Wolfen (1981) Poster

(1981)

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8/10
Fresher werewolf story
Leofwine_draca5 July 2021
Warning: Spoilers
WOLFEN is the third of the big werewolf films of 1981, after AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON and THE HOWLING, and yet it gets nowhere near the same level of attention as those two. I'd seen clips of it on TV as a kid but it scared me enough for me to avoid it then, but having just sat through it for the first time I'd rank it behind AMERICAN and way ahead of THE HOWLING. Despite tackling the subject of werewolves, it's much more of a detective thriller than a horror, although there's a lot of tense, spooky atmosphere and some gory attack sequences.

Albert Finney is a boozy cop investigating the slaying of a Dutch millionaire, seemingly at the hands of a wild animal. An effective backdrop of a partially-demolished New York is home to creatures that may or may not be linked to Native American legend, and origin story here is much fresher and more inventive than most hackneyed werewolf films with the old silver bullet tropes. In fact, they're not really the villains at all; this is more of a dissection of colonialism and the casualties in its wake. The cast is very good here - and nice to see Tom Noonan against type as a good guy for once - and the direction and writing complement each other nicely.
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8/10
Maybe a bit slow, but tops in giving out the creeps.
mark.waltz6 October 2021
Warning: Spoilers
The South Bronx had a story of horrors there the year before with "Fort Apache the Bronx". You got to see the abandoned Lots where torn down houses were, and there were still some there the year later when this was made. That seems to be where the mystery lies even though the initial murders are set in Battery Park way downtown, shown slowly through the lense of whatever is doing the killing with a blurry sepia tone camera that moves around creepily, looking like a color film negative. Burnt out detective Albert Finney is set on the case and along with police psychiatrist Diane Venora tries to identity what is committing these hideous killings.

This film is more psychological horror than actual physical horror because you really see more of the action from the creature's eyes van from the victims although there are a few bloody scenes. During his investigation, did he encounters Native American Edward James Olmos indicates that someone can transform themselves into a wolf-like creature just through their own will. So while it is a wolf-like creature, it isn't a werewolf / say like in "The Howling" or "American Werewolf in London", and this sets the three films apart from each other in its entirety.

The New York location footage, even in that odd negative look, is quite unique and nostalgic, and you get to see New York in quite a different light then just too touristy places. Yes, it does take us into Central Park, and you do got shots of downtown and the World Trade Center, but utilizing what was going on in the Bronx at the time to make it part of the setting is quite interesting. There's a little bit of a relationship storyline growing between Kenny and Lenora, but mainly, their encounters focus on the investigation, not unnecessary storyline development. This is a film with a great intellect, and that gives it a more artistic feel then just something for your regular early 80's horror movie fans.
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7/10
Werewolf Classic
gavin69427 October 2015
A New York cop (Albert Finney) investigates a series of brutal deaths that resemble animal attacks. Tom Noonan and his beard guest star in a key role.

The film is known for its early use of an in-camera effect to portray the subjective point of view of a wolf. Similar to thermography, the technique was later adopted by other horror films such as the "Predator" film series.

Although considered a modern werewolf classic, Roger Ebert asserted Wolfen "is not about werewolves but is about the possibility that Indians and wolves can exchange souls." Well, yeah, that is true... but it is still werewolves, even if not in the traditional sense.

Where is the proper release? This is what people want to know. Apparently the director has a preferred cut, but instead all we get is a bare bones Blu-ray with nothing more than a trailer. Surely there is much more that could be done.
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5/10
Cool Visuals, But Horror Story Ruined
ccthemovieman-118 September 2006
I loved the visuals and couldn't stand the voodoo-type theology, which was so typical of movies since the early 1970s. Here, the explanation of this whole story is just that: some secular Indian superstitious baloney that is given total credence. Well, we've seen that a number of times on films in recent decades, being part of the PC culture.

The unique cinematography, seeing as the wolf sees, with psychedelic-like negative images as he prowls the streets of New York City, is very cool. It's also very suspenseful, especially with the creepy sound-effects at times.

