The Company of Wolves is one of the oddest yet most interesting films in the werewolf genre. A blend of fairy tale with Howling-American Werewolf-style make-up achievements, it's really a chick flick, but if Anne Rice had picked this genre as her next subject.
In fact a woman did write The Company of Wolves. A British highbrow fantasist, the late Angela Carter wrote the source story and co-wrote the screenplay with director Neil Jordan. A proponent of what she called the Sadeian Woman, Carter is a cult figure among horror readers, especially after the release of this film in 1984, which finally enjoys DVD release via Hen's Tooth (if the IMDBPro is any guide, this is its first DVD release in region 1, and there has been no laser disc).
The Company of Wolves is probably something of a puzzle if you don't know what to expect. In fact, it is more an anthology of stories, like Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, or one of the Crypt movies, in that it presents a series of tales revolving around one theme rather than one full, complex story. And those stories are in come cases not resolved. Even "worse," the movie begins in a grounded reality, only to enter a dream world where stories within stories are recounted.
Basically a girl named Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson, who only made two films) is having bad dreams. In one of them she ends up with a figure called Granny (Angela Lansbury) who gives her advice on the strange realm she has entered and tells her instructive stories that become tales within tales. Among those stories is a tale of a husband who goes straying at night, but not because he is cheating on his wife in the conventional sense. In another story, a dinner party is disrupted when a lower class woman gets revenge on the aristocrat who knocked her up. The concluding story is a rethinking of the Little Red Riding Hood tale (though not as bizarre as Freeway). Here, an aristo-wolf sneaks into Granny's cottage in order to waylay Rosaleen. Not to spoil anything, but if you are a fan of cinematic exploding heads, you'll enjoy what happens to Lansbury in this scene.
Jordan, in his second film, shot The Company of Wolves almost entirely on a studio set, with all the control that implies, and with what was, or what came to be, an all-star cast, that also includes Stephen Rea, David Warner, and Terence Stamp. Stamp makes only a cameo appearance, as the devil, chauffeured by an exotic unnamed blond woman in a white uniform. Rea is a frequent collaborator of Jordan's as is the film's producer, Stephen Woolley. After this, Jordan made the art house hit Mona Lisa and then was lured to America where he made two disastrous comedies in a row, a common story among young regional directors. He returned to form by returning to his "roots" with The Miracle and that was followed by The Crying Game.
The film Wolves has the most in common with is of course his adaptation of Rice's Interview with the Vampire. Both films dwell in a region of barely suppressed sexuality that crosses all genders and age groups. The vampire genre, and to a lesser degree the werewolf genre, have frequently been used as code worlds for homosexuality and other sexual subcultures. Werewolves generally "symbolize" male sexual predatoriness, which is what makes Lon Chaney, Jr., such a funny werewolf, given the contrast between his meek and mousy manner and the rage of his wolf persona. Here Jordan and Carter use the werewolf to explore class issues, marital politics, and child sexuality. And in the grand tradition of the old EC horror comics, almost all the tales within the tales are actually about revenge. Rage and injustice inspire the transformation of a person into a driven monster; what Jordan and Carter explore and play with is the social circumstances that inspire the rage in the first place. Though not "traditional," The Company of Wolves is one of the finest werewolf variations, and one of the better, if more obscure, fantasy films.
VIDEO: This single sided, dual layered disc offers a non-anamorphic wide screen version of the film (1.78:1). Photographed by a DP with a very short career, Bryan Loftus (he was a focus puller on 2001 and his last credited job was shooting the arty mystery Siesta) the film looks good, both complicated (probably due to set decoration) and simple at the same time. The source print sees to be good: colors are rich, there are no artifacts, and blacks are deep.
SOUND: A Dolby Digital mono track is something of a disappointment given the airiness, so to speak, of the studio bound "exteriors," and there are no subtitles.
MENUS: The static, silent menu offers 12 chapter scene selection for the 95 minute movie.
PACKAGING: The keep case bears a semblance of the original poster art, and comes with a one sheet, one sided chapter list. There are some stills on the back of the box and the label is blue with a reiteration of the poster image.
EXTRAS: The Company of Wolves comes with minimal extras. There's the theatrical trailer that lasts about two and a half minutes, and a strange "promo" that shows about 12 minutes of the movie. If you don't have time to watch the whole thing, this will do. There's also an animated photo gallery that lasts about a minute and a half.