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The Company of Wolves (1984)

This was a recommend from my fantastic podcast listeners and man was it a surprise to me.  There’s been a huge surge in the “revisionist” fairy tale movement that shows no signs of stopping as evidenced by the numerous Snow White tales we have coming out this year alone.  This film does what movies like Red Riding Hood and even Twilight tried and failed to do.  The Company of Wolves was director Neil Jordan’s second film and made way before his hits like The Crying Game and Interview with the Vampire.  A look at the story of Red Riding Hood from the perspective of a young girl’s sexual awakening makes for a gory, Gothic fantasy that should be seen by everyone!

Told through the dreams of a sleeping girl, we meet 12-year-old Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) who dreams of a land where her older sister is killed by a wolf and she’s sent to live with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury).  Once there her grandmother tells her “never trust a man whose eyebrow’s meet” and details stories of men who are werewolves intent on leading young women astray.  As Rosaleen comes to grips with her sister’s death, she’s put on a path to have her own encounter with a wolf and hopefully the stories don’t prove true.

What Jordan accomplishes so well is the Gothic menace that pervades this film.  A lot of the aesthetic elements you see mimicked in Interview with the Vampire.  On a two million dollar budget the movie feels far grander and a classier version of Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theater (remember that show?).  On top of that the visual effects are terrifying for what they’re working with.  Considering that most werewolf films make or break on the transformation, the werewolf sequences are frightening, especially in the first story that Granny tells detailing a young groom (Stephan Rea) whose a vampire.  The film looks sumptuous and gloomy, yet sufficiently “fairy tale” and not a straight Gothic setting.

Fairy tales have always come under fire for how they portray women and this film takes the stance of portraying Little Red Riding Hood as a story of sexual awakening (which isn’t too far off the mark from the moral of the original story which warned women about meeting handsome strangers).  There’s been a few stories that deal with this, including the Canadian horror film Ginger Snaps and the recent drek Red Riding Hood.  Here, you have a young girl coming into her own and you see that with the copious images of white items turning to red, the blood, and the emphasis of makeup on her face.  The entire movie is told through Rosaleen’s dreams, connecting to Sleeping Beauty.  With that comes the numerous stories that involve exploring the dynamics of marriage, the fear of ending up “in a terrible way” (a child out-of-wedlock), the “feral” woman/she-wolf, and others.  Ultimately, the film culminates with an extremely tense, seductive, and uncomfortable sequence between Rosaleen and her own wolf, the Hunstmen (Micha Bergese).  The entire scene is intense and extremely sexual, yet throughout you have to remember Rosaleen (and the actress playing her) is 12!  Talk about having a Lolita moment here, yet it all leads to Rosaleen deciding whether to become a woman or not.

The Company of Wolves is a dark, sumptuous, and sexually charged fairy tale that focuses on femininity and the world of the werewolf. The movie doesn’t just show that men have their own inner beast, but women do as well.  It’s a must-watch for fans of Jordan’s work but also a great fairy tale.

Grade: A

Kristen Lopez View All

A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.

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