The first half hour of this film is very bloody and has a ton of verbal blasphemes. Acting-wise, Edward James Olmos' role was a confusing one, a tough character to figure out. Gregory Hines, with his big Afro haircut, looked straight out of the '70s. A young Diane Venora looked good and lot less hard-looking than she did a decade later on film.

In summary, this could have been a great horror movie had they stuck to horror and not inserted all the "theology."
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6/10
Urban Legends
rmax3048235 October 2002
Warning: 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. Ditto for Gregory Hines in a ruined church. The killer's POV shots are by now hoary.

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 shaky 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 any more.

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. I suppose because, being a rich real estate magnate, he was going to replace part of the shattered Bronx with a housing complex. That makes them mind readers. 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 to make her conventionally exquisite. 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. Mano a mano might be okay, but shooting them from helicopters?
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5/10
Introducing Wolf-O-Vision.
BA_Harrison20 May 2020
And the 1981 award for worst sex scene in a horror movie goes to.... Wolfen!, it's coupling between cop Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) and criminal psychologist Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora) filmed entirely in glorious Wolf-O-Vision, a technique that solarises the POV image, making the film look incredibly cheap and tacky in the process.

Unlike Joe Dante and John Landis, who employed groundbreaking make-up effects to bring their werewolves to life in The Howling and An American Werewolf in London (also 1981), Wolfen's director, Michael Wadleigh, uses a far less showy (and therefore cheaper) approach, keeping his wolves hidden from the viewer for the most part, opting instead to show us the world through their eyes... with Wolf-O-Vision!

Based on the novel by Whitley Strieber, Wolfen begins with the deaths of successful businessman Christopher van der Veer, his coke-snorting wife Pauline (Anne Marie Pohtamo), and their chauffeur while taking a night-time stroll in Battery Park, New York. The unfortunate trio are ripped to shreds by unseen assailants, the attacks filmed in... you guessed it!... Wolf-O-Vision!

Investigating the grisly incident is world weary cop Wilson, who discovers the existence of a 20,000 year-old tribe of Native American shape-shifters who, having been driven to near extinction by the white man, now live in the wasteland of the South Bronx, feeding on diseased down and outs. However, with Van Der Veer having designated their hunting ground for urban renewal, the shape-shifters have been forced to fight back.

While this is a pretty sound idea for a horror film, and the cast is good for this kind of thing (Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines and Tom Noonan co-star), the dreadfully slow pace, the eco-warrior stance, and the reliance on Wolf-O-Vision make for a really dull experience. The derelict South Bronx locations are great (straight out of an Italian post-apocalyptic movie) and there's a smattering of splatter for gore-hounds to enjoy, but its not enough to compensate for the dreariness of proceedings.

As if realising his mistake, Wadleigh raises his game for a reasonably exciting finalé, in which Dewey, Rebecca and police chief Warren (Dick O'Neill) are surrounded by the Wolfen. The attack results in a neat decapitation (bet you can't guess who loses their head) and ends with a not entirely satisfactory resolution, the wolves leaving when Wilson smashes the model of Van Der Veers proposed Bronx development, as if doing so would stop the project from going ahead (I doubt if his ranting and raving about shape-shifters would convince the financial backers to change their minds).
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3/10
"You wouldn't kill anyone else, would you?" .. "That's what you get paid to find out."
moonspinner553 April 2017
A series of gory killings in and around New York City, mutilations done by a Jack the Ripper type, are investigated by a hardened veteran police detective and his cynical female partner. Aside from some interesting Steadicam photography from the predator's point of view, this 'thoughtful' thriller about territorial spirits manifesting themselves as wolves isn't very suspenseful. Albert Finney, wrung-out and with a whopper-crop of fluffy hair, pieces together the mystery with bleary eyes and mouth askew; his blasé manner isn't used for salty humor, though--he really does look bored. David M. Eyre and Michael Wadleigh adapted their weak screenplay from Whitley Strieber's novel "The Wolfen," and Wadleigh also directed (it was his first feature following directorial duties on the 1970 documentary, "Woodstock"). In a ludicrous example of what eventually follows, the filmmakers attempt to raise shivers by having a nude Edward James Olmos run around at night like a madman, drinking from a puddle and howling at the moon. *1/2 from ****
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8/10
Wolfen was quite a thrilling horror film
tavm16 July 2018
I first saw a lot of this movie when it was shown on HBO in 1982 when I was a young teen. As such, some of the dialogue went over my head as I was more interested in seeing the wolf killings and the thermographic POV shots from those creatures than the story itself. Now that I just watched it again online, it starts in measured tones much of the time before the first kills and doesn't reach a crescendo until the end. Albert Finney is fine as the alcoholic cop. I also liked Diane Venora as the shrink he teams up with and Gregory Hines as the one who helps analyze the unusual hairs on the victims. Also, Edward James Olmos as one of the American Indians-or Native Americans-Finney talks to about the "wolfen". So on that note, I highly recommend Wolfen.
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7/10
Sharp teeth and an intelligent screenplay!
Coventry12 April 2004
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!
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4/10
It's OK but...
BandSAboutMovies29 August 2020
Warning: Spoilers
Before he was getting beamed up into spaceships, Whitley Streiber wrote The Wolfen. It came out in a year that saw two other essential werewolf movies, An American Werewolf In London and The Howling. There's a reason why this film isn't mentioned in the same breath as the other furry releases of 1981. By comparison, it's slow-moving and not as filled with either humor or menace.

