Warner Bros. // 1981 // 115 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // August 6th, 2002
Full fanged, full throttle terror!
Yikes! New York is in trouble when the city is suddenly terrorized by a killer who seems to be out for blood...and brains...and limbs...
When detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney, Erin Brokovich) shows up at the scene of a brutal crime, he starts to get that sinking feeling that this isn't an ordinary murder. The victims who were killed (a rich businessman, his coke bingeing wife, and their chauffeur) seem to have the kind of wounds that could only be inflicted by something that's not quite human. The laid back coroner (Gregory Hines, Running Scared) can't find a trace of metal in the wounds; the weird local animal expert (Tom Noonan, Eight Legged Freaks) has found some hairs at the scene...and they ain't human! Soon other bodies are popping up left and right, each often missing a brain, a liver, or some other useful body part that the living need to survive. With his perky partner by his side (Diane Venora, Heat), Dewey will go deep into the heart of evil (or as deep as the film's budget will allow) to find a connection between werewolves, New York City and a tribe of Indians (led by Edward James Olmos) who seem to be a bit peeved at the notorious "white man...".
The old werewolf theme has been recycled many times before in the history of cinema. Lon Chaney, Jr. is the most famous actor to play the fanged beast in Universal's horrific The Wolf Man, and with the right script and direction the idea of letting out the animalistic side of man can make for some great chills. Wolfen is not that movie. First off, I want to spill a few beans: there is no true "werewolf" to be found in this movie. Instead, the intended beasties are actual wolves which, as any Animal Planet viewer can tell you, are far less frightening than a drooling monsters that walks upright. The first half of the film actually delivers on suspense -- the movie is sort of known for being innovative with its POV shots via the killer. These are intriguing though aren't enough to sustain a movie. Gregory Hines gives a funny performance as a coroner (complete with a funky '70s afro) and Albert Finney does a decent job as the stone-faced detective tracking down the bad guys (or in the case, bad lycanthropes). Unfortunately, by the halfway point it starts to feel as if the filmmakers were padding an already thin plot. While director Michael Wadleigh (who also directed the classic Woodstock) makes sure the screenplay isn't typical slasher fare -- he attempts to inject some humanistic ideas about the Indians, our spirits and man's technological progress -- it still doesn't reach the right level of spooky horror or thoughtful political drama. As it stands Wolfen isn't a bad horror movie, just a woefully misguided one. This reviewer recommends John Landis' An American Werewolf in London or Joe Dante's The Howling over this respectable but ultimately mediocre horror flick.
Wolfen is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I was pleasantly surprised at how nice this transfer looked since it's now well over 20 years old. While I did sport some softness in the colors and a few instances of grain, overall this is a nice picture that sports dark black levels and natural flesh tones. The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround in English along with Dolby 1.0 Mono in French. Overall, this is a standard 2.0 soundtrack that features few directional effects and a solid if unexciting mix. All aspects of the soundtrack are free and clear of most excessive hiss or distortion. Also included on this disc are English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Korean, Chinese, and Basaha subtitles. An extra feature originally slated for this release was a commentary track by some of the film's stars -- alas, the track was excluded at the last minute, which only leaves a theatrical trailer, some cast and crew info, and a short text history of werewolves in Hollywood movies.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Release Year: 1981
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Theatrical Trailer
* History of Werewolves in Hollywood
* Cast and Crew Info