WOLFEN - Golden Oldies Finally On DVD
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Wolfen’ is being reissued on Blu-ray by Warner Archives as one of four films in a set of 1980s horror flicks, the others being ‘Innocent Blood,’ ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Body Snatchers.’ Of those, ‘Wolfen’ is the best. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 27, 1981.
“Wolfen” purports to explain the thousands of disappearances that mystify police in American cities each year.
Those people are eaten by wolves, of course.
The film gives the impression that we are entering werewolf territory here — hot on the heels of “The Howling,” which placed werewolves in modern-day California, so why not a story about the same in modern-day New York?
Gregory Hines, left, Albert Finney, 'Wolfen' (1981)
But these aren’t men uncontrollably becoming wolves. They are actually wolves — wolves that have lived on the land since long before the white man came and who have developed extrasensory perceptions, as well as strength that allows them to strike and hide secretively, helping them remain undetected for centuries.
The overall film concept is told in the style of the current spate of “slasher” films, that is from the killer’s point of view, with the added dimension of a sort of computerized negative-reversed image and amplified sound. A Steadicam helps give the movement an even flow.
All of this is pretty effective, and as detective Albert Finney tries to track down whatever is doing the killing, the suspense builds in an exciting and horrifying fashion.
Unfortunately, the film begins to get awfully gory (including a wolf jumping at a man’s throat and decapitating him) and the shocks begin to be outweighed by the repulsiveness of what we see on the screen. (The sex is PG stuff; this is rated R for the violence and profanity.)
Finney is very good as the world-weary cop and Gregory Hines (he was the tap-dancing slave in “History of the World, Part I”) is his match as a pathologist. Diane Venora in her first film has a thankless role as Finney’s assistant, but she shines so we’re bound to see her in the future.
“Wolfen,” the first fictional feature directed by Michael Wadleigh (“Woodstock”), is a chilling horror movie for the most part. The filmmakers successfully take us beyond our disbelief of the strange premise and plunge us into a very believable unreality.
Gerry Fisher’s cinematography is also worthy of note, with excellent lighting in the night scenes and smart handling of the new computer technique.