Tuesday, September 4, 2018

Forgotten Frights: Wolf (1994)

At last... a horror film about office politics!

By Daniel Epler

One weird thing about the horror fan community, and something I love about it, is there's always someone praising just about any given movie. Forgotten or disregarded films of the past are constantly getting reassessed and reevaluated. This fact has lead to the common embrace of films like Halloween III and Friday the 13th Part 5. However, back in 1994 a prestige horror film with a very high pedigree was released.... and I never hear people talking about it. The one in which the great Jack Nicholson plays a werewolf business man!

Wolf follows the story of Publisher Will Randall (Jack Nicholson) as he struggles with trying to gain his prestigious job back, and a serious case of werewolfism. While it's easy to make fun of this movie for being so much about office politics, and I know I did in my first line, the movie is really at it's best when that's all it's about. It's really not a bad drama when Jack Nicholson, an actor I love, is struggling with his double crossing protegee (the terrifically slimy James Spader) and coming up with whatever devious methods he can to come out on top in the business world, all the while trying to romance the beautiful Michelle Pfeiffer. This doesn't make for a great film, but certainly a very watchable one.

The problem with Wolf is that it's also a werewolf movie. The movie came out around the same time as Coppola's Dracula and the same year as Branagh's Frankenstein. It was that weird blip in Hollywood in history when monster movies were trying to be respected prestige pictures. Wolf is obviously leaning into that, but it tries so hard to be respectable that it leans too far away from being a traditional werewolf movie. Dracula (1992) was incredibly successful all while leaning SO HARD into being a horror movie. That film has crazy monster effects, bloody violence, outrageous Gothic atmosphere, and delicious pulpy trash. It's about as "Dracula" as Dracula gets, and is one of my favorite movies. Wolf is so far from that it even dances around saying the word "werewolf" so much that it becomes ridiculous.

This attitude leads the film to have very disappointing werewolf effects (despite the fact that Rick Baker worked on them), and werewolf rules that make little sense. Is a werewolf a murderous animistic beast? Sometimes. Is the human actually in control on the werewolf? Also sometimes. Whatever the plot needs, basically. Instead of focusing on the tragedy of being a werewolf (like the best werewolf movies do), this movie decides to manufacture a comic-book-movie villain in the third act so we can get a very.... very.... poorly done final battle scene (for people like me that aren't crazy about slow motion shots, you may find yourself very annoyed). I suppose it's nice that Wolf tries to do something completely different for the subgenre, but it misses just what makes the subgenre work.

I know it may seem strange to write a piece on a mostly forgotten horror film and point out why it's not very good. Well even so, I like to keep the conversation alive about older films, for better or worse. Despite all the films flaws, it still holds a place in werewolf cinema history, and should be discussed as such. 

Welcome to Forgotten Frights! 

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