Friday, October 7, 2011

31 Days of '81 Horror: Wolfen (Michael Wadleigh)

A prominent pair of New York movers and shakers are killed in a grizzly manner more animalistic in nature than anything possibly perpetuated by man. This is followed by a similar attack on a drug dealer in the Bronx. Detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney), a gifted if burnt out smartass is put in charge of making sense of these savage acts and paired with the young psychology expert Rebecca Neff (Diane Verona) and an opinionated mortician (Gregory Hines). Is there political terrorism at play? Or something more supernatural? And how exactly does a frequently naked running Edward James Olmos come into play?

Wolfen’s most notable contribution to cinema is the thermography imaged POV shots of the wolf stalking its prey. This technique would be used famously in John McTiernan’s 1987 sci-fi action film Predator. But like that film’s sequel, director Michael Wadleigh over relies on the technique to the point it quickly lessens suspense; and be cautious, it could easily become a dangerous drinking game. Wadleigh, who made his name in documentary filmmaking, including the concert film Woodstock, does a good job of using the real decay of its early 1980’s Bronx locales with their crumbling apartment complexes long since destroyed for insurance money serving as a metaphorical modern urban jungle. In fact Wadleigh’s film could serve as a judgment on architecture in general as he very distinctly contrasts the sleek Manhattan condominiums to the fallen bureau. Also, eerily, and perhaps this is due to events not related to anything in the actual film, the World Trade Center seems to always be shot dead center in every background shot of the city landscape.

Sadly, everything else is kind of half assed and unsatisfying. Finney is sleepwalking through his performance and is saddled with more bad one-liners than your typical CSI episode, and the final sequence just kind of limps to a close without any real excitement or sense of dread. The central mythology behind the attacks is interesting, but I wish we spent more time with Olmos’ and the Native Americans who pay umbrage to the wolf rather than one clunky exposition scene in a bar. If you only see one wolf based movie released in 1981, see American Werewolf in London. However, if you see two, see American Werewolf and the Howling, then if you still need another one, go ahead and give Wolfen a try.

1 comment:

le0pard13 said...

Ah, the last leg of the 'wolf' triumvirate for '81. Fine examination of this one, Colonel. I agree with your assessment. It is the weakest of the lot. Starts out pretty interestingly, but can't sustain it through to the third act (as opposed to AAWiL and THE HOWLING).

"... and be cautious, it could easily become a dangerous drinking game."

You had me cracking up with that one! Good point about WTC. In this post 9/11 world, any film with The Towers in it naturally gathers the eye and mind. THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR did it to me some years back. Your three reviews of this set were a wonderful read, my friend. Thanks for this.

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