Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Company of Wolves (1984) * * *

THE COMPANY OF WOLVES is a Freudian film version of Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" set in modern times. It takes place in the frightening dreams of pubescent girl Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson). She dreams that she lives in a fairytale forest with her parents (Tusse Silberg and David Warner) and sister Alice (Georgia Slowe), but one day her sister is killed by wolves. While her parents are mourning, Rosaleen goes to live with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury), who knits a bright red shawl for her to wear. Granny warns her to never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle and to be wary, not of the wolves that haunt the forest, but of the men who are hairy on the inside.

Granny: Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle. Oh, they're nice as pie until they've had their way with you. But once the bloom is gone... oh, the beast comes out. Your only sister, all alone in the woods, and nobody there to save her. Poor little lamb.
Rosaleen: Why couldn't she save herself?

Mother: You pay too much attention to your granny. She knows a lot but she doesn't know everything. And if there's a beast in men, it meets its match in women, too.

Rosaleen returns to the village where her parents live, but finds that she must deal with the advances of an amorous boy (Shane Johnstone). Rosaleen and the boy take a walk through the forest, but the boy discovers that the village's cattle have come under attack from a wolf. The villagers set out to hunt the wolf, but once caught and killed, the wolf's corpse transforms into that of a human being.

Later Rosaleen takes a basket of goods through the woods to her grandmother's cottage, but on her way she encounters an attractive huntsman (Micha Bergese) whose eyebrows meet in the middle. He challenges her, saying that he can find his way to her grandmother's house before she can, and the pair set off. The hunter arrives at Rosaleen's grandmother's house first, where he reveals his bestial nature and eats her. Rosaleen arrives later and discovers the carnage, but her need to avenge her grandmother is complicated by her desire for the hunter. Ultimately the villagers arrive at the house, looking for a werewolf within, only to discover a transformed Rosaleen.

Granny: Get ye back to Hell from whence ye came!
Huntsman: I don't come from Hell, I come from the forest.
Granny: What have you done with my Grand-daughter?
Huntsman: Nothing she didn't want!

Rosaleen: (a lock of hair singes in the fireplace) Is that all you left of her? Your kind can't stomach hair, can you? Even if the worst wolves are hairy on the inside.
Huntsman: Are you very much afraid?
Rosaleen: It wouldn't do me much good to be afraid, would it? What big eyes you have.
Huntsman: All the better to see you with.
Rosaleen: They say seeing is believing, but I'd never swear to it. They say the Prince of Darkness is a gentleman. And as it turns out, they're right. A fine gentleman. Poor creatures. It's freezing cold out there. No wonder they howl so. I'm sorry. I never knew a wolf could cry.

Back in the present day, Rosaleen wakes with a scream. Countless wolves descend on her home, but most are actually large dogs--they don't have manes. The film ends in slow motion with a wolf smashing through Rosaleen's bedroom window: a very obvious phallic symbol. This wolf doesn't only smash the window, it also shatters the toys that are in its way.

Charles Perrault's moral from "Le Petit Chaperon Rouge" (1697) is then read over the beginning of the credits. The moral warns girls to beware of charming strangers.

Throughout the course of this gothic fantasy-horror film, a number of stories are interspersed into the main narrative as tales are told by several of the characters. Granny tells Rosaleen about a young groom (Stephen Rea) who is about to bed his new bride (Kathryn Pogson) when a call of nature summons him outside. He completely disappears and his bride is terrified to see wolves howling. A search the following day yields only a wolf paw print. Years later, she remarries and has children, only to have her original husband finally return. Angered at her having had children with a new husband, the groom transforms into werewolf form, but is slain when the new husband (Jim Carter) returns. Granny's second tale to Rosaleen is about a young man walking through the enchanted forest when he encounters the Devil (Terence Stamp), arriving in a chauffeured Rolls-Royce, who offers the boy a transformation potion, which ultimately monstrously transforms him against his will.

