The primary shot is of the New York Metropolis skyline, with the World Commerce Middle entrance and heart. We additionally see city decay and trash on the road, in addition to characters indulging in cocaine.
Welcome to New York of the ’80s.
A homicide in Battery Park is startling to authority figures for its vicious nature (physique elements strewn in every single place) and since the sufferer is a member of excessive society. New York Police Division Captain Dewy Wilson (Albert Finney) investigates the weird case, which takes him on a tour of the town’s most diminished constructions and consists of sightings of hungry wolves roaming the town.
The thriller is predicated on the 1978 novel “The Wolfen” by Whitley Strieber (just a few years earlier than his #1 bestselling “non-fiction” “Communion” made him a controversial and notorious determine in UFO fanatic circles). “Wolfen” is an underappreciated, socially observant and visually arresting spin on the werewolf lore that, once you get right down to it, won’t even formally be a werewolf film.
RELATED: How ‘Terror within the Aisle’ Completely Captured ’80s Horror
In any case, the reveal of what precisely is occurring has extra to do with Native American mysticism than of run of the mill, full moon fur monsters. This is only one distinction that makes this refreshingly completely different than most lycanthrope tales of its kind. Thematically, that is much like “Poltergeist” (1982) in that it focuses on the U.S. shedding sight of its previous historical past by constructing over it.
Within the lead, enjoying American “Dewey Wilson,” Finney did this throughout a bizarre interval of taking mainstream roles in American movies; this got here alongside Michael Crichton’s enjoyable however bonkers “Looker” and Daddy Warbucks responsibility in “Annie.”
Fortunately, “Shoot the Moon” (1982) and “Below the Volcano” (1984) had been across the nook.
This was the primary main movie function for Diane Venora, who’s forceful right here because the detective taking over the case alongside Finney (Venora is a strong actress, very good in works starting from “Warmth” to “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”). The all the time unforgettable Tom Noonan additionally stands out in one in every of his first main movie roles.
The incomparable Gregory Hines steals all of his scenes as a coroner on the case (the sensible dancer is best served in a personality flip right here than in “Mel Brooks’ Historical past of the World Half I,” which he did the identical yr, stepping for Richard Pryor, unavailable as a consequence of his notorious burning accident).
Edward James Olmos is vivid enjoying the chief of the Native American activists. He has some scenes right here that take actual nerve, like an encounter with Finney wherein they’re each atop the Manhattan Bridge.
James Horner’s terrific rating provides traces of his later compositions, significantly “Aliens.” The cinematographer is Gerry Fisher, the identical director of pictures on William Peter Blatty’s “The Exorcist III” and “The Ninth Configuration.”
FAST FACT: “Wolfen” scored a tepid $10 million throughout its 1981 U.S. theatrical launch. “An American Werewolf in London,” by comparability, netted a heftier $30 million the identical yr.
The texture of unease is there proper from the beginning and never essentially as a result of supernatural content material: the thermographic tech used through the early police interrogation scene gives the look of a metropolis below fixed surveillance.
That is New York, twenty years earlier than 9/11, depicted as a spot of concern and paranoia.
“Wolfen” is finest remembered for its scenes of “wolf-vision,” the in-camera thermographic results pictures that create the unseen wolves’ POV. John McTiernan’s “Predator” (1987) offers probably the most well-known instance of this method (because it offers us, in nearly precisely the identical approach, the angle of the hiding creature).
Right here, it’s not simply the otherworldly glow it creates, however the way it makes evening scenes appear as if twilight dreamscapes.
Wadleigh is most well-known for making the documentary “Woodstock” (1970), and his strategy as a documentarian is seen right here as effectively — the sensation for ambiance and its sensitivity to society’s oppressed and ignored make this oddly akin to “Woodstock” and a standout within the style.
“Wolfen” is moody, elegant but additionally disjointed, a possible results of reported studio recutting. It’s additionally unusual and gradual paced, which is why it matches within the do-you-remember-this-one class and isn’t a real cult favourite like Joe Dante’s “The Howling” or John Landis’ genre-defining “An American Werewolf in London.”
Utilizing the horror style and werewolf lore to current a lesson on the neglect and abuse of Native People and the homeless, in addition to a glimpse of New York from way back, “Wolfen” is potent, skillfully made and one in every of a form.