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Review: The Company of Wolves (1984)

The Company of Wolves (1984)

Directed by: Neil Jordon

Premise: Mixing together various fairy tales and folklore, a young woman is told stories by her grandmother while a pack of wolves lurk around her village.

What Works: The Company of Wolves is an ambitious movie that assimilates a lot of different fairy tales and folklore into a mostly coherent whole. The most obvious inspiration is Little Red Riding Hood but there is plenty else here and readers of Grimm’s Fairy Tales will have fun spotting the references. The Company of Wolves is very unique and often just plain weird but that weirdness is why the movie works. The style draws on a lot of different filmmaking genres and it is occasionally anachronistic but that makes this film unpredictable and gives it a distinct character. The Company of Wolves was an early directorial effort by filmmaker Neil Jordon, who later directed The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire. This film foreshadows Jordan’s later films and it is partly interesting in relation to his other work. But The Company of Wolves is also interesting in its own right and Jordan brings sophistication to the subject matter. Because fairytales are associated with children and childhood, there is a presumption that these stories are somehow divorced from the harsh or carnal realities of life and when they are imagined for mass audiences fantasy pictures are often polished free of grit. The filmmakers of The Company of Wolves go the other way and their film consistently makes sexual innuendoes and highlights the sexual undertones of fairytales. Aside from the psychosexual aspects of the movie, The Company of Wolves is also very interesting for its story structure. The narrative combines aspects of a straightforward narrative and an anthology; the grandmother frequently goes off on tangents that are dramatized in the film and the act of storytelling within the picture clues the viewer in to how we ought to think and feel to the other scenarios and images of the picture. It is also a subtle commentary on the relationship between stories, and especially fairytales, and reality.

What Doesn’t: The Company of Wolves is the kind of film that will appeal to a cult audience. Its limited appeal is due to a number of factors, some of filmmaking style and others of time. The Company of Wolves was made in the early 1980s and it often looks its age. The filmmakers demonstrate creative vision but their ambitions are not always matched by their means. A few of the makeup and mechanical effects have not aged especially well although in many cases the crudeness of the special effect grants them a certain charm. The filmmaking style is also unusual and The Company of Wolves plays unlike most fantasy films before and since. The movie mixes the look of a 1980s family-oriented fantasy picture like The Dark Crystal with the violence and sexuality of R-rated fantasy films like The Howling and the juxtaposition of those elements is very strange. The film also frequently looks televisual instead of cinematic and combined with the strange tone and occasionally hokey effects, The Company of Wolves sometimes recalls the 1965 Russian feature Jack Frost, famously lampooned on an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. This is a better film than that and its unusual qualities are exactly what make it special but this film may befuddle contemporary mainstream audiences.

DVD extras: The Special Edition DVD includes a commentary track, a still gallery, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: The Company of Wolves is more of a fantasy film than a horror picture and it will probably appeal most to viewers who enjoy cerebral and offbeat fairytales like Pan’s Labyrinth and Let the Right One In. It has dated but in a way that cult audiences will likely enjoy.

Episode: #459 (October 6, 2013)