“It’s not wolves, it’s Wolfen.”
– Edddie Holt
Wolfen, adapted from the 1978 novel by Whitley Strieber, is the only fictional narrative feature director Michael Wadleigh, known for his landmark documentary Woodstock, has his name attached to. If all the stories are to be believed, it’s barely there, the filmmaker removed from the production after his first initial edits didn’t exactly sit too well with the studio. His version of the film, supposedly even more cerebral, more nondescript, focusing even more on the economic despair and discrepancies running rampant in New York City at that time (and by some accounts running over four hours in length in its initial edit), had never seen the light of day, and it’s doubtful we’ll never know if the studio made the right call insisting he hit the road.
But much of what he was going for is still here, his visual stylistics and central motifs all obvious, this story of strange, almost primal forces holding a vendetta against the rich and powerful while cagey Detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney), his friend Whittington (Gregory Hines, in a breakout performance), the city’s assistant coroner, and terrorism expert Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora) try to put all the pieces together mesmerizing and fascinating right from the jump. He may not have been able to complete his final cut of the motion picture, but Wadleigh’s imprint is on this motion picture nonetheless, it’s clarity of purpose and thematic intensity one I find impossible to dismiss.
There’s a lot going on in the film. Native American mysticism (including a key supporting performance from a dazzlingly young Edward James Olmos), gentrification, the destruction of the natural world, racial, ethnic and economic disparities, all of that and more is on display, Wadleigh and his team of writers doing their best to traffic and discuss as many of these issues as they can while still maintaining the look and feel of a bloodthirsty supernatural thriller. It’s a full plate (one that includes another unrecognizable future star/character actor, Tom Noonan, his loopy, loony wolf adoration needing to be seen to be believed), and I can’t say every bite is a filling one, but that doesn’t make meal as a whole any less delectable.
I love Wolfen. While not a werewolf movie per se, and of the three “wolf” genre flicks released in 1981 (An American Werewolf in London, The Howling) it is without a doubt the lesser of the trio, this is still a strong, surprisingly emotional shocker held together by Finney’s commitment to his role and Hines’ genius supporting work. It’s visually alluring (featuring photographic effects that will be aped again and again and again, most notably by Predator) and contains a James Horner score (one he’d almost wholesale recycle for James Cameron’s Aliens) ranking as one of the composer’s absolute best. This is a good, maybe even great, thriller, and in my opinion one of the more underappreciated gems that the early 1980s offered up for audiences to consume.
Wlofen is presented on a dual-layer 50GB Blu-ray MPEG-4 AVC Video with a 2.40:1/1080p transfer.
Wolfen comes to Blu-ray with an exceptional English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and includes optional English SDH subtitles.
The only included extra is the film’s Original Theatrical Trailer (2:17).
Just a reminder, as this title comes from the Warner Archive Collection it is manufactured on demand (MOD). For more info, go to www.WarnerArchive.com.
I don’t care what the haters say, I love Wolfen. Troubled production or no, director Michael Wadleigh’s cut likely to never see the light of day, the version of this film that does is exist is one I cherish and adore more than I probably should. It’s filled with exquisite moments that get my pulse racing and bring a smile to my face. Warner Archive’s Blu-ray presentation is sensational, and even with no special features to speak of this is a disc fans should have been racing to get their hands on the moment it went on sale.