Former NYPD Captain Dewey Wilson (Alberty Finney) has come back to the job to work with criminal psychologist Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora, The Cotton Club) to solve a violent series of murders, including a business magnate who was killed alongside his wife and gigantic Haitian voodoo bodyguard.

So what keeps killing people throughout NYC? Is it a wild wolf? Or Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos), a Native American activist who claims that he's a shapeshifter?

Along the way, Gregory Hines plays a coroner, Tom Noonan is a zoologist and Tom Waits makes a cameo as a bar owner.

This is the only movie that Dustin Hoffman was ever rejected for. He really wanted the lead, but director Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock) wanted to work with Finney. For what it's worth, he was removed from the film after reshoots and was replaced with John D. Hancock (Let's Scare Jessica to Death), who supervised post-production and fixing some of the movie's dialogue.

If this had been released in any other year but 1981, I think it may be more fondly remembered. It's fine - a bit slow, but the idea of Native American skywalkers being wolf spirits that haunt New York is interesting. However, it's a less successful take on traditional monsters than Steiber's The Hunger, which would be made into a film two years later.
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5/10
Very Pretentious And Disappointing If You've Read The Book
Theo Robertson28 August 2005
I read Whitley Striber's novel THE WOLFEN in the early 1980s and though not being much of a horror fan was mildly impressed with it and found out a couple of years later that a movie version starring Albert Finney had been released and I tried to find the movie on video but with no luck and it was several years later until I saw WOLFEN when it was broadcast on channel 4 one night and I was disappointed with it

Director Michael Wardleigh directed the classic Hippy concert movie WOODSTOCK and this adaptation has " Hippy anti corporate giant eco warrior " written all over it . In the book the wolfen are Darwian in concept - Nature is cruel so the wolfen are cruel . This is ignored for the most part in the film which often descends into smacking the audience around the head as to what a terrible thing industrialized societies are . Remember how conservationists and environmentalists put red Indians on a pedestal in the 1960s and 70s ? Well much of the narrative centres around mystic legends of the Native American Indians . Very noble sentiments I'm sure but much of this doesn't really go anywhere . Neither does the subplot about possible eco terrorists being involved in the murder of a powerful capitalist and his wife . We know who killed them at the start of the movie so why drag up people opposed to corporate economics into the story ? Strangely enough this might help WOLFEN become a sort of cult classic amongst anti globalisation protesters but for a mainstream audience who were expecting a horror film it's a turn off and what really spoils the movie is the ridiculous ending where we're told that it's all the fault of the human race and the Wolfen are really the good guys only protecting themselves from humanity . Sounds like this movie contributed to the movie career of Steven Segal . Reason enough to dislike it

