Our good friend and valued contributor, Jonathan of Robbins Realm has returned to once again examine the unknown and hidden classics you may have missed somewhere along the line.
A young man waits with an anxious expression written across the contours of his face as a cream-colored, chauffeur driven, Rolls Royce makes its way along a path through a dense forest. The attractive female chauffeur, dressed all in white, steps out and opens the back door to the automobile. The young man looks into the Rolls. Sitting inside the car is an impeccably dressed older man who is staring at a tiny skull; the man turns his head to the side and beckons the teenage boy to come closer. Next, the man extends his arm outward giving the teenager an ointment, but at the same time issuing a warning “waste not, want not.” The teenager rubs the substance on his chest, the result of which…well, I don’t want to spoil that particular scene of the film “The Company of Wolves” (1984). It is one of my favorite moments, of which there were several peppered throughout the movie, that caused an eerie feeling to take hold of me. This was thanks to Bryan Loftus’s captivating cinematography in this little gem directed by Neil Jordan (The Crying Game) and was just the second feature film that he helmed up until that time.
Let me state unequivocally, from the outset, that the film “The Company of Wolves” is not a horror movie. It does have several thematic elements which can be found in numerous horror films, especially those produced by Hammer Film Productions from the middle of the 1950s until the 1970s, but, due to its lush story book imagery, it would be better served if it were placed in the category of gothic fairy tale. I feel it should also be stated that the movie is both witty and psychologically insightful when one takes the time to reflect on the film, especially after multiple viewings.
The Company of Wolves was given its world premier on September 15, 1984, at The Toronto International Film Festival in Canada. Its intriguing premise is based on a short story by author Angela Carter (who collaborated with director Neil Jordan on the screenplay) in her book, “The Bloody Chamber.” The film uses the myth of lycanthropy (a human who has the ability to transform themselves into a wolf) as a metaphor for the young character of Rosaleen, who is on a journey of self discovery, resulting from her body’s natural progression into puberty. In turn, she is forced to confront her sexual awakening, which is a bit oxymoronic considering the viewer is first introduced to her character while she is dreaming. Students of psychology would probably view this film through a Freudian interpretation. The re-imagining of the time tested fairy tale, “Little Red Riding Hood,” immerses itself in subtly hinting at sexual elements, such as: the potential for Rosaleen’s loss of virginity, due to the advances of different males both her own age and older; the nervousness associated with someone’s first sexual experience; and the self-consciousness most people feel about their naked body being viewed by another person. In addition, the film asks the question, “what can a young female do to thwart amorous advances from the opposite sex, the monsters that walk on two legs and present a human face to the world at large?” At first some of the film’s message might not be overtly apparent, but whether what is attempting to be conveyed is evident upon one’s initial viewing or not, “The Company of Wolves immerses itself in sexuality as it pertains to the central character Rosaleen’s transformation from childhood into adolescence. I think it is particularly important in regard to the aforementioned subtle sexual aspect of the film that actress Sarah Patterson, was chosen to portray Rosaleen, and, although it was her screen debut and despite being very young, she played the part with just the right degree of ingénue vulnerability. As an interesting aside, Patterson, for reasons that are unknown, has only worked on one other film since The Company of Wolves, which was Cannon Movie Tales, Snow White (1988)
Rosaleen’s first dream is about her sister being trapped inside a nightmare, replete with an atmosphere that is foreboding from the outset; and as with all of the other vignettes in the film, it involves the presence of wolves. Cinematic trivia buffs take note, that due to budgetary constraints, the majority of the wolves that appear on screen are actually Belgian Shepherd dogs (mostly Groenendals and Tervurens) whose fur had been dyed to make them look like wolves. I applaud the direction taken by Jordan in regard to having the tales spring forth from Rosaleen’s subconscious dream state. Rumors abound that Neil Jordan modeled the structure of the film after the Polish movie The Saragossa Manuscript (1965) directed by Wojciech Has, which both Carter and Jordan had seen and equally admired.
There are numerous noteworthy aspects of the movie. For starters, the cast is a strong mixture of veteran English and Irish actors such as: Angela Lansbury (Murder She Wrote), David Warner (Time Bandits), Terrance Stamp (Superman II), and Stephen Rea (Interview with the Vampire.)
The film contains no scenes depicting graphic violence. Gore is kept to a bare minimum, as is blood, which is used sparingly, and it is utilized only if it is germane to serving the story. The budget which director Jordan was given to work with was $2,000,000 dollars, and it is apparent that he made every penny count. The special effects, sadly, pale in comparison, when measured by today’s standards, thanks to the wizardry of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) technology. Nevertheless, for the time period of the early 1980s, the effects were quite powerful. For example, I felt the transformation sequences from man to werewolf were both deftly handled and strongly convincing. It was only years later, that I was made aware that those particular scenes didn’t just employ special makeup and stop action techniques, but in addition, were also using animatronics (the use of electronics and robotics in mechanized puppets to simulate life).
Overall, the film offers the viewer a wealth of visual delights that are not short on symbolism. In 1985, Neil Jordan won the Director of the Year award from the London Film Critics Circle for The Company of Wolves. According to an interview Jordan gave, he discussed that he and novelist turned screenwriter, Angela Carter, wanted to work together again on a future project, but due to Carter’s failing health (she died of lung cancer in 1992), nothing ever came to fruition. The movie is available for purchase on DVD on Amazon.com, and also on-line at Netflix; a soundtrack of the film’s music was released on February 15, 2000. I recommend this film to any and all of you who are seeking a movie with a good gothic feel and who are not fans of extreme violence that oozes blood and guts at every turn.