Horror Movie Review: Wolfen (1981)

Wolfen is a 1981 American crime horror film directed by Michael Wadleigh, based on Whitley Strieber’s 1978 novel The Wolfen. It stars Albert Finney, Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos. The film follows a city cop who has been assigned to uncover what is behind a series of vicious murders.

Former NYPD Captain Dewey Wilson is brought back to the force and assigned to solve a bizarre string of violent murders. After high-profile magnate Christopher Van der Veer, his wife and his bodyguard are slain in Battery Park. Executive Security, the private firm employed by Van der Veer, blames the murders on terrorists. But knowing that the victim’s bodyguard was a 300-pound Haitian with voodoo ties makes Wilson skeptical. With pressure to solve the case coming from both the Police Commissioner and the Mayor, Wilson is partnered with criminal psychologist Rebecca Neff.

Elsewhere, in the South Bronx, a homeless man explores an abandoned church. The church is scheduled to be demolished by Van der Veer’s development company. He is killed by an unseen monstrous being. Wilson and Neff investigate his murder. At the church, apparent sounds of a baby crying lure Neff up to the bell tower. Wilson follows her, but does not hear the crying. Once Neff is separated from him, he hears a wolf howl. He goes up after Neff and drags her to safety. Later that night, a bridge worker is apparently murdered by the same creature.

Coroner Whittington discovers non-human hairs on several victims and consults a zoologist named Ferguson. He identifies the hairs as belonging to an unknown subspecies of Canis Lupus. Ferguson compares wolves to Native Americans. Inspired, Wilson finds Eddie Holt, a militant Native activist he arrested some years previously, working in construction. While Wilson interrogates Holt on top of the Manhattan Bridge, Holt claims to be a shapeshifter, which implicates him as the killer. Wilson opts to leave Holt alone and tail him that night.

What does this mean? Can Holt figure out who’s behind the slayings? Watch and find out.

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Wolfen is a boring movie. A long, laborious slog with no character development and an incoherent plot. Despite that, it does have a valid underlying message.

That message is essentially: if a wolf bites an intruder on his land, whos’ in the wrong? As we all know, Native Americans had their land stolen from them and their people slaughtered for generations. If they could transform into wolves and kill of billionaires still raping and destroying their land, would they be wrong?

Of course, I agree with this message. What happened, and continues to happen, is beyond words. But this film, unfortunately, doesn’t have much besides this message.

Wolfen, on top of being boring, doesn’t make a lot of sense. They assemble a crack team of 2 hot cops to solve a billionaire’s brutal murder. But then, the main cop Wilson, doesn’t do anything. He has no plan, no back up plan and when shit hits the fan he bolts. And his partner is treated absolutely criminally. Neff is literally eye candy. She’s barely used, has no chemistry with Wilson and yet, out of the blue, they have sex (???). It’s infuriating.

The acting is by no means bad, but they just seem as if they’re all asleep. They lack any passion, perhaps they were as confused as the audience.

After such a grind, you would hope the finale would be quite the spectacle. And… I mean… eh…no, it’s not. They do use real wolves, which is cool but it’s just not exciting. The only scene that stands out of the whole film to me is when Holt fakes a transformation into a wolf, messing with Wilson. He even had me going for a second there.

Overall, I can’t forgive Wolfen for being so long, nonsensical and tedious. I knew as much about the characters at the start of the movie as I did the end. If you enjoy watching a cop sit around smoking and slowly meandering around instead of actually solving a murder, then you’ll enjoy Wolfen or at least get a good nights’ sleep.


  • Sally Powell

    Editor/Writer - Stay at home mum educating the horror minds of tomorrow. If it's got vampires or Nicolas Cage in it, I'm sold. Found cleaning bums or kicking ass in an RPG. (And occasionally here reviewing all things horror and gaming related!)

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