Notes: Orion Pictures Co. 114 minutes. MPAA Rating: R.
Directed: Michael Wadleigh
Based on a novel by Whitley Strieber.
Dewey Wilson: Albert Finney
Whittington: Gregory Hines
Rebecca Neff: Diane Venora
Eddie Holt: Edward James Olmos
Ferguson: Tom Noonan
Old Indian: Dehl Berti
Warren: Dick O'Neill
The setting is New York. Up on top of a bridge are a couple of Native American guys, who turn a bird loose. The bird flies off and then its view becomes an aerial view of the city from a helicopter. We zero in on a building being demolished. There is a groundbreaking ceremony nearby. From the ground we get a different perspective of the chopper overhead and the ceremony; the sounds and colors are different. This is our first instance of Wolfen Vision, but we don't actually see the creature who's watching everything.
Christopher Vanderveer and wife Pauline are heading back to their
penthouse in their limo with their pampered dog and decide to
stop by Battery Park. An entire security network is monitoring
their movements. On their way, Pauline indulges in some recreational
drugs; then one of the guys from the bridge throws a bottle at
their window as they drive by. At the park, Pauline is fascinated
by the chimes in her drug-induced state. We see some pagan-looking
weather vanes, a shot of the full moon, and then through more
Wolfen Vision (hereafter abbreviated as WV), we stalk the limo
driver. One of us is even under the metal grating he's walking
across on the sidewalk. He sees us and reaches for his gun, but
loses his hand and then is killed quickly enough. Then we get
Christopher, then Pauline. There is a lot of blood, and the attacks
are quite forceful.
The next morning, Dewey Wilson is beeped to come to the scene
of the crime. Boss Warren tells Dewey to "take a look around,
see if you can sniff out anything." Whittington, one of
the coroner's guys, is there already and shows Dewey the bodies.
Christopher's brain is missing. The limo driver's severed hand
has a ring with a pentagram and goat on it. Pauline's head is
nearly severed as well. Whittington talks about the horrors of
dying that way. He says that during the French revolution they
would pick up the heads; most had died from the shock, but about
every fifth one was still alive and blinking and trying to talk.
"The brain can live without oxygen for more than a minute.
. . . How'd you like to see your own body and know that you're
Back at the morgue, one of the workers berates a corpse and smacks
his face. Dewey's eating cookies amid all the dead bodies. Whittington
tells him that whatever was used to kill the Vanderveers was not
metal. Back at the station, some young guy asks to see Dewey's
identification, and Dewey tells him, "All that separates
you from a guard dog is a brain." He finds out that the
Vanderveers were returning from their anniversary party. Christopher
had no business enemies, but lots of political enemies.
Back at security central, they are running through their files
on terrorists and come across Vanderveer's niece, so they pick
her up. Then they choose to call in Rebecca Neff, an expert consultant
in terrorist behavior. Warren teams her up with Dewey. She tells
Dewey about the latest in international terrorism. Rebecca talks
to the niece, who is monitored surreptitiously, voice patterns,
infrared, photographic surveillance, everything. Dewey makes
a comment that Congress and the White House should be monitored
this rigorously; the whole country would grind to a halt. The
niece is startled when Rebecca begins to question her about Vanderveer's
death, and then she claims it wasn't a murder, it was an execution,
and the monitors say she's definitely lying.
Out on the streets of the Bronx a guy is getting some drugs, and
a pentagram with a big eye in the center passes hands. He heads
out to some of the demolished buildings and wanders among all
the rubble. He hears some weird noises and walks around some
more. Through our WV we follow him and take him down. Then his
body gets dragged off, and his brain gets plopped onto the ground.
Dewey blames paranoia for the terrorist explanation, saying if
it was really an act of terrorism what weapon did the killers
use and why didn't anyone alert the press. He has a sticker in
his office that reads, "God, guns, and guts made America.
Let's keep all free."
The next day, WV shows a wrecker demolishing some more buildings.
Some guy is pushing rubble around with a dozer and finds some
body parts. Dewey and Rebecca go to the Vanderveers' penthouse.
