Monday, July 18, 2011

Werewolf Whodunit: Wolfen (1981)

Wolfen (1981)
Rating: ****
Starring: Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos

A yuppie couple and their driver gets attacked and murdered one night after attending a groundbreaking for a real estate development in the South Bronx.  Detective Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) gets assigned to this case and learns from the coroner, Whittington (Gregory Hines), that the bodies, though horribly mutilated, had no traces of metal ever touching their wounds, which means that we're dealing with no ordinary killer here. Not too long, a homeless man got his neck ripped open by what appears to be the same killer, but this time they find something more unusual linking both crime scenes together: wolf hair.

Being one with nature and sharing Bird flu
Suspicions later falls on a local, Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos), a former member of the native American Movement who claims to be able to shapeshift into different forms of animals. But when one encounter with Holt proves him (and us, the viewers) wrong about the shapeshifters, the good detective, along with Whittington, armed with night vision goggles and high tech weaponry, decided to hunt down the killer in South Bronx themselves, though what they found there were something far more dangerous than they were expecting.

The film starts off like a werewolf film with a hint of the typical slasher film opening, including a pre-credit murder done under the eyes of the killer/s, using a gimmicky "Wolf Vision", an in-camera effect to portray the POV of a wolf. (I didn't know wolves sees in Thermograph !) Soon enough, the film began move slowly into the whodunit territory, with the killer's identity remained hidden as they continue mauling off any potential threat to them while the investigation moves the story's narrative pattern to one scenario into another, each with a cause that may or may not effect the story's vivid mystery.

What's up with horror and red moons?
Wolfen was based on a book of the same title, published in 1979, by author Whitley Strieber. The story is pretty much the same with a cop investigating a string of grisly murders that is far more savage than any normal human can commit, while tackling the American modernity as a pest for the true First Nation through the eyes of the Wolfen pack. The film touched this subject matter of environmentalism no further than after the one-hour mark, with the Indians sharing their knowledge about the killers, The Wolfen, a race of powerful beings that existed way before man did, as well as Dewey's last act to save him and a survivor during the pack's primary attack.

All together now. 1, 2,3: Aww~
Producer Rupert Hitzig and (ex) Director Michael Wadleigh puts everything they can find to make this movie a success, though the hard part is not finding a scriptwriter willing to "go green" with them. Thankfully the film works well in terms of a narrative, despite the tight schedule. In fact, seeing the wolf vision were the last scenes to shoot, this actually meant that they spent more time on the actual story than degrading itself to an empty film filled with special effects, which is sort of a point up for my book.

With eyes like that, I don't think I would even harm it...
Wolfen is something more productive: a murder mystery with the supernatural and a hint of environmentalism. This isn't a creature feature, but instead it's a cop's tale, a suspense story with mood, atmosphere, and some rather good kills.

1 male had his hand lopped off, mauled to death
1 male had his chest mauled open
1 female mauled by the neck
1 male had his neck torn open, later found in pieces
1 male thrown off a bridge
1 male mauled on the face (mostly offscreen)
1 male mauled to death
1 male had his whole neck torn off (!), beheaded
total: 8

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