Rosaleen tells her mother about a woman (Dawn Archibald) who was "done a terrible wrong" by a rich young nobleman (Richard Morant) who turns up at his wedding party. She magically transforms the groom, the bride and the guests into wolves. They escape into the forest, but the sorceress commands the wolves to serenade her and her child each night. Rosaleen also tells the huntsman/wolf about a she-wolf who arrives at a village. Despite meaning no harm, she is shot by a villager. She reveals herself in her human form (Danielle Dax) to an old priest (Graham Crowden), who bandages her wound. Ultimately she returns to hell through the village well.

Old Priest: (to wolf-girl) Are you God's work, or the Devil's? Oh, what do I care whose work you are? You poor, silent creature. (he binds her wound) It will heal. In time.

THE COMPANY OF WOLVES takes you into the disturbing world of a young girl's imagination where wolves run wild and witches cast spells. The ethereal setting develops into a Freudian nightmare, explaining adolescence through a twisted reenactment of "Little Red Riding Hood." Definitely one of the strangest movies made--a strangeness that alienates itself from high ratings but guarantees it a top place as a cult classic. It successfully combines the complexity of written literature with the visual symbolism of film. But the depth of abstract ideas it delivers come at the cost of fluent comprehension. Many of the ideas in the film require the complete understanding of the smallest detail. This movie requires viewers to actively connect ideas from each scene and is not suitable for those only prepared to watch a superficial horror flick.

Essentially a coming-of-age story, the movie came from a compilation of several short stories from Angela Carter, a short story writer who writes about women and adulthood. Carter is known for her attempts to deconstruct fairy tales in terms of adult meaning and to bring out an underlying Freudian subtext. Neil Jordan, the director of the movie, is a less known writer of horror novels, but a very well known director. Both took an active part in the adapting and expanding the story for the movie. The film is mostly based on Angela Carter's "The Company of Wolves" and "Wolf-Alice" from her book "The Bloody Chamber".

There is no linear story, rather the film is a series of vignettes and dreams within dreams, all of which point to old wives tales and folk superstitions. The film is a dark retelling of the classic fairytale "Little Red Riding Hood", making explicit its sexual and Freudian subtext. Perrault's original morality fable warns children not to trust strangers or stray from the path. However, Rosaleen doesn't simply fear being devoured by a wolf: she fears being sexually devoured. It is this fear and fascination with sexuality that is the heart of the film, a theme emphasized by the recurrent apple and the snake in Eden motif symbolizing sexual temptation, seduction, and loss of innocence. Despite her blossoming sexual awareness, Rosaleen fears marriage and adult responsibilities. Granny's warnings do nothing to dispel these fears, and she kisses a handsome man-wolf, choosing to become a wolf rather than his victim. She escapes the dreary conventional life that would have faced her, and instead finds personal and sexual freedom. The film uses the changing body of the werewolf as a metaphor for the horrors of puberty, menstruation, and sexual maturity. It's symbolism suggests that while adulthood and sexuality can be threatening, it can also be a desirable and necessary transition.

The cast also includes: Brian Glover (Amorous Boy's father), Susan Porrett (Amorous Boy's mother), Dawn Archibald (Witch Woman), Vincent McClaren (Devil Boy), Ruby Buchanan (Dowager), Jimmy Gardner (Ancient), Roy Evans (Eyepatch), Edward Marsen (Lame Fiddler), Jim Brown (Blind Fiddler), and Jim Carter (Second Husband). George Fenton composed the original music. Neil Jordan wrote the screenplay from Angela Carter's story. Neil Jordan directed.

The choice of music and sound becomes part of what the movie conveys. Classical and Irish music goes well with THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, creating the eerie ethereal atmosphere for the movie. In the wedding scene there is a good mix of classical and carnival music, re-enforcing the paradox amid the chaos of the ensuing horror brewing in the pack of wolves.