To be fair to Wardleigh he has managed to capture some of the atmosphere and gore of Strieber's novel . One scene I recall from the book is something that doesn't appear in the film version per se is where a detective investigating the case is killed and when the paramedics pick up his body he spills in half ! Nasty . In the movie the nearest equivalent is when a detective has his hand bitten off and then his head - Which is lying on the pavement trying to say something . The director also manages to make New York come across as a cold , impersonal bleak place and when Wardleigh does this he succeeds . It's just a pity he didn't concentrate on these aspects more rather than cramming new age thinking and Indian legends down the audience throats
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7/10
Wolfen
Scarecrow-8825 October 2006
Warning: Spoilers
Detective Albert Finney must figure out what is causing vicious canine-like attacks on people. The case really doesn't take shape, despite many street denizens, derelicts, and hobos being viciously torn apart, until a wealthy business man, van der Veer(behind a major ground breaking undertaking)is killed. What baffles police is how one man of such prominent means is killed the same as the forgotten who live around the filthy places.

Finney will seek the help of coroner Gregory Hines(steals every scene he's in), psychologist Diane Venora(quite the looker back in the day)and animal specialist/zoologist Tom Noonan for understanding just what types of predators he's dealing with.

The film takes on a different spin regarding the werewolf genre than it's associates that came out the same year("An American Werewolf in London";"The Howling")in that these creatures are closer to actual canine than your typical "man gets bit by a werewolf and turns due to a Full Moon Curse or any other decided shape-shifting ability". Also, Native American folklore and the understanding of this certain type of wolf ruled extinct thanks to human hunters comes into play in this story.

It's truly a parable of man against nature in a state of unbalance when a hunting ground is disturbed. I didn't really buy the ending..I actually thought it was kind of ridiculous..but enjoyed the mystery and suspense leading up to the final twenty minutes or so. The "urban blight" photography and the "through the eyes of the hunter" steadi-cam make this film a much more rewarding experience that perhaps makes up for the ponderous ending that came off heavy-handed to me. Good cinematography of the city overall and a capable cast take this beyond where it could've easily wound up..a promising werewolf tale in an urban setting that falls under the weight of it's supposed message regarding man's disruption of a natural way of life.
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8/10
Above average horror outing.
Hey_Sweden26 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
People in NYC are starting to be savagely attacked, with victims ranging from a well-to-do developer to the homeless and diseased. What could the connection be? That's what surly police detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) has to figure out, with the help of such people as political terrorism expert Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora), coroner Whittington (Gregory Hines), and animal expert Ferguson (Tom Noonan).

Director Michael Wadleigh certainly made a highly interesting debut in terms of making a film with a narrative, having previously done the landmark Woodstock documentary. It was he and co-screenwriter David Eyre who brought in such elements as political terrorism (as a red herring) and the mythology of American Indians into the story, as the original novel by Whitley Strieber is more straightforward. The result is a wolf themed movie (1981 certainly was the Year of the Wolf, with "The Howling" and "An American Werewolf in London" having also been released that year) with a true social conscience touching upon the still relevant idea of man encroaching upon Nature and upsetting its balance, and needing to find that respect for it again.

Some viewers may be disappointed that it's not really a werewolf movie, but it does have its rewards. The Steadicam photography by Garrett Brown is excellent, as is the superb cinematography by Gerry Fisher. The "Wolfen P.o.V. shots" are extremely well done, and lend a nice perspective. The location work throughout NYC is likewise impressive. James Horner supplies the spooky music score that recalls his work for "Humanoids from the Deep" and there are times it also foreshadows his score for "Aliens". Carl Fullerton's makeup effects are amazing, as one can see from the severed hand and head gags; in fact, the severed head gag is one of the best of its kind. There's some real suspense and scares here, and the animal action is first rate; that white wolf that we see near the end is just beautiful.

The acting is also solid, with the oddly cast Finney delivering an amusing performance. Venora, Hines, and Noonan are all great in their first substantial film roles. Edward James Olmos has one of the wilder roles of his career as Eddie Holt, who shows some fearlessness when his character is required to get naked at one point. Dick O'Neill is good as Wilson's superior, and the supporting cast features some other familiar faces like Reginald VelJohnson (as a morgue attendant), James Tolkan (as "Baldy" (!)), and Peter Michael Goetz (as Ross).

Overall, this is an intelligent and entertaining movie that deserves respect and is worth discovering or revisiting.

