Let's all thank god for Neil Jordan. Not only did he bring Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire to the screen in an uncompromising, superb adaptation, but way back at the start of his career he also brought us this mini-masterpiece about werewolves.
The setup is simple. A teenage girl in a country manor falls asleep while reading a magazine (with a cover story entitled "the shattered dream" -- a subtle hint to some of the themes of this movie), and she has a disturbing dream involving wolves which appears to take place in the woods visible from her bedroom window. It begins with a girl being chased down by a pack of wolves and killed, then we move to her funeral and discover she had a sister. The sister is your typical inquisitive girl just blossoming into womanhood, and her wise old grandmother tells her stories about men changing into wolves, with the message that all men are beasts. These stories make the girl uncomfortable about the advances of a local boy, and later a charming nobleman, and her perceptions of her parent's love life don't help. As the town becomes more and more terrified by the danger of wolf attacks, they begin to unearth evidence that there are in fact werewolves out in the woods. These findings and her own active imagination lead the girl to come up with her own werewolf stories. And when she is sent out through the woods with a red cloak and basket to visit her grandmother, you just know that there's going to be trouble ...
The Company of Wolves is a well-made, smart and highly original piece of work, and it is this movie that got Irish director Neil Jordan noticed internationally. The surreal, dream-like atmosphere of the movie is both superb and engaging, and the metaphorical nature of the movie is reasonably subtle. It is about a young girl's coming-of-age, trying to decide whether or not all men are in fact beasts when she still isn't quite sure exactly what they want from her.
Generally, werewolf movies made by European film-makers tend to have more substance and more familiarity with actual werewolf folklore -- it is part of our history after all, while Hollywood has had to create it's own werewolf myth over the years. This is probably the best British werewolf movie, followed by Dog Soldiers and Curse of the Werewolf, but even American classics like The Wolf Man and of course An American Werewolf in London, had to be set in Britain.
The lead role is played by Sarah Patterson, a young girl in her debut role at just 12 years old. After this she only appeared in one more movie (Snow White, also in the Canon Movie Tales series) then for some reason gave up on movie acting. She would certainly have had a successful career after this, you would think. The supporting actors also do good jobs, particularly Micha Bergese as the huntsman and Angela Lansbury as the creative grandmother. Other well-known names appear here in smaller roles, including Brian Glover (the yorkshireman from American Werewolf), David Warner, Stephen Rea and Terence Stamp.
It currently ranks as one of my all-time favourite werewolf movies, and I expect it to grow on me even more over time. I can recommend this without any reservation.
As a very young child in Mexico I was shown this movie by my abuelita (grandmother) and so started my werewolf obsession....Seriously!
This movie is one of the best and one of the scariest werewolf movies out there. I love all the deliciousness of this movie. The way every story seems to enthrall and scare the viewer. The special effects for the wolves and the morphs are extremely well done and the music and the all together atmosphere set this whole movie to be one BIG BAD thriller!!!
Be warned -- Neil Jordan's movie is packed so full of werewolf folklore that it just might make your head explode. But hey, it'll be worth it.
My original impression was that this was going to be a kind of "compilation" movie of short stories based on werewolf myths, but while there are indeed a lot of these tales told, there is also a strong narrative. The stories are just there to add some flavour. All of the werewolves here are men who change into actual wolves, in keeping with most of European werewolf mythology (biped werewolves are only very rarely depicted). And the sign of a werewolf, the grandmother says, is that his eyebrows meet. In one story she tells, a young boy sells his soul to the devil in return for a magical salve which he rubs onto his skin. He starts to grow hair on his chest (see second photo down), then is consumed by the forest. This scene is like something right out of European folklore.
There are three main transformation sequences in this movie, all achieved through physical means (see photos below). The first two are parts of stories, one told by the grandmother and one thought up by the girl. In the first, a man returns to his wife after years spent as a wolf, and finds that she's married another man. He becomes upset and begins to change into a wolf, tearing off his skin to reveal a bloody skeleton which then morphs into a wolf. At this point the new husband walks in and slices off his head (see top photo). The models here are nowhere near as convincing as American Werewolf, but it's still a pretty cool scene. The second transformation scene looks more convincing, as it viewed through a distorted, broken mirror. An entire party of aristocracy are transformed into wolves mid-meal by a witch. And in the final transformation, the wolf literally 'emerges' from within a man, exploding through his mouth. This idea is very in keeping with werewolf folklore, and it looks great.