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 dead?"

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!)

Werewolf Films
Monsters Frontpage