Wednesday, 19 May 2010



Dir: Michael Wadleigh (Woodstock)
Cast: Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines, Edward James Olmos, Dick O'Neill
USA, 1981

Seen: May 18, 2010 on DVD

Reason to Watch & Review: For The Wolfathon *

Wolfen marks the fifth instalment of The Wolfathon, and is one of the more recent films of the marathon. It's year of release bears good company as 1981 seems to be the year of the wolf, bringing us not only Wolfen but also The Howling and An American Werewolf in London (and yes, those are planned to be included in the marathon as well). I wonder what it was that brought all the different minds to explore werewolves at that time, especially considering they are all such different takes on the genre. Wolfen started as a mystery to me, never having heard of it before hunting for werewolf films and went I saw that it started Albert Finney (Big Fish, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning) and Edward James Olmos ("Battlestar Galactica"), I knew I couldn't resist.

Wolfen follows Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) a New York cop investigated brutal murders. He's a bit rough around the edges in comparison to his colleagues, but gets along well with coroner Whittington (Gregory Hines) and Rebecca Neff (Diane Verona), whom I was never quite sure exactly what her characters job was, other than that it involved knowledge gathering, high tech surveillance and extremist groups. When you look at these elements: brutal crime, forensics-focus along with tech and international range, it sounds like a film that could be out right now. Sure, the tech is classic early 80's but it amazingly holds it's own as it's always closely linked to the story. It's actually the first 80's film I've seen where I enjoyed the visuals, albeit dated, without a nostalgic or comedic tie to them. They were, simply put, good. It's so strange. But that ties into the biggest strength of the film: it's gorgeous to look at. The cinematography is really beautiful, showing clear cityscapes and lots of interesting shots from steadycam to sweeping overheads. Totally not what I was expecting from early 80's horror!

Although we have a fair amount of solve-the-mystery style storytelling, we get a lot of visual storytelling as well which I found to be surprizingly effective. But, at almost 2 hours I found my interest did wane a little bit here and there, but I think that is because it's primarily a drama/intrigue tale which isn't my favourite. But I enjoyed the horror elements, although there wasn't tons of tension it did have all the gore and effects you'd expect from a werewolf film. This was impressive as well, and I'm not surprized it received an R rating at the time because the effects are both gory visually as well as conceptually. They also manage not only to creep you out with what you see, but also viscerally with the use of description and discussion of ideas throughout the film. They also use a fair amount of non-gore visual effects that are impressive, although some may be familiar to fans of other genres.

In terms of being a werewolf film, it takes quite a different tone and stance than other werewolf films I've seen although it still manages to take on the spirit of the themes related to werewolf films. It was nice to see a different spin while still maintaining ties to the genre. But the stars that aren't on the cast list are the wolves. Wow, the wolves are truly beautiful - this was a huge treat and another highlight of the film.

Overall, I enjoyed it visually as well as getting to see Albert Finney and Edward James Olmos in completely different roles than I'd ever seen them before in. Edward James Olmos is particularly interesting in this one, although it's a supporting role. Although I don't think it would end up being a huge repeat watcher for me, I still really enjoyed it and was happy to have found it.

Shannon's Overall View:
I enjoyed it
I'll watch it again
I'd recommend it to fans of horror/drama, crime films and werewolf films

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© Shannon Ridler, 2010

* The Wolfathon is a marathon exploring werewolf films in anticipation of the 2010 release of The Twilight Saga: Eclipse



Suzie Ridler said...

Oh wow, that sounds like one I definitely want to see. Sadly my library does not have it which bites. Oh well, maybe it'll show up on Dusk one day. I am getting more and more nostalgic for the 80s, even with the bad effects, there is something special about that time period. Nicely done Shannon!

Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

This one totally wasn't on my radar until I think someone tweeted about it, but I'm glad I saw it. I got it from I wonder if Dusk would show it, ... actually it might be a great fit for them.

It's so funny because this one has lots of 80's elements - tech reminds me of stuff like Runaway or Electric Dreams, but seeing it on DVD it looks of the time, but not cheesy at all. Kind of like The Conversation with Gene Hackman. Dated contextually but still holds up.

I hope you get to see it sometime Suzie!

Suzie Ridler said...

It sounds like a good fit for Dusk (fingers crossed). Wow, not cheesy? Now I really want to see it!

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