They have some strange metal blinds that make chiming sounds
when they're disturbed and we see also a model of the project
Vanderveer was working on. Dewey is beeped by Whittington, who
tips him off to the body parts found in the Bronx. He tells him
that they found hairs of unknown origin in the Bronx identical
to those found at the Vanderveer scene. "All I know is they
ain't human," he says.
Dewey and Rebecca wander around the rubble in the Bronx. They
are being watched through WV. They look in an abandoned old church.
Rebecca thinks she hears a baby crying, so she heads up the stairs.
Strange, vaguely human noises that may or may not be the wind
are heard sporadically. Dewey's looking at some strange stained
glass that shows a person being carried off by a wolf. Then he
hears a menacing howl, definitely not the wind, and runs up the
stairs, grabbing Rebecca. Through WV, they both roll down the
stairs and then run out into the open and away. In the dark at
the top of the stairs we see two glowing red eyes. After darkfall,
we get the WV running down the stairs and out of the church.
Dewey and Rebecca sit in a dingy restaurant and wonder what was
in the church. More WV, running onto bridge. An unfortunate
guy gets in our way and is sent flying off the bridge. Now more
running across bridge, then through the streets. Dewey drops
off Rebecca at the company apartment where she's staying. Later
that night Rebecca sees a shadow moving on her ceiling, goes onto
her balcony with her gun, and her cat jumps onto the railing in
front of her.
The following day, Dewey and Rebecca talk to Ferguson, some sort
of biologist at the zoo. He says the hairs are wolf hairs, but
he can't place the subspecies. He says there aren't any wolves
around here, "they went the way of the Indians and the buffalo,
the genocide express." They ask if wolves could be trained
to kill, and Ferguson gets really defensive, saying then it would
still be a person killing people, not wolves. Now begins the
weird stuff. He says wolves are "too smart. They're like
Indians. Wolves and Indians evolved and were destroyed simultaneously.
Their societies are practically one and the same. They're tribal,
they look out for their own, they don't overpopulate, and they're
superb hunters." This gives Dewey an idea. He decides to
check up on Eddie Holt, a member of NAM (the Native American Movement).
He's doing construction work on the bridge, and Dewey has to
go up to talk to him. Eddie goes off on shapeshifting a bit,
unhooking Dewey's safety cables and telling him it's all in the
head. If you believe you're an eagle, you can just step right
off the bridge and fly. Dewey makes his way back down. At security
central we find out that Eddie was on the bridge the night of
the murders, but that no one saw him get any closer. "Maybe
they didn't recognize him," Dewey speculates.
Dewey visits Whittington get the scoop on the body parts. He
tells him that all the abandoned organs were diseased, and they
all have the same striation patterns, like teeth marks. "Something
out there might be eatin' people." Ferguson shows up to
help with the analysis. Dewey leaves them to bicker and waits
outside an Indian bar for Eddie to come out. Eddie goes down
to the beach, and Dewey follows on foot. There is a shot of the
still full moon. Eddie strips, gets on all fours, and makes some
wolf prints in the sand. He laps at a pool of water, then bites
the water, then runs around and howls. Dewey decides to back
off, and Eddie, spotting him, rushes over and gets confrontational.
After awhile he stands up straight and says, "Dewey, I told
you, man, it's all in the head."
Meanwhile, we wander the zoo with our WV and scare all the animals.
We come to Ferguson's office and watch through the window as
he watches old films of wolf hunts and records facts of wolf acuities
and capabilities. Ferguson hears some strange noises, mostly
the frightened zoo animals, and opens his window. He picks up
the phone and reports a fire, then gives his name as Peter Wolf.
Then he takes his geekboy scooter out and waits for the fire
truck to pass. As the sirens die in the distance, he can hear
wolves howling. He's exhilarated. He starts his scooter and
hears some really vicious wolf sounds nearby, not howling, so
now he's pretty fearful, probably thinking he should have bought
a faster bike. He gets a little way and then is hit from the
side and thrown about twenty feet off his bike.
