Movie Review: Wolfen (1981)

I first saw this film back in the heyday of AMC’s Monsterfest and then again during their late-night horror movie marathons back in the day. At least eight years had passed between my first viewing and my last. As kids, we are impressionable, and the way this film was shot impressed me and made me love it. But as time goes on, sometimes the movies we loved end up being terrible or laughable to us now. Fortunately, Wolfen held up to how I remembered it.

At first glance, this may seem like just another Werewolf movie, but it fact, it is far from it. This movie was very creative and original in its idea, which stemmed from the novel it was based on of the same name, by Whitley Streiber.

This movie focuses on the brutal and ghastly attacks of three individuals, each involved with a massive building project about to take place in New York City. As Detective Dewey Wilson, played by Albert Finney, investigates, he cannot find any connections, except one, which is a wolf hair found at the scene of each of the crimes.

Teaming up with another detective, played by Diane Venora, they are able to discover that the attacks were carried out by an intelligent team of wolves, who shape-shifted from certain American Indians living in the area, who wanted to protect the area the builders now want to develop.

The leader of these shape-shifters is played by a young Edward James Olmos, who finally explains to Finney’s character what the attacks are all about.

The end scene and final standoff between the detectives and the wolves is very memorable and well filmed.

All throughout the movie are various shots taken from the wolves perspective, and this was achieved by director Michael Wadleigh attaching a Steadicam to a Louma Crane. These scenes, combined with changing colors in the atmosphere, to represent the vision of the wolves, are one word: awesome. This was what I remembered from all those years ago. It impressed me back then, and it impresses me now.

As for the characters, the Shakespearean trained English actor Albert Finney seemed like an odd choice to play a New York City detective, but he nails the role as the tough, on-the-edge cop. Him being British must also account for his strange accent, as he tried to sound like a New Yorker.

Finney as Detective Dewey Wilson.

Diane Venora plays his sweet sidekick throughout the second half of the movie, and Gregory Hines plays a medical examiner assisting him in the identification of the attackers. Dick O’Neil also co-stars as Warren, the man overseeing the investigation.

This movie will also be loved by New Yorkers like myself, as it was filmed in Manhattan and Battery Park. It also includes scenes shot from the top of the Brooklyn Bridge, adding to the atmosphere. The World Trade Center also has a place of prominence in most shots of the skyline, making this a special movie deep down.

Overall, I will give this movie a 7 out of 10. I enjoyed the characters, and I love the way they filmed certain scenes from the wolves’ perspective. However, the murder scenes at the beginning are a bit cheesy, and could have been better, like in the final scene. It is still an enjoyable film, and is certainly one of the more underrated horror movies ever filmed.

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One thought on “Movie Review: Wolfen (1981)

  1. Pingback: Top 10 Werewolf Films » Top10Films

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