Music Track listing

1. "The Message And Main Theme"
2. "Rosaleen's First Dream"
3. "The Story Of The Bride And Groom: The Village Wedding/The Return Of The Groom"
4. "The Forest And The Huntsman's Theme"
5. "The Wedding Party"
6. "The Boy And The Devil"
7. "One Sunday Afternoon"
8. "All The Better To Eat You With: Arriving At Granny's Cottage/The Promise And Transformation"
9. "The Wolfgirl"
10. "Liberation"

Good acting in the movie definitely adds to the power of the story. Sarah Patterson and Angela Lansbury do an excellent job. The entire cast is impressive, even the priest in the trees. Special effects used in the movie are a little outdated by today's digital-age standards. However, the incredible setting, scenery shots, and props successfully maintain the enchanting atmosphere required by the story. Almost everything in the movie is deliberate. Grandma's head is supposed to shatter, because it was intended to be symbolic.

It's difficult to make sense of THE COMPANY OF WOLVES, but it is frequently quite funny, and often meant to be. The special-effects people come up with a couple of comparatively conventional, horror-film decapitations and several unconventional ways in which men can turn into wolves on camera. This Red Riding Hood, sharing a single-room cabin with her mother and father, witnesses what in analysis is usually called ''the primal scene.'' The next morning she asks her mother if her father had hurt her. Mother answers, ''If there's a beast in men, it meets its match in women, too.''

The wolves are also a key to understanding this superficially puzzling film. It is very important that not all of the wolves in the film are male. The beast in women that Rosaleen's mother assures her daughter of is a feminist rebuke of the young woman as hapless victim--as sexual prey for a predatory male. These assurances also become fantastical reality later in the film. After Rosaleen's huntsman is reduced to a rather tame and whimpering wolf, she pets him and tells him the tale of a she-wolf before becoming one herself. Rosaleen's transformation seems both voluntary and freeing. It offers us a definitive reversal of the victim role in which Red Riding Hood and those interchangeable female horror film characters are typically cast. Although it is a lurid horror film, THE COMPANY OF WOLVES does not simply play on or reinforce the sexual anxieties of its audience. Instead, it presents both sides of sexuality, both threatening and desirable, as well as a level playing field for both genders.

Filming took place at Shepperton studios in England, with a cast primarily made up of British actors. THE COMPANY OF WOLVES found an appreciative audience among audiences and critics in the UK, but its US release was a disaster. Cannon bought the distribition rights and tried to market it as a gory horror film. There are some gruesome moments, but this movie would never satisfy an audience looking for cheap thrills. Financially, the film only broke even on its opening weekend in the U.S., having been made for approximately $2 million and taking $2,234,776 in 995 theaters. However, in total, the film took over $4 million in the U.S.

Critics generally responded positively to the film's aesthetics. Feminist critic Maggie Anwell decried the film for its over-emphasis on bloody werewolf special effects, but Charlotte Crofts argued that the film is a sensitive adaptation of Carter's reworking of Charles Perrault's "Little Red Riding Hood" fairytale. The film won one award for best film and best special effects and was nominated for four BAFTAs for costume design, make up, production design/art direction and special visual effects.

In the DVD commentary, Neil Jordan notes the difficulty of having to create the look of the film on a limited budget, having to create a fairytale forest out of "twelve trees." He nevertheless succeeded in creating a sunless, mystical, wondrous and claustrophobic setting saturated with fantastic elements and symbols. The script required a great number of wolves to appear. However, due to budgetary constraints and other factors such as cast safety, most of the "wolves" shown in the film are Belgian Shepherd Dogs, mainly Terveurens and Groenendals, whose fur was specially dyed. In the DVD commentary for the film, Jordan notes the bravery of young star Sarah Patterson when acting among the genuine wolves. Using particular light angles, the eyes of both real and "shepherd" wolves are made to glow dramatically in the film.

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