Thirty-six years ago on July 24, 1981, a werewolf movie was released that was a reaction to the environmentalist movement of the late ’70s and early ’80s called Wolfen,. Directed by Micheal Wadleigh, and based on the novel by Whitley Streiber, it is a man versus beast story on the surface. A wealthy land developer and his wife are found brutally dismembered in a public park. Eco-terrorists are suspected because the developer was looking to redevelop a slum near the Bronx. A weathered, cynical cop (Albert Finney) is brought in to investigate, along with a reporter named Rebecca Neff, who is familiar with eco-terrorism. Further forensic evidence found by the wisecracking medical examiner (played by the brilliant Gregory Hines) indicates that the killer was not human but canine.
The hunt for the real killer will lead Dewey Wilson (Finney) to enigmatic local Native American Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos). While most werewolf movies are content to leave the conflict between man and beast, Wolfen adds a further dimension to the story by threading supernatural and ecological themes throughout the film. Holt tells Wilson and Neff about a native legend of creatures called the Wolfen.
As man embraced technology, put in roads, and built their skyscrapers, they lost their natural senses and allowed the desolation of the land. In these slum areas, the Wolfen moved in and started hunting the weak. When the developer threatened to take away their territory, they defended themselves. In the eyes of the Wolfen, we are the savages.
Wolfen is an incredibly well shot movie. There is a gritty feel to the slum areas and an open airiness to the bridges. The POV from the Wolfen creatures is unique and well done, with sweeping tracking shots and a pulsating heartbeat. The sound itself also makes this film rise above your average werewolf film. Wind and chimes are a continuing theme that provide both light and shadow. With an original story, fine performances, and beautiful visuals, Wolfen is an extraordinary werewolf film worth taking the time to seek out.