Dewey sits in his car outside Rebecca's apartment as the rain
starts. Then we see him sitting there with WV. Then he sees
a wolf form on Rebecca's balcony, its breath visible in the cold,
but when he switches on the headlights it's gone. He goes up
to her apartment and looks distressed enough that she doesn't
speak. More WV looking at the apartment from outside. Inside
Rebecca pours them both drinks. Through WV we climb up and look
in the window and see that Rebecca and Dewey are in bed together.
In the morning, Dewey and Whittington head to Ferguson's office.
"Fergie never went home last night," Whittington says.
"His mother called, FREAKED OUT." Rebecca is doing
another terrorist interview. Dewey and Whittington get some night
vision gear and guns and go to stake out the old church. That
night, Dewey says decidedly, "They're here," when he
sees breath rising from behind an old wall. He goes down to the
church to look around. Whittington gets the creeps. We see him
through WV and climb down through a hole in the roof. Now we
definitely see one of the beasties. The wolf gives a nasty snarl
and jumps him. Dewey hurries to find him as we see his body being
dragged off. Dewey bursts into the building and shoots around,
then Whittington's body drops onto him from above.
Dewey goes to the Indian bar to talk to Eddie. Here's the explanation:
Eddie: It's not wolves; it's Wolfen. For twenty thousand years, Wilson, ten times your fucking Christian era, the skins and the wolves, the great hunting nations lived together, nature in balance. Then the slaughter came. The smartest ones, they went underground into the new wilderness, you cities, into your great slum areas, the graveyard of your fucking species.
Old Indian: These great hunters became your scavengers; your garbage, your abandoned people, became their new meat animal.
Dewey: They're only --
Eddie: Animals? Are you sure, Wilson? They might be gods.
Old Indian: In their eyes, you are the savage.
Eddie: You've got your technology, but you lost, you lost your senses.
Old Indian: They can see two looks away, they can hear a cloud
pass overhead. In their world, there can be no lies, no crime.
. . . They kill to survive, they kill to protect family. Man
kills for less.
Back in Vanderveer's penthouse, Dewey muses on what he has learned.
He looks at the model, the shovel used for the groundbreaking
ceremony, he views the promotional video for the construction
project. Warren and Rebecca show up and say that they've pinned
the murders on a terrorist group whose motto is "the end
of the world by wolves." The three of them leave. Outside,
Dewey senses they are not alone. The Wolfen are there, and they
are quite angry. Warren reaches for his gun, Dewey advises against
it. Warren continues anyway, and loses his hand. He climbs into
the car, but there is a wolf in the back seat, and as he climbs
out he gets hit by another wolf. Dewey shoots the car and it
explodes, then he shoots the glass on the front of the building
and the alarms go off. He and Rebecca get in an elevator and
go back up to the penthouse. Cops show up outside. Wolfen jump
through the windows in the penthouse and take command of the room.
Dewey and Rebecca both have their guns drawn. Dewey stares at
the white wolf. Extended close-ups of first the wolf's eye, then
Dewey's eye with WV. Dewey empties his gun and sets it down,
and Rebecca lowers her own. Dewey smashes the model; the Wolfen
howl and leave right before a cop enters the room shooting.
Dewey and Rebecca go out on the penthouse balcony. The Wolfen
run merrily through the streets of New York. More WV running
to the church and up the stairs. There is a shot of the old church
silhouetted against the dawn, and then a similar shot of the Native
Americans on top of the bridge.
The tone of the movie is much different from the book, which offered a plague of creatures that had followed the white man from Europe and had always lived off of human flesh. Here we are meant to recognize the barbarity of the whites in contrast to the balanced and peaceful way of life of the indigenous inhabitants of North America, namely the Indians and the Wolfen. The Wolfen are not the enemies, they are just trying to survive in a changing world. At the very end there are themes of respect and honor, but most of the movie preceding involves suspicion of the Native American and the horror of mutilation and potential cannibalism.
We give points for realism since they used actual wolves, not
Huskies. After seeing very little of them for the entire movie
and wondering, it's a little jarring when one suddenly appears.
(Hey, it's an example of us caught in the doppelganger effect!)