The Company of Wolves

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It is by complete surprise that I ended up with a copy of this movie. There I was, walking the aisles of my virtual movie store, looking for ‘The Empire of the Wolves’ when my clumsy fingers stumbled and clicked on Neil Jordan’s (The Crying Game, In Dreams, Breakfast on Pluto) film instead.

The result? Pure delight. I normally stay away from the 3 W’s: witches, wizards and werewolves, but I’m glad I took a chance on this. Based on the werewolf stories in Angela Carter’s short story collection ‘The Bloody Chamber’[1], this collection of gothic-themed tales was much scarier and darker than I expected it to be. Furthermore its release year (1984) and lead characters (Sarah Patterson and Angela Lansbury) lead me to believe that it was just another fantasy classic from the 80s, in the same vein as Time Bandits, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. In short, I was quite surprised by its content.

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The opening scene brings us to the posh English countryside where Rosaleen’s (Patterson) family lives in an enormous Victorian mansion. Her character is isolated from the rest of the family and it seems to be by choice, although we never quite know why. In her bedroom we’re introduced to the myriad of toys that are strewn everywhere, a clever device used to illustrate her confinement. The first tale (four of them take place within her dream) begins a few hundred years back, to the death of her sister by a pack of ravenous wolves with glowing eyes. It’s pretty damn creepy, the way they quietly stalk her through the dark forest and eventually gang up on this innocent little girl. It’s worth noting that Jordan had very little to work with ($2 million budget), yet I would have assumed it was 15 or 20 million judging by the elaborate sets and visuals used.

The tales vary in tone but by and large remain sinister and spine-chilling. Terrence Stamp makes a cameo as the Devil, while another tale depicts a young Stephen Rea returning to his wife after a prolonged absence, only to transform into a vicious, blood-thirsty werewolf before her eyes. This was one of the highlights of the movie for me; I was actually wide-eyed and speechless the entire scene. It surprised me to see how far Jordan was willing to go, effect-wise, in order to convey his theme. In a beautifully horrific moment, Rea rips his hair, skin and muscle tissue off and slowly transforms into the goriest, most homicidal werewolf you’ve ever seen. It’s a sight for the eyes, I tell you.

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Although the pacing is slow at times, Anton Furst (art director / production designer who would later work on Tim Burton’s Batman) makes sure that we’re visually rewarded with costumes and sets that truly represent the spookiness that the Victorian countryside provided. In many instances I was actually reminded of Labyrinth, in the sense that the atmosphere and music were quite similar.

I know that I mentioned the scariest parts of the movie as being the most memorable, yet, it’s not entirely a horror film. Actually, when it was distributed by Cannon Films in the United States, they wanted to market it as a horror film yet Jordan has always stated that it is not one. In fact, labeling it as such would be misleading to audiences, according to him.[2] I would highly recommend this movie to fans of the 80s fantasy-horror genre but for a more contemporary film that deals with the same themes, you should try and see Ginger Snaps (2000), a Canadian movie directed by John Fawcett which drew comparisons to David Cronenberg’s work.

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Myles of Dolphin

  1. Myles says

    Perhaps I need to see more (good) werewolf movies then!
    In regard to the effects, I was really impressed by the human to werewolf transformations, I thought it was slightly ahead of its time. Furthermore I like how Jordan took out all the stops and really ran away with the theme, when he could have easily made it PG-13. Patterson was a very young lead at the time (12-13) and Jordan could have toned down the entire film in order to make it more available to a younger audience, but fortunately he didn’t and it was released as 16+. Anyway I was pleasantly surprised with this movie and I will definitely check out your top 5 werewolf list now.

    1. Ricky says

      I agree with everything you said but if you want to see a fantastic werewolf transformation than please watch The Howling!!! Fantastic!

      1. Myles says

        Cool I’ll check it out!

  2. Ricky says

    Well Myles, a while back I did my list of top 5 Werewolf movies.

    I was surprise when you opened stating that you stay away from movies involving werewolves considering there are so many good ones. Everything from The Wolfman to American Werewolf in London. Anyhow you hit the nail on the head when praising the art direction of this film. It looks gorgeous, and has an attractive young female lead in Sarah Patterson, but personally I am so sick of movies taking on the Little Red Riding Hood story. I will give credit to Neil Jordan who takes an interesting spin on the story but my major complaint is that for a film which glories in its werewolf transformations, the effects aren’t really up to much.

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