Of all the classic horror flicks I’ve watched thus far in the FEFMSSOMS (and by “classic” I mean “came out when I was a preteen/teen”), Wolfen (1981) is my least favorite. Therefore, there will be SPOILERS as I really don’t recommend this movie. Movie poster/DVD cover's cool, tho'.
As I’ve mentioned ad nauseam, I like monster movies, and there’s something in particular about werewolves that I really like – moreso even than vampires (sorry, Buffy). It’s not a Team Edward vs. Team Jacob thing – as I steadfastly refuse to either read those books or see those movies – it’s because werewolves represent such a primal experience, the animal hidden in all of us. Vampires are self-aware but werewolves revert to pure instinct more often than not.
Wolfen is not a werewolf movie. Wolfen is an avenging wolf-spirit movie, written with a political bent (pro-environment/conservation – and I actually kind of teared up at the actual footage of helicopter wolf hunts) and dripping with clichés (especially the Mystical Native Informs the Ignorant White Man trope). When grisly – but mostly offscreen – murders start happening in NYC, at first they seem unconnected: socialites in the Battery and homeless junkies in the Bronx. But renegade detective Albert Finney (rockin’ some serious 70s hair) and his hottie sidekick Diane Venora soon learn that the rich guy who had his throat ripped out was about to develop the derelict neighborhood in which the homeless junkies had their throats ripped out. After consulting with some local Native Americans, and several additional corpses later, Finney discovers that the Wolfen are spirits, the amalgamation of wolves and native peoples, driven out of their homes by the whites and now subsisting on the dregs of humanity. They are killing to protect their territory.
Wolfen is slow and long (120 minutes!) and I soon tired of the Wolf-O-Vision effect. The special effects are pretty weak – super-fake dismembered hands – and, as I mentioned, most of the attack action happens offscreen. The story is just not that interesting and the characters are either flat or near-caricatures – although I found nothing cliché about a young, nearly-handsome and totally buck nekkid Edward James Olmos chewing peyote and channeling his inner wolf on a midnight beach. Seriously the best part of the movie. They did use real wolves (or dogs that looked like wolves) for the Wolfen but still, Wolfen is a pretty weak entry in the genre.
Next: Wild West horror with The Burrowers
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