Full Moon Features: The Company of Wolves

Craig J. Clark — Sep. 7th 2014

In September 1984, Neil Jordan’s horror-fantasy The Company of Wolves was screened at the Toronto Film Festival and then went into general release in the UK, giving the Canucks and the Brits a jump on their Yank counterparts since we didn’t get it in the States until the following April. Based on the short story of the same name by Angela Carter, published in the collection The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories, Carter and Jordan’s screenplay for The Company of Wolves greatly expanded on its themes and gave Jordan a taste for the fantastic that he would revisit in such subsequent films as High Spirits, Interview with the Vampire, Ondine, and Byzantium. He has yet to make another werewolf movie, though, which is a major failing on his part.

More than just a retelling of “Little Red Riding Hood” with an emphasis on the psycho-sexual subtext, The Company of Wolves is also a tale about a young girl’s awakening sexuality — several tales, in fact. The film starts in modern day, where Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) dreams about a pack of wolves attacking her hated sister, then we enter her dream, which takes place in a fairy tale world, but never fully. Jordan periodically cuts back to Patterson tossing and turning in bed to remind us that everything we’re seeing is being generated by her subconscious. (In a way, it would make an excellent double feature with Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, which came out around the same time.)

The well-qualified cast is headed up by Angela Lansbury as Rosaleen’s granny, who tells her stories full of warnings about men whose eyebrows meet and wolves that are hairy on the inside, with David Warner as her father, who’s at a loss with his daughter in both the real and the dream world. Other recognizable faces include An American Werewolf in London veteran Brian Glover as the father of a neighbor boy who takes a liking to Rosaleen (who, of course, has no time for him), Graham Crowden as a kindly old priest, Kathryn Pogson as the young bride in one of Lansbury’s tales, who marries traveling man Stephen Rea, who “answers the call of nature” one night and doesn’t come back, an uncredited Jim Carter as the man Pogson marries in his stead, and an uncredited Terence Stamp as the Devil, who appears in a flashy car to tempt a young man in the forest. If that last part doesn’t seem to make sense, remember it’s in a story being told by a girl in her own dream. With all the different levels of fantasy and reality, things are bound to get a little mixed up.

To date, the only Region 1 DVD release of The Company of Wolves is the bare-bones disc put out by Hen’s Tooth Video over a decade ago. As such, it lacks the director’s commentary that was included on the Region 2 disc released in 2005. Amazon also lists a region-free Blu-ray, but it is apparently special features-free as well, so let the buyer beware.

Up Next: For October, a double bill that’s a real scream.

  • Lew

    I really need to revisit this one – it’s a classic, and it’s so very surreal and different from the usual werewolf movie. It’s been years since I watched. I remember being confused by it the first time but it grew on me, and I imagine I’d get a lot more out of it now than as a teenager. The most vivid part in my memory is the stomach-churning skin-ripping transformation scene, which is one of the rare things in a movie that really made me feel sick enough to throw up (the fingernails falling off in Cronenberg’s “The Fly” and Blomkamp’s “District 9” are the others).

  • Hooded Justice

    The first time I saw this was when it was on television, so the transformation scene was almost entirely cut out. It wasn’t until I rented it that I saw it in all its gory glory. I’ve hesitated about buying the DVD, though, because I’m waiting for the definitive version. Perhaps it’s time to start petitioning Criterion to finally add a werewolf film to its Collection.

  • Lew

    They have the potential for some amazing special features, I imagine. I also have to give this movie points for introducing me to Angela Carter’s writing!

  • Hooded Justice

    Agreed. Her work is amazing.