The Company of Wolves (1984) ***
Here’s a weird little movie for you. The Company of Wolves is basically a combination of three factors: werewolves, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sigmund Freud. It is extremely stylish, if somewhat pretentious, and is almost unique in that it is explicitly a dream from the very beginning-- one of the first things that we see is a close-up of a girl asleep in her bed, and the camera often returns to her between scenes. No last-minute, “it was all just a dream” cop-out resolutions here; you know what you’re dealing with the whole time. The fact that the movie is supposed to take place entirely within the subconscious of a teenage girl (who appears to be suffering from some sort of malady, either physical or psychological-- nobody healthy sleeps that much) makes it easier to excuse some of its sillier aspects; after all, dreams aren’t really supposed to make sense.
In essence, this is the story of Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson), a girl in what seems to be the middle ages, whose sister was killed by wolves. It is simultaneously a parable of sexual awakening. From either perspective, there isn’t really much action as such. After the death of her sister, Rosaleen starts spending a lot of time with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury, from The Picture of Dorian Gray and the 1944 Gaslight), who knits her a knee-length, hooded, red shawl and tells her lots of stories about werewolves, all of them thinly disguised warnings about how dangerous the male sex drive is. Ultimately, Grandma’s wisdom boils down to three maxims: the most dangerous kind of wolf is hairy on the inside, never stray from the path, and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet. Rosaleen is at the same time being courted by a boy about her age (Shane Johnstone), who takes her for walks in the woods. On one of these walks, the couple go against Grandma’s advice, stray from the path, and promptly get separated. Rosaleen goes off climbing trees while the boy searches for her, and finds instead a mangled cow and a great big wolf. He runs home (crying wolf, by the way), is immediately set upon by the villagers for leaving Rosaleen, and is spared a major ass-kicking only by the girl’s timely return. Naturally, the villagers round up a posse to go hunt down the wolf-- who knows, it might even be the same one that killed Rosaleen’s sister. The wolf is caught in a pit trap and shot to death, and Rosaleen’s father (David Warner, of Body Bags and The Island) cuts off its forepaw as a trophy. If you can’t see what’s coming, you haven’t watched many werewolf movies. Yeah, the paw has turned into a human hand by the time he gets home to show it off to his family.
From here on out, the movie pretty much follows the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Rosaleen sets off with a basket of food and wine for Grandma, naturally wearing her red shawl. In the woods, she encounters a traveling hunter (Micha Bergese, who later had a very small role in Interview with the Vampire), an oily Guido type whose eyebrows meet above his nose. He convinces Rosaleen to picnic with him out in the woods (they eat Grandma’s lunch and drink her wine), and shows her his magnetic compass. The hunter tells Rosaleen that, with his compass, he can never get lost, no matter how far off the path he might roam. She doesn’t believe him, and they make a bet that he can get to Grandma’s house before she can if he cuts through the woods while she stays on the path. If you remember the fairy tale, you know what happens next. The twist is that when the villagers (led to Grandma’s house by Rosaleen’s boyfriend, who must have suspected something was up-- don’t ask me why) arrive on the scene, they discover not one, but two wolves, one of them wearing the necklace that Rosaleen’s mother gave her just before she left. Both wolves flee into the forest under a hail of arquebus fire, and run (with a whole pack mysteriously in tow) clear through the woods and into the bedroom of the dreaming girl.
So you see that we’re dealing with a mighty peculiar flick here. It really is far more entertaining than it sounds in synopsis, drawing more strength than you might imagine from the fact that it operates according to the logic of dreams rather than that of movies. There are all manner of weird anachronisms and continuity holes, but somehow it seems like they’re supposed to be there, and for the most part, it is easy to take the movie on its own bizarre terms. The acting is good, if a bit underplayed (but, hey, what do you expect from a British movie?), and the directing is solid enough to pull the whole trick off. As an interesting side note, look for English pop star Danielle Dax as the naked werewolf chick in the story that Rosaleen tells near the end.