Eight out of 10.
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5/10
Too smart for its own good
preppy-327 July 2004
Warning: Spoilers
**SPOILER BEGINS**

A rich couple are brutally murdered when they take a little nighttime stroll through the bad part of NYC. Detective Albert Finney is called in to investigate. It turns out the murderers aren't even human--they're super intelligent wolves just trying to protect their hunting ground. But it seems the city plans to demolish their area to make room for apartment buildings...and the wolves aren't happy about that.

This movie has good things--it's well-directed; Gregory Hines attacks his role and has fun with it; Edward James Olmos has a surprising nude scene and there is some very good special effects showing how the wolves see things. But, ultimately, this movie doesn't work.

It's a "message" horror film--it tries to give us a little moral message about civilization, the environment, Indians...You know, I go to horror films to be scared NOT have messages shoved down my throat. Also the film is VERY slow (I fast-forwarded through a lot of it); Albert Finney looks like he's drunk most of the time and the surreal touches just annoyed me. And, worst of all, the wolfen weren't scary! They looked kind of cute and cuddly not frightening.

This movie was dumped by the studio on its release. It's easy to see why. Horror fans would be bored and people who like message movies wouldn't see a movie like this. Basically this is an interesting misfire. I give it a 5.
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8/10
Inordinate Horror Movie with it's Own Special Charms
LeonLouisRicci25 April 2015
Certainly Different than the average Werewolf Movie...Wait...this isn't a Werewolf Movie, so let's start again. Certainly Different than Your average Horror Movie, Michael Wadleigh's Only other Film other than Woodstock (1969), is a Treat of Offbeat Gore and POV Madness.

It's Ambitions Fall Short on the Environmental and Mystical Stuff at times but the way it gets there is nonetheless Chillingly Captured. The Movie may Try too Hard to Show a Number of Different Angles on the Horror of the Story...Native American Shape-Shifting, The Encroachment of Civilization on the Natural World, and Human and Urban Decay.

A Fine Film that is a Different Entry in the Genre and until the Rushed and Confusing Ending it Captivates and Entertains as a Sharp and Artsy Thriller. Albert Finney is OK and the Rest of the Cast are all Good, Especially Gregory Hines and Tommy Noonan.

Overall Recommend for Horror and Non-Horror Fans and those seeking something Out of the Ordinary.

But, be Advised, remember its Not a Werewolf Movie (there are plenty of those to be found elsewhere) and that's only Part of what makes it Something Special.
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8/10
"You have the eyes of the dead."
utgard1414 December 2015
When a famous tycoon, his wife, and his bodyguard are brutally murdered in Battery Park, a cynical detective (Albert Finney) is assigned to the case. With help from a police psychologist (Diane Venora), a colorful coroner (Gregory Hines), and a weirdo zoologist (Tom Noonan), his investigation leads him to suspect a Native American connection to the killings.

A great thriller with horror overtones that's a different kind of werewolf film than any other (certainly at the time of release). Many argue it isn't really a werewolf film at all. I can see why they'd say that but I think it obviously counts as one. The film is directed by Michael Wadleigh, whose only other directorial effort was the Woodstock documentary. It's a shame he didn't do more because he does show a good deal of talent here. Predator fans will notice this movie uses a similar visual technique for the wolves' point of view, including similar sound effects, years before the first Predator movie. The cast is excellent and the script is pretty good, if a little packed. Nice cinematography from Gerry Fisher and use of actual Bronx locations helps in creating a fine atmosphere. It's a very interesting film that tackles a number of subjects (probably too many). Monster movie fans might balk at the lack of any "wolf men," but the strength of the movie is not in its special effects or gore, but in its story and how it's presented. Keep an open mind and give it a shot and I'm sure you'll find something to like about Wolfen. I've seen it a few times now and each time it gets better.
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6/10
They might be gods!
lastliberal29 March 2008
Now, the premise of this story is pretty far fetched, but it's horror story after all. Expecting some wolf-man story, you are surprised at what the predator really is. And, the fact that they are providing some societal benefit by clearing the street of the homeless is really getting out there.

