Blu-ray Review: The Company of Wolves / Cert: 18 / Director: Neil Jordan / Screenplay: Angela Carter, Neil Jordan / Starring: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea, David Warner / Release Date: October 22nd
Before he hit his stride with Mona Lisa and The Crying Game, Neil Jordan made this unusual movie, an essay in the sort of lush Gothic artificiality to which he was to return with much greater commercial success in Interview with the Vampire. Co-scripted by Jordan with Angela Carter and drawing on her excellent short story collection The Bloody Chamber, it has as ingenious Chinese box structure: Rosaleen (Patterson), a modern-day girl, has a feverish dream in which she's a Little Red Riding Hood-like character living in a village in the woods, and in that dream we hear various tales about the bad things that happen when you stray off the path…
Source of most of these tall stories is her garrulous and moralistic Granny (Lansbury), who warns her about the wolves that prey on young girls, the ones who are “hairy on the outside” and the others, much deadlier and harder to spot, who are “hairy on the inside”. Eventually, Rosaleen has her own encounter with a werewolf, but it doesn't play out quite the way it does in children's books.
The look of the film is highly theatrical, a throwback to Hammer and Mario Bava, most of the action taking place on shallow, crowded sets matted with dead leaves and veiled in cobwebs and mist. But the quaint pictorial charm is undercut by plenty of graphic gore and eye-popping SFX. These culminate in several set-piece man-to-wolf transformations that employ what were then state of the art animatronics and prosthetics, including a great moment when a man tears his own face off and another when a furry muzzle comes bursting, phallically, out of a character's mouth.
With all this going on, you might expect the acting to get swamped, but young Patterson keeps the attention firmly on herself, stumbling prettily through the woods with wide eyes and an insolent pout. The standout turn, though, comes from Lansbury (with a perm and John Lennon specs), cheerily trotting out all kinds of blood-curdling lore in a lilting Irish brogue.
Inevitably, the film now seems very much of its time, but Angela Carter's sexually charged take on the werewolf story is still enjoyably provocative (the counter-argument to Granny's hysterics is put by Rosaleen's mother, who asserts that the beast in men meets its match in women). And, while Jordan's direction can't quite catch the sensuality of Carter's prose, it delivers more than its fair share of strange and magical moments. With its rich visuals and an ear-caressing score by George Fenton, this is a movie that was meant for Blu-ray, and it deserves to be remembered as one of the more ambitious and thoughtful British films of the '80s.
Extras: Jordan Commentary / Trailer / Stills Gallery / Behind the scenes dossier