was grossly inferior to the movie and filled with errors in logic you just couldn't ignore or explain away. Not only that, the book wasn't even that suspenseful, though I believe a better writer could have done wonders with the basic premise. I noticed the same thing with The Hunger; the movie was pretty good, albeit paper-thin in plot, while the book was merely disappointing slow and, again, filled with logical errors, but little in the way of thrills or excitement.
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