They would have gone unnoticed had they not killed some high mucky muck and his wife. Albert Finney brilliantly plays Dewey, a detective dragged out of a semi-retirement to solve these hot murders. He is teamed with a delightful Diane Venora (The Jackal, True Crime) to do what no one else can.

Gregory Hines ably assists in the hunt with his lab expertise and consummate acting skills. It is a mystery that makes no sense until Edward James Olmos, as a Native American, gives the supernatural explanation.

Forget all that and concentrate on the great performances, especially Finney's.
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7/10
Great atmospheric piece of work.
Boba_Fett11381 February 2008
This is a rather surprisingly good atmospheric piece of work from the early '80's. It's an horror that mostly lays its emphasis on its atmosphere.

Even though the movie is from the early '80's but is still that feels and moves like an '70's movie, which is a positive thing to note because of the great style and way of film-making that flourished in the '70's. It's a sort of movie that takes its time to set and build up things and features some slow moving sequences. This of course also adds to the atmosphere of the movie.

It shows a lot of scenes from the 'wolves' point-of-view, kind of "Predator" like style. This is a great move and surely adds to the tension and also mystery of the whole movie.

It's very different from just the usual genre work, from the same time period. It's a pretty refreshing '80's horror movie. It's refreshing since it doesn't merely tries to be a typical monster horror movie but one that is well written instead. It has a sort of more 'realistic' approach so to speak. But yes, it's also definitely true that in this case this style of film-making also takes away some of the horror of the movie. The movie also doesn't alway makes the best choices with its story. And because the movie is rather 'slow', not an awful lot is ever really happening all the time in this movie in terms of horror or action. (Of course this changes more and more when the movie heads toward the ending and its conclusion.) The only real horror and tension is now basically only in its atmosphere, which also suffice enough in this case by the way, since its all done so great.

It sort of all makes you wonder why Michael Wadleigh never directed any more movies. This was his only featured movie he so far ever directed and he further more only makes music documentaries.

The movie features some absolutely great and dynamic cinematography. And they by the way must have really loved the steadicam. I mean, which other movie ever billed the steadicam photographer before its director of photography? And it's not like this movie is one of the first featuring a steadicam, since it's an invention from the early '70's actually.

The musical score by James Horner is also quite effective but James oh, James, why did you basically used this very same score later again for the movie "Aliens". Oh well, Horner just never has been really known for his originality and he copies his own work more than often, which doesn't take away that his scores are often highly effective for his movies.

The movie with Albert Finney, Edward James Olmos and Gregory Hines, among others, features quite some big popular names in it. The casting doesn't seem always likely but all fit their parts well and did a more than good job.

A refreshing and good original piece of work that is surely a recommendable one!

7/10

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7/10
This is one to watch in the dark
AlsExGal22 December 2016
Werewolf movies were big in the early 80's and this is one of the good ones. This horror/thriller has striking cinematography and sound, fine direction, and a good script, and very good Special Effects.

A series of seemingly unrelated murders are being committed in New York City, from the penthouses of the super-rich, to the bombed out appearing South Bronx. Burned out detective Dewey Wilson (Finney) and terrorism expert Rebecca Neff (Venora) are brought in to solve the case. Coroner Whittington (Hines) finds a common thread.

Wolfen is one of the rare cases where lots of people working on one element improved the film, instead of hurting it. Four people are credited with the photography, six for the script, and eleven people worked on the Visual Effects. James Horner did the score for the film; a theme heard in another film he scored can be heard here, in an understated form.

Finney is good as the burned out detective. Venora isn't believable as a terrorism expert, but very believable as someone who doesn't have the sense to stay away from odd noises in the South Bronx. Hines is cynically funny as the coroner.

"Wolfen"is strong on technique, fair on acting. I'd recommend it.
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4/10
Wolfen, What's Your Excuse?
view_and_review14 December 2019
Warning: Spoilers
I don't know what this movie was. I was looking for lycans, werewolves, wolfmen, etc. What I got were a bunch of camera shots in a semi-infrared view coupled with garbled sound passing for enhanced hearing. When they finally showed us our hunters, our predators, our killers--we got plain old wolves.

OK, so they weren't quite plain old wolves, they were street smart wolves running the slums of New York. Maybe they were analogous to the gangs of New York.

