Before you roll your eyes and give up on me for reviewing yet another werewolf movie, wait! This is, in fact, not a werewolf movie.
Although the film has the word “Wolf” in the title and was released in 1981, along with The Howling and An American Werewolf in London, it’s definitely not about werewolves. This might have hurt it at the time, but it’s gone on to gain somewhat of a cult following.
Tonight’s feature is Wolfen.
Year Released: 1981
Written By: David M. Eyre, Jr., Michael Wadleigh (based on the novel The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber)
Directed By: Michael Wadleigh
Starring: Albert Finney, Gregory Hines, Tom Noonan
New York City. A string of brutal murders piles up until a wealthy industrialist and his wife are added to the list of victims. Dewey Wilson, of the NYPD, is brought in to help solve the murders and he finds himself in a game of politics and dead ends, and he struggles to make sense of the bizarre and horrible murders. Murders that appear to have been the result of a savage wild animal attack, yet there are patterns that would suggest otherwise. Making things all the more confusing is the discovery of hairs, on each of the corpses, that testing reveals belong to a species of Gray Wolf.
As the body count begins to rise and the city falls in turmoil, Wilson must press on through a confusing roller coaster ride of big money, Native American lore, and bloody crime scenes to find the real killer.
I love this movie. I really, really do. It’s an often overlooked gem and I will admit openly that when I first watched it as a kid, I was disappointed that it was not about werewolves. It’s grown on me quite a bit since then, and I have to say that the story would not hold as much meaning if it were about werewolves.
It’s well written, if plagued by slow pacing. How much of that is thanks to the novel on which the movie is based, The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber, I couldn’t say.
This is Michael Wadleigh’s first and only horror film, as he is more commonly known as a documentary filmmaker, having made a handful of music themed documentaries, including the famous Woodstock. I feel like it’s this fact, plus his work as a cinematographer on other films, that gives Wolfen the unique look and feel that it has.
Normally I’d talk about creature design, but the creatures on screen are made up of real wolves and added after-effects.
The acting is great for a sub-genre (horror mystery?) movie like this, with Albert Finney giving a memorable performance alone.
Should You See It
As long as you’re not expecting werewolves, and you like a good politically charged murder mystery with a few horror elements added, then yes.