There have been plenty of times that I’ve searched Google for “the top 10 werewolf movies” in hopes of finding that hidden gem of a were flick that I may have missed. Those lists always seemed to contain the same flicks — An American Werewolf in London, The Howling, etc. — and I never really found anything new or exciting. The more digging I did, however, the more I learned of how deep the wolfman sub-genre actually is. I quickly made it a point to watch films like Silver Bullet or Dog Soldiers by any means necessary and boy was I loving it! Even with all of that research, I still managed to miss so many. Luckily for me, great films are always being re-released in HD glory thanks to Blu-ray technology and most recently, I got my hands on Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 flick, Wolfen.
After a series of brutal murders in New York City, Captain Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) starts stringing clues together to crack the case. With the help of his witty coroner friend, Whittington (Gregory Hines) and a kooky zoologist, Ferguson (Tom Noonan), Wilson quickly discovers that he isn’t dealing with just any killer, but perhaps one that is much more animalistic in nature…
Wolfen is not your average 80’s werewolf flick. With its inclusion of Native American lore and a connection between wolves and nature, the plot is much deeper than your average monster movie. Refusing to go the beastly wolfman route, the wolves used for the film were actually just that — wolves. There was no need for any wolf suit or crazy prosthetics and while I am always on the lookout for the next best transformation scene, I really appreciate the different approach taken by Wadleigh and his team of writers. The wolves were not simply being savages just for the sake of it, but were just protecting their home, a home that was being destroyed by real estate tycoon, Christopher Van der Veer played by Max M. Brown.
While Wolfen’s plot is enough to keep viewers entertained, it is also a visually impressive movie to boot. I love the New York City setting with its grimy city streets and broken down projects, perfect for setting a dark tone in any horror film. There are multiple obligatory wolf POV shots with misconstrued colors and hues akin to something you’d see in a Predator film, and the scenes where Whittington is keeping an eye on Dewey through the scope of his gun are a nice touch, adding some welcomed variation to the film’s cinematography.
While I mentioned that the filmmakers opted for real wolves here, that doesn’t mean there isn’t some awesome practical effects work at hand. There may have not been the need for an effects guru like Rick Baker or Tom Savini to create a frightening werewolf, but there is certainly a lot of great practical work displayed throughout the film. Severed body parts and bite marks all look amazing and although there isn’t much carnage to be seen for the majority of the film, the best death comes in the last 15 minutes, making the lack of visual attacks up until this point worth it!
Wolfen, released on Blu-ray by Warner Bros./Warner Archive Collection is a bare bones release with no real special features to be seen. While I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, I would have loved to also see some behind-the-scenes featurettes on the FX work or even just a ‘making-of’ feature that seems so common today. Aside from missing out on bonus material, Wolfen is still a great release to own. You can purchase a copy on Blu-ray from Warner Archive Collection, available today.
I give the film 3.5 Canis lupus hairs out of 5.