Review: Wolfen (1981)


Originally published at:


By the 80s most people had film recorders but nobody but ILM had a film scanner, so high resolution “Weird vision” treatments had to be done on optical printers, the way they were done in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Predator “vision,” if I recall (and I was there), was done at video resolution and bumped up to film rez because a little bit of softness could be explained as part of the look. The Predator “cloaking effects” was done with concentric mattes pulled on an optical printer.

By the way, the VFX Supervisor of Predator, Joel Hynek, is the son of the UFOlogist Alan Hynek who coined the term "Close Encounters (of the various enumerated kinds)


If you want an engaging history of NYC real estate, take a look at Will Eisner’s graphic novel Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood. It actually looks at the Bronx from the time it was a colonial farm owned by the Bronks family up until urban renewal in the 1990s.


I finally watched Wolfen a few months ago, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Last time I had tried to watch it was in my teens, when I used to get hung up upon expectations. I assumed that it was yet another early 80s werewolf movie, such as American Werewolf in London, Howling, The Company of Wolves, etc. What I got instead was quite good, but I hadn’t the patience for it at the time.

What I didn’t get as a kid is how political Wolfen is, how lefty. This seems very on-topic right now. The anti-capitalist message is as strong and trenchant as Robocop’s (though nowhere near as funny), but came as its own brand of radical politics was collapsing, years before a new one formed.

Native Americans are the key to Dewey’s education, but their portrayal will be a stumbling block to modern viewers. They are wise yet poor. They drink at a bar called “The Wigwam”. Representation of spiritual beliefs hovers in an uncomfortable place between othering and idealization.

Very well put. This sums up much of my feelings about it more succinctly than I could say. It was a smarter movie than expected, and I do intend to watch it again.

AND you get to see Edward James Olmos dancing naked on a beach at night, pretending to turn into a wolf.


i loved this movie. i had a copy of the poster on my wall for ages… i might still have it rolled up somewhere.


How is it possible to put so many bits into this review and not mention Gregory Hines as the coroner? (Guess who dies next? “If violence comes, I’m ready. I’m a dead shot, and a karate expert.” Yup.)

He had been so much fun to watch in History of the World, I was eager to watch him take a dramatic turn in Wolfen. He brought an enjoyable touch of humanity to a dry role, similar to the bug researchers in Silence of the Lambs.


Will Eisner’s graphic novels along those lines are just excellent histories. Dropsie Avenue, A Contract with God, and his history of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion are all great reads and historically revealing.

[ETA] Correction on my part, Dropsie Avenue is part of A Contract with God collection.


I saw this first run, at a drive-in. Did not get it then, have never re-watched it. Suppose I will have to now.


Thanks. This is an underrated film, and on my list of must sees. There are only a few “horror” films on my list, but this near the top, with Aliens and of course, An American Werewolf in London. It’s absolutely more than a horror film, and must be seen to really appreciate. If you haven’t, you won’t be disappointed. As long as you remember that it was made nearly 40 years ago, of course.


Watched An American Werewolf in London with the kids and after they asked me why I thought it was great. I had no good answer. IMO it had aged badly, same as Blues Brothers (except the music). But Animal House and Trading Places still seem fresh.


Just re-saw this. First time since the early '90s, if not earlier. Probably enjoyed the music even more, but I kept asking myself, “Didn’t I used to laugh at this a lot more?”


Exactly so.


The latest edition of Contract with God includes three related books, all of which are good. But then, there’s always something good in the Eisner I’ve seen. Fagin the Jew is another late Eisner that talks directly to the rising anti-Semitism and racism of these times and his take on the Protocols is essential.


I was 10 and it was one of the first R-rated movies I can remember seeing as a kid. (Midnight Express was the first…man, I still remember the “Oh Billy!” boob shot!)

I don’t really remember Wolfen itself much but I do remember seeing it in the drive-in with my parents and being freaked out afterwards (not Jaws level of freak-out where I never let my arm dangle over the edge of the bed again but still the occasional nightmare type of freak out).


Just in case anyone’s “haven’t seen, must see” list has an open slot, consider The Puppet Masters (1994). Wanders from the Heinlein original a bit, but doesn’t suffer for doing so. Cast includes Donald Sutherland, Julie Warner, Keith David (The Thing), Will Patton (Armageddon, Falling Skies), Andrew Robinson (Dirty Harry, Deep Space Nine), Richard Belzer. Directed by Stuart Orme, a Brit director of rather anodyne films…except for this one.

There’s no gore, not much violence. Orme and the script do a good job of keeping the characters’ and the audience’s suspense in sync. Initially, we all wonder what’s going on…and after we find out, we just wanna know who can be trusted to help us make it stop. The suspense lasts right up till the final seconds. It’s like John Carpenter’s The Thing with no bloody monster (and better weather ; -)

(In the first 10-15 minutes, there’s a scene at a hastily built 2x4-and-plywood “See the UFO” attraction in some Iowa woods. If you live among trees IRL, the airy lighting and closed-in camera movement of that scene will give you the creeps for at least a week.)


Here’s a still from the even-lesser-known sequel, “Wolfen Stein”:


Saw this movie first run at the Paramount in Downtown Boston.One of scarier 80’s movies I’ve seen.You really need a big screen to appreciate that Wolfen-vision.


Update: The wolfen have given up on Earth and are heading up & out to find virgin territories:


The drive in when I saw it was also a double feature. I have to say this for Wolfen - I don’t remember what the other movie was even though I recall liking it better!


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