I think that the first thing you should know about Wolfen is that it’s not a werewolf movie. Granted, it could be considered a part of an onslaught of early eighties movies featuring these mythological creatures. I mean, The Howling and An American Werewolf in London were released the same year, with Full Moon High and Teen Wolf coming out just a couple of years later. But, enough about that, let’s talk about this strange movie. A movie where we will be following a troubled detective looking to solve a string of vicious murders. It’s based on Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel The Wolfen, and it marks the first adaptation of his literary works. It will be followed by another strange movie, this time about vampires, The Hunger.
This is also the first and last feature film for director Michael Wadleigh best known for his 1970 classic Woodstock. His first cut of the movie was over four hours long, so the pacing issues come as no surprise. So, what kind of dog is this? Wolfen is another in a long line of eco horrors that flooded the market in the seventies and eighties. There are some really tense scenes where you’re just waiting for something to go horribly wrong but there’s not that much gore. Their approach was much more passionate and coming from the right place but the execution was a bit heavy-handed. Luckily, after forty years, this gives it a certain charm and makes it perfect for deeper analysis.
It is the year of our lord Satan 1981 and the world is changing. Changing as it has been for the last hundreds of years. And in this urban jungle, we find Detective Dewey Wilson struggling with depression and alcoholism. Just as he’s starting to feel better, the police commissioner calls him to investigate a vicious murder. And so it begins, the case of all cases that will soon consume poor Dewey and those around him…
Right from the opening scene of Wolfen, you can sense that the lavish artistic vision and beautiful composition of sight and sound. The main themes ooze from almost every scene and the opening one is a great example complete with the pearl-clutching. I found it to be quite similar to another great eighties horror with almost exact setting: Candyman. And while we’re talking about it, the remake is pretty bad, so better skip it. I don’t want to spoil the story for you, so I will skip the usual rant about social inequality and everything else. Plus, it’s good to know that nothing has changed in the rich, powerful, and coke department. I mean, it’s the eighties for fuck’s sake.
One of the reasons why you should check out Wolfen are its revolutionary POV thermal imaging shots. Something that would conquer the world several years later with the release of Predator. Now a staple of cheap horror and science fiction movies, it’s fun to see this gimmick in its original form. The same goes with the whole computer systems thing, much like in Black Moon Rising, another movie fascinated by the advent of technology.
In the end, Wolfen is an authentic and refreshing horror. It has everything you would want from such a movie and it also manages to tackle some really important issues. The acting was also great, with Albert Finney both looking and sounding the part of a troubled detective and Edward James Olmos making his debut in the big leagues. His performance here was captivating. So, if you’re looking for something different, check out this movie.
Director: Michael Wadleigh
Writers: Whitley Strieber, David Eyre, Michael Wadleigh
Cast: Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines, Tom Noonan, Dick O’Neill
Fun Facts: Albert Finney is Michael Wadleigh’s favorite actor and this is why he got the role instead of Dustin Hoffman who wanted real bad. It’s the only time in his entire career that he didn’t get the role he wanted.