The director held off showing us the actual killers as though there some real chance it could be a terrorist or one of a number of other suspects. They were a bunch of useless red herrings.

We also got plenty of screen time of a main character played by Albert Finney who was extremely dull. Like an even less charismatic Columbo (if that's even possible). He even managed to bore his female partner into having sex with him. He was so mundane and boring she decided to have sex with him to liven things up (at least that's my interpretation).

An American Werewolf in London came out in 1981 and is probably the best werewolf movie of all time. Wolfen, what's your excuse?
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6/10
Troubling but quite enjoyable somewhat
kannibalcorpsegrinder28 November 2016
Following a series of brutal killings, a New York detective investigating the incidents comes to believe that the incidents are caused by a pack of predatory werewolves out hunting for a specific target in their home-state and forces him to try to stop their rampage through the city.

This one here turned out to be quite the enjoyable and underrated werewolf effort. One of the more impressive elements to this one is the fact that there's quite a lot to like here with the investigation into the initial attacks, which makes this one quite a bit of fun. Rather than being the usual stereotypical dull police procedural that it really could've been, this one here is a lot more lively when it comes to the officers investigating the incidents as the clues are quite broad yet don't really fit together and the ability to make them all fit together gives this one some rather enjoyable areas working throughout the first half. These are quite logically played-out and make this one turn into a really intriguing werewolf-attack study as they piece the clues together, from the autopsy reports to the boardroom investigating the first attack or the different scenes of them out on foot attest. Once it manages to get past that aspect of this one, it manages to get incredibly enjoyable with the attack scenes which are really good here, from the opening stalking of oblivious security guards to the partying couple in the park, the chilling ambush of the junkie in the abandoned building or the later stalking of the couple in their apartment where they remain oblivious to their observer outside skulking between the buildings. That picks up considerably in the final half, though, with the big attacks finally coming through with the great ambush in the church ruins as well as the finale in the streets outside the bank where it really lets their furious side get shown and manages to really give this a nice finish. The last plus here is the rather inventive use of their signature heat-vision tracking that looks really cool and unique throughout here being different enough to stand out and yet being quite logical. While these here make this one quite fun, overall it's still somewhat flawed. The biggest issue to contend with is the fact that this one doesn't have very much werewolf action at all until the final half, leaving them not just off-screen but barely even shown at all. With the focus on the investigation taking place for the majority of the film, we get very little screen-time for the creatures who are barely glimpsed even when they do appear since the body-count is depressing and disappointingly low for such a werewolf movie since it's finally nearly ninety-minutes into this one before they even appear which leaves this one feeling like quite a drag. No matter how good the attacks actually are, there's so few of them due to the investigation of the attacks rather than committing more so that causes the pacing of this one to drag down to a real sprawl which hampers this one considerably and is the weakest factor against this one. Likewise, the fact that the creatures are just simply portrayed as real wolves is a bit of a disappointment which makes their scenes look nothing more than just being surrounded by dogs and means we lose out on the transformation as well so it does feel incredibly weaker in those regards. That is enough to drag this one down with that other factor here.

Rated R: Graphic Violence, Language, Full Male Nudity, drug use and violence-against-animals.
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5/10
Unique Urban Wolf Film.
AaronCapenBanner4 September 2013
Albert Finney stars as a New York city cop who, while investigating a series of brutal murders that look like the work of a wolf pack, comes to discover that it may be supernatural in origin, something he has a hard time accepting...

Albert Finney was a strange choice to play the detective, but then again, this is a strange film! Some effective direction(though director Michael Wadleigh had it taken away from him by the studio) and a thoughtful script about an urban landscape invaded by nature, but becomes too violent and silly(the climax especially) marring a potentially effective horror/police thriller. Sometimes interesting, but mostly muddled.
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8/10
"Animals? They may be gods."
Wuchakk11 October 2011
"Wolfen" was adapted from Whitley Strieber's novel by director Michael Wadleigh, who directed the noteworthy "Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music. "Wolfen" is the oddity of the three big werewolf films of 1981, which also includes "The Howling" and "An American Werewolf in London." Most people seem uncertain how to critique it because it wasn't what they were expecting. Is it even a werewolf film at all? Hence, the mixed reviews.

