Rupert Pupkin Speaks: Warner Archive - WOLFEN on Blu-ray ""

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Warner Archive - WOLFEN on Blu-ray

WOLFEN (1981; Michael Wadleigh)
WOLFEN is a fascinating and underseen horror flick that I couldn't be more pleased to see Warner Archive bringing it to Blu-ray. It is truly interesting genre melange in that it is parts horror movie, Police procedural and paranoid thriller. It also features some great location work in a very wasteland-ish, nearly demolished neighborhood (The Bronx) in New York City. I found a great piece online about the post-apocalyptic backdrop that adds so much to WOLFEN here:
http://www.streetfilms.org/wolfen-1981/
One interesting stylistic choice within the movie is that it features this "wolf vision" effect which is very much like effect that would be used in PREDATOR several years later. In general, the film does a nice job of keeping the creatures in the shadows and just out of sight which makes for a wonderful atmosphere of unease and dread throughout. I was reminded a but of Val Lewton's CAT PEOPLE for some reason. There's also lots of steadicam shots from the creatures' POV which helps with the overall creepy vibe. Steadicam was (as far as I know) still in a relative infancy and so it must have been quite engaging to see so much of it used in a film at this time. The creeping POV tracking shots still bring a good deal of tension even today. Filmmaking aside, director Michael Wadleigh really puts some thoughtful political and environmental messages into WOLFEN and apparently that was something of a point of contention with he and the studio, but it ends up being one of the more memorable elements of the movie. Wadleigh is a fascinating dude by the way in that he got his start as a cameraman on things like DAVID HOLZMAN'S DIARY and Scorsese's WHO'S THAT KNOCKING AT MY DOOR. He comes very much from a documentary background in that way and is responsible for one of the great docs ever made in that he was also the director of WOODSTOCK (which was released by Warner Brothers in 1970). WOLFEN was Wadleigh's next feature after WOODSTOCK and was his first narrative film. It's intriguing to note that after his experience on WOLFEN, Wadleigh did not direct another narrative movie again. I found a neat recent interview with him that I have posted below, which is worth a look.

As far as WOLFEN and its cast, it is led by the great Albert Finney. Finney is sardonically funny in a way that is right on the edge of being overly snarky, but somehow stays out of obnoxious territory. Though he had done a few things in the interim, Finney had been all but absent from American films since MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in 1974 prior to this lead role in WOLFEN. I find this juncture in Finney's career rather fascinating in that he would also do LOOKER (a Michael Crichton film I love)  in 1981 and would follow that with Alan Parker's SHOOT THE MOON (one of my favorites of Finney's movies) in 1982. The ensemble of actors in WOLFEN is pretty great though, let me get back to that. Playing sidekick to Finney is Gregory Hines in one of his earliest roles. He plays a coroner who seems quite interested in the murders that Finney is dealing with. So interested that he even goes out to help him try to do some surveillance in The Bronx. In addition to Hines, there's a small parade of cool character actors like Edward James Olmos, Tom Noonan and James Tolkan (who goes by "Baldy" but has more hair than his principal character did in BACK TO THE FUTURE). Movies with a solid group of supporting character actors always endear themselves to me in a big way and WOLFEN is no exception. Even if an actor like James Tolkan only has one scene, he makes a big impression and increases my interest in a particular film.
This is something of a first for Warner Archive in terms of putting out a horror movie from the 1980s. They are seeming to veer towards some of their 80s catalog titles of late (see their Blu-ray of LADYHAWKE for a recent example). I am very much hoping this is indicative of the direction they may be taking for future Blu-ray releases. It would be fantastic to see them dig into their vault and pull out some interesting horror flicks like these. Though not all gems, their "Twisted Terror Collection" of DVD releases had some interesting titles in it. I am sure I'm not the only person who would love to see Blu-rays of DEADLY FRIEND, THE HAND, SOMEONE'S WATCHING ME or EYES OF A STRANGER. I am particularly fond of EYES OF A STRANGER as it is a slasher movie that gets very little attention. CAT'S EYE would be another groovy Warner Archive Blu-ray too. There's just so much they could put out and that makes this an extremely exciting time for Blu-ray fans.

Bonus:  Here is a fascinating interview with director Michael Wadleigh who was and still is quite an activist of sorts and who gave up Hollywood movies and changed his focus back to documentaries:


1 comment:

George White said...

Its okay but Finney's accent is brilliant as in awful. I.e. he's a New York cop with an accent that goes back into Finney's working class old York roots.