Wolfen (1981)

wolfen 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 4 out of 10

4-Word Review: Wolves on the attack.

Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is assigned to investigate a particularly savage attack that occurred in Battery Park in New York City where a real estate magnate and his wife and bodyguard where gruesomely killed by some mysterious being that the police initially peg as a terrorist act. As Wilson investigates further and in talking with some experts he comes to the opinion that it may be wolves that killed them, but not the everyday wolf instead they are ghostly spirits intent on protecting their sacred ground. As the body count continues Wilson tries unorthodox methods to understand and stop these strange animals that remain invisible and elusive to the human eye.

For a horror film, which is based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, it has a refreshingly different approach to the material making it seem more like a modern-day drama and character study. Director Michael Wadleigh nicely captures the ambience and attitude of the city. The authentic feel and multi-dimensional lead character helps make the story more compelling. The use of showing things from the wolves’ point-of-view that gets captured through a unique colored lens is initially captivating and creepy.

Unfortunately the film does the P.O.V. thing too often, which eventually becomes redundant and boring. The genteel tone does not create enough tension and the film is barely ever suspenseful. There is one good decapitation scene, but otherwise the gore and special effects are minimal. The runtime is too long and the pacing could have been better. A good horror film or even a thriller needs a good scary image of the threat at hand to hold onto and create the fear for the viewer, but we are never shown the wolves at all until the very end. I did like the one part where the Diane Venora character goes roaming around an abandoned church and almost gets attacked by one of the wolves whose red eyes we see, but I wanted to see more of this since it was the only time I got even slightly frightened.

Finney is an odd choice for the lead. Simply because he has a reputation as being a great actor does not mean he is perfect for every role and having a grizzled New York cop speak with a British accent is off-putting. He is also too old and his relationship with a female cop that is clearly 20 years younger looks weird. I did like Edward James Olmos who takes off his clothes at one point and effectively acts like a real wolf and the scene where he has a menacing conversation with Finney while high on top of a bridge is memorable.

Spoiler Alert!!

My biggest beef comes with the ending in which Finney finds himself surrounded by the wolves and in an attempt to appease them smashes the model of the construction site that was going to be built on their sacred ground, which satisfies them enough to leave him alone and go away, but it came off as corny, farfetched and anti-climactic to me. It also makes the wolves who the viewer has feared throughout the film suddenly look like the ‘good guy’  and thus stripping all the ‘horror’ from this supposed thriller and makes sitting through it a pointless waste of time.

End of Spoiler Alert!!

My Rating: 4 out of 10

Released: July 24, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Rated R

Director: Michael Wadleigh

Studio: Orion Pictures

Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video

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