The Company of Wolves Still Creepy and Alluring
By Kristin Battestella
I vaguely remember seeing 1984’s The Company of Wolves cut up as a kid. Deemed too sexual and kinky back in the day, this quiet little dark fantasy has survived with weird tales, slinky werewolves, and fine storytelling.
In her dreams, Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) lives a harrowing story of charm and fear. Her sister (Georgia Slowe) is killed by wolves, so her parents (David Warner and Tuss Silberg) send Rosaleen to live with her Granny (Angela Lansbury). Granny tells Rosaleen tales and warns her to beware of ‘wolves on the inside’ and traveling men-especially ones with bushy, connecting eyebrows. A boy (Shane Johnstone) in the village tries to charm Rosaleen as wolf attacks on the town rise. Unfortunately, on a return visit to Granny’s house, a Huntsman (Micha Bergese) charms Rosaleen. He bets he can make it to Granny’s house before her-and if he wins, Rosaleen must ‘give him a kiss’.
Understandably, The Company of Wolves might be too confusing for some. Its dream frame and story within a story packs an awful lot and can lose the not careful viewer. In some ways, however, the multiple characters and jumping from event to event add to the dream like, bizarre feelings Oscar winning director Neil Jordan (The Crying Game, Interview with a Vampire) is trying to create. It’s sexy, fun, weird- symbolic in some places yet all in good fun in others. The anachronistic nature of The Company of Wolves also aides the story in blurring the lines of dreams and reality- some of the storytelling gives us a break from Red Riding Hood stylings in favor of other creepy and ironic wolf tales. A woman’s husband disappears on their wedding night, only to return years later as a wolf; a jilted pregnant woman curses a wedding party and turns them into dogs; even the devil makes an appearance in a Rolls Royce to tempt us into beastly ways.
Writer Angela Carter’s adaptation from her own short story is to say simply, a treatment on the classic Little Red Riding Hood. This film, however, is so much more. Though it looks like a Saturday Morning story time in some places, The Company of Wolves is mature and dark. The sexual and womanly innuendos suggested by the Little Red Riding Hood tale are all here; from wolves and their ‘call of nature’ to Rosaleen’s first discovery of a mirror, lipstick, and eggs that hatch into baby dolls. Is Little Red Riding Hood merely a tale warning one not to talk to strangers or stray from the trusted and safe path- or is it a darker analysis of the predatory nature of man’s carnal desires for girls as they menstruate and grow into womanhood? The Company of Wolves critiques both views and delivers a kinky, satisfying blend of alluring werewolf men along with shuddering beastly horror. The ages of the cast also lend a pedophile bend on some scenes, and though everyone mocks Granny and her ‘old wives tales’- it turns out some of her methods are the word of the wise.
Murder She Wrote queen Angela Lansbury is a delight as the loveable and not so misguided old kook Granny. She’s suspicious, yes, and her outlandish stories are meant to warn as well as frighten, but she also has Rosaleen’s best interests at heart. Her delicate, porcelain style is perfect against her strong and feisty words. Lansbury’s voice and mannerisms create the perfect and wise little old lady. Perhaps she had her choice of roles, and one might wonder why the wholesome Jessica Fletcher would choose The Company of Wolves. It may be a departure for Lansbury, and her role is a little creepy but nonetheless charming.
Sarah Patterson (Snow White) is also a pleasant surprise as Rosaleen. She’s seems to have done little else, which is a bit of a shame. Her unknown status, however, helps in her portrayal of Rosaleen. She is this girl one hundred percent, but she can be any young daughter, sister, or friend. Patterson looks older than she is here, but still young enough for all this budding sexuality to be too creepy. When Rosaleen comments ‘What big teeth you have!’ it might be the best part of the film. David Warner (Titanic) and Tuss Silberg (The New Adventures of Robin Hood) combine for Rosaleen’s equally ambiguous parents. There’s something kinky about this sexually active couple, yet they are also fine, understand parents at this confusing time for Rosaleen.
Micha Bergese (Zina) doesn’t appear as the Huntsman until the final half hour, but his wolf in disguise is the nastiest, creepiest, sexiest, and most frightening werewolf since Quentin Collins. We know him when we seem him, but we can’t help but be charmed by him along with Rosaleen. He’s a little older than Sarah Patterson, adding to that statutory feeling. Likewise on the creepy are brief appearances by another Jordan favorite Stephen Rea (V for Vendetta, The End of the Affair) as a jilted wolf, Terrence Stamp (Smallville, The Phantom Menace) as the Devil, and singer Danielle Dax as a naked she wolf.
Classical music, fine costumes, and scary eyes go a long way in The Company of Wolves. The toys and stage like village sets are a little weak, but also atmospheric. It looks like an old time, scary show. This is all just a dream and people at play-or is it? The Company of Wolves is dark, but you can see everything amid the moonlight effects. Though made to look scary and creepy-eyed, many of the wolves in The Company of Wolves are obviously nothing more than decked out dogs. Some of slow motion wolf odes and running pack sequences are a little hokey and humorous, too. Yes this was a low budget eighties production, but The Company of Wolves trumps any bad effects with ethereal charm and a fine story.
The DVD doesn’t appear to have subtitles or little else beyond the film itself, and The Company of Wolves will look dated and on the cheap now to some audiences. Fans looking for all cool effects ala Underworld are not going to find it here. Others may find its sympathic wolf views a bit too weird, but lycanthrope-files will enjoy this picture time and again. Though styled as a Little Red Riding Hood tale, The Company of Wolves is not for kids or prudes. There’s a touch of R sex and nudity, and the overall sensual styles and budding sexual euphemisms are a bit too much for sensitive audiences. Scary and cool, The Company of Wolves is for anyone who’s ever wanted a mature, stylized, and intelligent take on the Big Bad Wolf. Sink those teeth into The Company of Wolves tonight.