Wolfen (1981)

Wolfen (1981)

“Wolves don’t kill people — that’s a myth. I mean, they’re too smart.”

A detective (Albert Finney) and a terrorism expert (Diane Venora) investigate a mysterious rash of killings across New York City, which may or may not involve Native Americans and/or wolves.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Albert Finney Films
  • Detectives and Private Eyes
  • Horror Films
  • Killer Animals
  • Murder Mystery

Director Michael Wadleigh had a most unusual Hollywood career, helming just two wildly different films: the documentary Woodstock (1970) and this ultra-atmospheric horror film, often associated with two werewolf-themed movies from the same year — An American Werewolf in London (1981) and The Howling (1981) — but not itself a werewolf movie. Instead, it’s a murder mystery detective flick based on the debut novel by Whitley Strieber, featuring a subplot about a Native American (Edward James Olmos) who engages in non-supernatural “shape-shifting”. While many elements of the film are nicely handled — including solarized cinematography throughout to show the perspective of the predator(s) — it eventually becomes repetitive and builds to a less-than-satisfying conclusion. James Horner’s score is a stand-out, though.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Highly atmospheric sets and cinematography

  • James Horner’s score

Must See?
No, but it’s worth a one time look if you’re interested.


2 thoughts on “Wolfen (1981)

  1. ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2 out of ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

    Cracking variation on the old werewolf chestnut. I love the way it mixes native American folklore into the traditionally Eastern European mythos typical of the werewolf and then plops it down in a gritty urban NYC milieu. Terrific film albeit not one of great historical or influential import so not must see.

  2. Not must-see, but of interest to those who like werewolf flicks. As per my 6/26/20 post in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “You don’t have the eyes of the hunter. You have the eyes of the dead.”

    ‘Wolfen’: Director Michael Wadleigh made the mega-hit concert doc ‘Woodstock’ – then, about a decade later, this crime drama / horror flick with an aim at something more intellectual. A former captain (Albert Finney) is brought back to the NYPD when it is confounded by a particularly vicious attack on a prominent citizen. Is it connected to terrorists? Is it politically motivated? Forensic discovery tells a different story – but how to get to the bottom of that story? The premise is intriguing for those who like horror on the deep side – and Wadleigh’s approach is certainly not at a loss for mood, esp. with his innovative in-camera effects that map the POV of the ‘killer’. The film is based on a novel by Whitley Strieber (‘The Hunger’, ‘Communion’), who proved controversial with some of his attempts to explain the unexplainable re: alien ‘visitors’. But here his non-alien theme is grounded in an idea that’s a little easier to get a handle on – how do you explain what can’t be denied: the hundreds of people who simply go missing? [Eerie note: In an early shot, we see the Twin Towers still standing – and right after that shot, we see the total collapse of a separate building.]

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