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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Wolfen redux

Four years ago I had a post on the fantasy/horror movie Wolfen, adapted from the novel The Wolfen by Whitley Streiber. At the time, though, I was posting from memory, having seen it long ago on tv. I rented it finally and thought I'd post about it again, since I feel a little differently about it now that I've seen the uncensored version (tv apparently cut out the bad words, the fair amount of nudity, some of the violence, and the icky scene of a snake eating a live mouse - yikes!). So here's a bit about it from Wikipedia .....

Wolfen is the title of a 1981 horror film starring Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos based on Whitley Strieber's 1978 novel The Wolfen .....

- the Wolfen live in the South Bronx

The movie begins with a desolate scene in the South Bronx where derelict buildings are being demolished at a groundbreaking ceremony for a future construction site, and the wealthy guy planning to build there is the first (of many) murder victim. NYPD Detective Dewey Wilson (Finney) is assigned to the case and at first terrorism is suspected, but thanks to the the help of the medical examiner (Hines) he soon comes to believe the killings have been committed by animals, wolves, to be exact.

- a police detective (Finney) gets some pointers from the medical examiner (Hines)

The weird thing is, though, that the killings are not typical of animal attacks - they're too well planned - so Dewey begins to suspect some kind of terrorism/animal combo ..... Native American shapeshifting. He looks up an old acquaintance, a past member of the American Indian Movement (Olmos), who eventually tells him about an ancient race of wolf-like creatures with unusual powers that due to a shrinking habitat have come to live in the abandoned parts of cities, preying on the weak and sick. Their motive for the rich guy's killing - protection of their feeding grounds.

- Olmos plays a Native American working high on a bridge

Overall I thought the movie was ok - the murders were grisly to the point of being almost silly and I'm not sure how Native Americans would view the theme, but for the most part it was pretty well done, nice cinematography, and I liked Finny, Hines, and Venora.

- Venora plays a fellow officer helping Finney's character

Here's a little of Roger Ebert's review of the movie ....


An intriguing film named WOLFEN, which is not about werewolves but is about the possibility that Indians and wolves can exchange souls, has crept stealthily into several Chicago theaters. Despite the fact that it stars Albert Finney, was directed by Michael Wadleigh (WOODSTOCK), and is an uncommonly intelligent treatment of a theme that is usually just exploited, the movie arrived without much advance publicity. If the subject interests you, move fast, before WOLFEN closes ......

The movie intercuts the police investigation with imaginative scenes shot from the wolves' point of view. These are fast-moving tracking shots; the camera swoops down streets at the eye-level of a wolf, pausing, taking cover, following one track and then another. Wadleigh suggests a wolf's senses with special optical effects in which objects with a scent also seem to shimmer.

The movie's narrative style is brooding. Finney comes into contact with an assortment of eccentric people (scientists, cops, morgue attendants, pathologists), and the trail eventually leads to a group of American Indians employed as high-steel workers. There is a breathtaking confrontation to top of a bridge. What do the Indians know about wolves? Is it possible that they practice ancient rituals to turn into wolves? Or do they just share spiritual communion with theme. WOLFEN develops a strong, angry theme about ecological and human waste ......


For those interested, you can see the movie in parts on YouTube. Part one is here


Anonymous Henry said...

Hi Crystal,

The stills from the movie are hilarious - thanks I needed a good laugh because I am having a terrible day at work. They also brought back so many memories, in fact that I can tell you that the shot of the South Bronx does not really convey how bad it really was!!! I was doing charitable work with Fr. Groeschel in those years in the South Bronx and I have to tell you that I was scarred for my life whenever I went to their friary, which was in the area they called "Fort Apache!"

Well, it doesn't seem like a movie worth renting although the premise seems like a good idea, especially since some Native Americans held those beliefs.



10:31 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I've only been to New York once and then just downtown where the museums are. There was a story about the South Bronx in the links to the Wikipedia page for the movie - Faces in the Rubble

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


I say the NY Times slide show - it was good but somehow missed the point for me (probably because it didn't match my experience). If you know the work of Sue Coe, she has some paintings that really capture the feeling that existed during that period in NY.



2:08 PM  
Blogger Liam said...

The South Bronx is better than it used to be, but still...

Romelle's social work agency is there, and it can still be pretty funky.

7:52 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


In the movie it looked like a bombed out war zone, but that was 1981. I worry about you guys living in the scary city.

11:09 PM  

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