And we’ve made it to the halfway point, kids! We’re trodding along to 100, and today we’re making another stop on the lycanthropic train (sort of…) with 1981’s Wolfen.
Based on the 1978 novel The Wolfen by Louis Whitley Strieber (who also wrote the source novel for The Hunger, which I’m pretty sure I didn’t mention back then), the film opens with the central murder: After leaving a party, a wealthy industrialist (or so I’ve come to characterize him, ’cause why have a wealthy playboy magnate and not have him be an industrialist a la Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark?) and his wife head to Battery Park for some post-cocaine canoodling. Unfortunately for them, their massive Haitian bodyguard isn’t enough to protect them from a lethal assailant, who dispatches the three of them with alacrity. This murder’s investigation is assigned to Captain Dewey Wilson and criminal psychologist Rebecca Neff, with an understanding that the city’s elite want the crime solved post haste. After some time and more bodies pile up, Wilson and Neff come to find out that the perpetrator has some, shall we say, canine characteristics.
Some mild spoilers here (unless you just completely ignore the title), but the murderer/s is/are not technically werewolf in nature, but rather the situation stems from Native American mythology and involves the possibility of soul-swapping between men and wolves. Something along those lines, anyway. Still, I take that as a form of lycanthropy, even if it’s not the dictionary definition. Funnily enough, there apparently was a bit of a stir back when the film originally came out, as the trailer seemed to lean into the werewolf angle a bit, while the film itself focuses on the crime-solving aspect and the tangential wolfen-ness involved; I guess moviegoers have always dealt with that sort of thing, unfortunately. Personally, I kinda dug the concept, ’cause it was more novel and interesting than another run-of-the-mill werewolf stuff, but I can understand where the folks of 1981 were coming from.
But while they were surprised by the content, I was more surprised by the cast. Albert Finney’s appearance near the beginning was a bit of a shock to my system, as I’ve never really pictured him as the slightly unorthodox cop type, and that mess of curly hair took a while to get used to. Nonetheless, Finney plied his trade well, and I was quickly sold on his abilities. Dick O’Neill (best known to me as Tim’s old shop teacher on Home Improvement) is splendid as Wilson’s boss, Edward James Olmos is strong as always as a major suspect, and Gregory Hines does well as a coroner (plus, it was nice to see Hines in a film a bit outside of his usual wheelhouse, closer to horror than anything I’ve seen him in before).
As a whole, the film is damn solid, with a unique take on the werewolf concept, but I could easily see horror fans growing tired of the procedural-like plot and/or not quite digging the not-quite-werewolf schtick. It’s well worth a watch if wolves are your bag or you like the darker crime thrillers out there.