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eighties horror you might have missed

Wolfen (1981)

Wolfen belongs to a special, exclusive subgenre which I will call "werewolf procedural". Albert Finney and Gregory Hines (!) play a detective and a medical examiner who have teamed up to investigate a series of unusual murders in New York. They're assisted by a non-bald Tom Noonan, and Diane Venora (who you may recognize from Heat). Edward James Olmos plays a Native American "on the steel", who occasionally removes all of his clothes, and may or may not be the creature that they are hunting. I had pretty much no idea what was going to happen next as I watched this film for the first time.

The 80s surveillance tech and overall visual style in Wolfen could easily make it a Michael Mann horror film, although it's not nearly as atmospheric as The Keep, which he made two years later. Cinematographer Gerry Fisher (Excorcist III) provides some very memorable imagery, such as a flying severed hand (perhaps the inspiration for Errol Morris's notorious milkshake toss in The Thin Blue Line?) and wolves jumping through the glass windows of a high-rise building. During the opening scene, one of the characters fiddles around with what I think is a Harry Bertoia sound sculpture, which was an unexpected treat. There are also lots of over-the-top (and wonderful) POV "heat vision" shots, provided by Steadicam inventor and operator Garrett Brown, who became famous for his work on Rocky and the creepy, low-angle tracking shots in The Shining; in the same year he worked on Brian DePalma's Blow Out (possibly at the same time).

Wolfen happens to be the only fiction (and non-Woodstock-related) film by director Michael Wadleigh, who was fired during post-production, after handing the studio a four-and-a-half-hour cut of the film. Unfortunately, there is no commentary track or other special features on the DVD to tell the rest of the story. The screenplay was co-written by Whitley Streiber (Communion, The Hunger) and based on his debut 1978 book, The Wolfen. Also, I believe this film features the first major score by James Horner, who later provided scores for Star Trek II and Aliens.

If nothing else, this film is worth watching just to see Tom Noonan casually carrying a wolf taxidermy under his arm.  It might also be your only chance to see what solarized blood looks like.

 

Comments

next on werewolves: The Howling!!!

Yes, yes! I remember this movie. It was really good even back then. The funny thing is that I don't remember it being at actual werewolf movie in the traditional sense. Wasn't it more about a special breed of city wolf that had survived off eating bums or something like that. Honestly, I haven't seen it since the 80's. Did someone actually turn into a wolf at some point? I do remember that it kept you guessing all the way through. Great suggestion!

You're right! Wolfen isn't technically a werewolf movie, although it totally sets up that expectation. Nobody actually transforms into a wolf, although I was convinced that Edward James Olmos might at any moment. I'm not sure what else to call it, though! And yes, the wolves do feed on bums (and other unfortunate folks) here and there. It's definitely worth a re-watch (especially if you have Netflix Streaming). 

Sort of in the vein of things that aren't werewolves or vampires. Creatures that pretty much defy being categorized into one particular genre or another.

The 80's had a bunch of these types of movies with creatures that weren't your cookie cutter types. And at least one I can remember "The Manitou". Probably can remember that one because of how the wolves in Wolfen were revered by the Native American's portrayed in the film.

Is it worth seeing? I started it on Netflix, but never finished.

Mystic Creatures is indeed the correct sub-genre for this- thanks!

another really good werewolf flick, probably my 2nd fave, the first being neil jordan's first wolf flick 'the company of wolves'.
this movie above all other wereflicks, is defs my all time fave, with angela landsbury as the grandmother of a little red riding hood. yes!

...must revisit that one soon. neil jordan horror!

Humanoids from the deep and Battle Beyond the Stars both from Corman in 1980. The soundtracks are all extremely similar and he had no real depth at this stage. In fact most of his scores steal liberally from each other right up until after Star Trek II. I'm pretty sure Commando is one of his real tonal shifts up to that point. And after that he just has music that completely reinvents itself almost every time he scored a project.

You're right - there are actually a bunch of James Horner scores prior to Wolfen, including the ones you mentioned. Looks like his first score was actually for "The Watcher" (1978). Anyone seen that?