Saturday, October 20, 2018

Movie Review: "Wolfen" (1981)

Director: Michael Wadleigh
Year: 1981
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 55 minutes

The murder of a wealthy developer and his wife ignites a frantic police investigation. As Detective Dewey Wilson investigates, more deaths are uncovered, but it starts to seem that the murderer isn't really human and may even have a supernatural origin.

Wolfen 1981 movie still Albert Finney Diane Venora Edward James Olmos
"With all the psychos in New York, you're trying to pin this on an endangered species?" (Image Source)
Strange connected murders happening around New York. Who could these mysterious murderers be? We wonder if the title of the film will give us any clues? "Wolfen" is directed by Michael Wadleigh and is his one and only narrative feature as he has mostly directed documentaries. Wadleigh also helped write the film along with David Eyre, and it is adapted from the novel "The Wolfen" by Whitely Strieber. This story centers on a police detective named Dewey Wilson (Albert Finny), who is called in to investigate the murder of a wealthy real estate developer who has many powerful political connections. Officials first believe the killing was an act of terrorism, so they pair Wilson up with an expert in criminal psychology named Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora) to investigate the terrorist angle. Coroner Whittington (Gregory Hines) starts to believe he has found numerous related deaths in the records, mostly homeless people who died similarly. Whittington also thinks the killers may not even be human and could very likely be animals. Now, Wilson must investigate if these deaths are related or if they are random. He must discover whether they have any significance and has to find out if the attackers are human, animal, or something else altogether.
Wolfen 1981 movie still Albert Finney Diane Venora Edward James Olmos
"All that separates you from a guard dog is a brain." (Image Source)
"Wolfen" combines elements of a creature feature horror film with a dramatic mystery crime thriller. When it comes to the horror elements, this film does a good job. It is properly gory as limbs get severed, throats get torn out, and people get decapitated on the regular. It is in the mystery aspect where this movie really falls short. The story is not at all compelling and is actually pretty damn boring for being a flick about werewolves. We watch Detective Dewey and his partner toil over who, or what, could be killing all these people. Even the idea of terrorism gets floated around as a working theory. Interviews with local Native Americans who are thought to have magical powers are also conducted, though the audience knows from the very beginning that the murderers are wolves, more specifically "Wolfen." It is the title of the movie, after all. This premise would have worked if the main character was entertaining enough, a la a "Columbo" type of scenario, or if there had been enough action to keep us interested. Unfortunately, that just doesn't happen here. Though there is a lot to like about "Wolfen," the narrative moves at a snail's pace. We found ourselves immensely bored as these cops run around spinning their wheels while chasing red herrings for nearly the entire runtime. All of this happens before the climax of the film, which is ridiculously underwhelming. Director Michael Wadleigh makes the deliberate choice to hide the attackers for 95% of the damn movie. We had hoped for a big reveal with a magnificent wolf-like creature, but all we got was disappointment combined with a message about man's disrespect for the natural world. Yeah, we've never heard that before. Finally, almost half of the movie takes place in an infrared type of "wolf vision," which was probably a neat, revolutionary trick in 1981. Regardless of the year, however, this effect is dizzying, distracting, and entirely unnecessary, and we hated it.
Wolfen 1981 movie still Albert Finney Diane Venora Edward James Olmos
"Wolves don't kill people. That's a myth." (Image Source)
In the end, "Wolfen" is not nearly as compelling as it hopes it is. I almost fell asleep while watching it, and while BigJ liked it a bit more than I did, he still agrees that it is full of flaws.

My Rating: 4.5/10
BigJ's Rating: 6/10
IMDB's Rating: 6.3/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 74%
Do we recommend this movie: Meh.

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