The first 90 minutes of "Wolfen" play like a "Dirty Harry" yarn in New York City, albeit without the action, with Albert Finney as the weary detective. The murders mount up and the evidence seems to point to... well, I can't give it away.

Although "Wolfen" is a horror film it fits within the nature-runs-amok sub-genre more so than the werewolf category.

WHAT DOESN'T WORK: The first hour & a half has a lazy pace. Needless to say, people who have ADHD won't like "Wolfen."

WHAT WORKS: Despite the sluggishness, the film definitely has a lot of mood, a memorable score, a serious and realistic vibe, good acting, excellent New York locations (especially the condemned slum areas) and Class A cinematography to warrant one's respect, particularly the many creature point-of-view shots that "Predator" later ripped-off.

Regardless of all these good aspects, the film would have failed if there was no pay-off to the mounting mystery. Yet there's a powerful pay-off indeed: At the 90 minute mark Dewey Wilson (Finney), half-dazed after the death of his buddy, lumbers into a Native American bar where they explain to him the mystery of the wolfen. To me, this 5 minute scene is one of the most captivating, surreal and potent scenes in all of cinema; everything works -- the music, dialogue, acting & casting. The sequence could have easily failed if everything wasn't just perfect, but it is. And, speaking of the Indians, Edward James Olmos is outstanding as the mysterious Native, who may or may not possess shape-shifting abilities.

The film wisely takes the "Jaws" route and doesn't reveal who or what the "Wolfen" are until the final half hour. Some have complained about the appearance of the wolfen, but I feel the fimmakers were quite successful; they look pretty scary to me and I wouldn't want to run into them on a dark lit street, or even in broad daylight for that matter. Seriously, the film-makers did the best they could in the pre-CGI era when the film was made. Another thing to think about is the beauty of the wolfen shown clearly at the end. They're not monsters at all. They are, in fact, magnificent. Kudos to Michael Wadleigh for eschewing monster movie clichés and going for something original.

I've heard the ending called everything from preposterous to dumb; yet aren't all such horror films preposterous by their very nature? I personally find the ending of "Wolfen" to be its greatest strength -- thought-provoking, atmospheric and powerful.

FINAL WORD: "Wolfen" is well worth one's time because it's so original. Imagine Dirty Harry in New York City dealing with a Jaws-on-land situation and a healthy dose of Native American mythology and you'd have a pretty good idea of "Wolfen." Yes, it's a creatures-on-the-loose flick and has many slow stretches (with flashes of heavy gore), but it possesses an artistic flair and depth, not to mention the creepy New York City ambiance. I suppose you could call it a thinking-person's horror flick. Another plus is that it plays even better on repeat viewings.

The film's strengths, uniqueness and lingering power is what compels me to give "Wolfen" such a high rating, but the movie's weaknesses must be noted because a lot of people will find it boring, particularly those bred on a strict "blockbuster" diet.

Runtime: 115 minutes

GRADE: B+ or A-
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6/10
Watchable, but flawed
mm-3921 May 2003
Good special effects for 81, but nothing special for todays computer graphics; one can see the influences in present movie making. The idea is sappy, and the acting is ok, but the effects is what I like in this film. Worth watching, and this film has a message about over development. Ahead of its time. I would give this film a 6/10. I find a lot of the early 80's film quality gritty, this film and the Howling appear very dark on my VCR.
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8/10
Creepy and highly misunderstood horror classic.
HumanoidOfFlesh20 August 2006
"Wolfen" is based on the Whitley Striber novel.A police detective(Albert Finney)is investigating a series of brutal murders in New York City that point toward a wolf-like killer,or possibly a whole pack of them.Director Michael Wadleigh uses the horror movie backdrop as a venue for commentary on class,environmentalism,industrialization and Native American reality and myths.The mystery surrounding bloodthirsty creatures is excellent and there are some truly intense and bloody scenes of hunting.The use of a polarization effect and a steadicam to represent the wolves' POV is stunningly eerie.The film is loaded with the atmosphere of urban decay and the score by James Horner is particularly memorable.Give this highly sophisticated horror film a look.8 out of 10.
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