On the Edges of Mankind Are the… – Wolfen (1981)

In Wolfen, Albert Finney is the cop on the outside, the one that plays by his own rules. He is the detective that solves all the crimes but does so by flying solo, not exactly being the team player and yet, when it hits the fan, he is the man that everyone looks to, rogue cop or not. Such as it is, things have definitely spiralled as a very important developer and his lady-friend have met with death and the higher-ups in the city including the Mayer and the Commissioner want to know how it happened and they want to know yesterday. For Finney’s character Dewey Wilson, he will have to rely on coroner Whittington as played by Gregory Hines and go where he does not really want to go, into myth and legend and those things that go bump in the night. By the end of it all, he will either come out a believer or be dead himself.

Based upon Whitley Strieber’s novel of the same name, the movie opens on the right note – with a mystery and a body, something that will immediately hook the audience and hopefully carry them through to the end where it will one assumes, be solved. Finney comes into the picture not long after and while it starts to enter familiar territory, the man’s character not being all that original as there have been many hard-boiled detectives over the years, the man is such a good actor that he sells it well. The fact that he is also willing to ask for help when he needs it also sets him apart from the classic outsider caricature and the supporting cast made up of Hines, Diane Venora, and Dick O’Neill complement him well and round out the main players in the picture perfectly. While it is pretty apparent just what it is that is doing the killing, what with the title of the move and the strange lenses used to mimic what wolves supposedly see, the makers of this film still do a good job of building suspense and tension throughout until that first reveal.

The special effects, while not all that spectacular as it consists of just a little camera trickery, are done competently and what little blood and gore is present, looks real enough to satisfy those looking for some good werewolf kills. What really seals this movie though is the script and story, especially when it starts moving into the realm of the supernatural and the deeper history of these mystical creatures. This is no werewolf movie per se, for the creatures present are wolves, albeit a higher form of wolf and there are no transformations seen on screen from man to beast. There is a bit of backstory that the film goes into which describes them as legendary creatures who have always been present on the fringes of mankind, something Finney finds hard to believe at first, but as time goes on, soon finds that there can be no other explanation.

Taking all that talent present and the material they have to work with, it makes for a pretty solid movie, if a little slow-moving at times. The ending was strong, something a bit different than the norm and while it did not necessarily tie everything up nice and neat, it worked because real life is just the same, rarely turning out the way one hopes. While there could have been a little more horror present than there was, thereby possibly making the movie a little scarier, it was not the visuals shown that propagated the horror, but the story of the Wolfen themselves, of who they were and what they are. Though this might not be a classic tale of the everyday werewolf, it is an alternative that sits nicely right alongside them.

3.5 out of 5

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