Wolfen (1981)

wolfen poster 1981 movie
8.0 Overall Score
Story: 8/10
Acting: 8/10
Visuals: 8/10

Different type of wolf movie

Don't expect a werewolf or flashy transformation

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Wolfen

Studio:  Warner Brothers

Genre(s):  Horror/Mystery/Suspense

Release Date(s):  July 24, 1981

MPAA Rating:  R

wolfen werewolf skinwalker wolf

Get out of our place!

A rich industrialist socialite, his wife, and driver are all murdered in a bloody attack in the Battery on Manhattan.  Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) is called in with Rebecca Neff (Diana Venora) and Wittington (Gregory Hines) to investigate the murders.  With no suspects or motives, more murders begin to occur, and each is more savage then the last.  Dewey tracks the murders to a Native American named Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos) would could be a potential suspect…but who or what are the Wolfen?

Directed by Michael Wadleigh, Wolfen is a horror thriller.  The film is based on the 1978 novel The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber.  The film was released to mostly positive reviews and fared well at the box office.

wolfen edward james olmos transformation

It’s all in your mind…

Wolfen is one of the strangest werewolf (?) movies you’ll see.  Even when it was released, a big debate arose about what type of film this was.  Is it a thriller?  Is it a straight horror movie?  Is it a fantasy?  While the murders are as the title indicated performed by wolves, the wolves aren’t werewolves per se but shapeshifters or even channeled spirits.  Due to aspects of the story, a ******spoiler alert****** is in effect for the rest of the review.

The story of Wolfen does build a lot of suspense.  With a seemingly unstoppable wild killer, the endangerment of Dewey, Rebecca, and Wittington grows.  Sometimes, they act stupidly (putting themselves out in the middle of danger), but often in the movie, there is no hope of survival from the killers that are just as smart as humans and more deadly.  In addition to these fears, for much of the movie, you don’t know the role of Eddie Holt and his people, and if they could be the killers.  Also, rather than stopping the monsters in the end, the monsters continue to prowl the streets of New York and other cities.

wolfen ending albert finney heat vision


Wolfen is given a great cast.  Albert Finney adds some class to the story and depth to his character and it is nice that movie casts Diane Venora as a pretty strong female lead with him (Dustin Hoffman wanted the role but was turned down because the director had wanted to work with Finney).  Gregory Hines is the “hip” cop (hey, he has an ear ring…isn’t that cool!) and Tom Noonan plays the crazed wolf-loving (to a stupid level) zoologist who helps them.  The movie also features a younger Edward James Olmos as the possible criminal Eddie Holt who jumps around like a naked madman.  There is also an uncredited appearance by Tom Waits as a drunken bar owner but his scene was largely cut.

wolfen ending dick oneill killed

Uh…car’s taken?

The effects for Wolfen are so-so.  The movie looks great, and it was an interesting choice to have the “wolf-vision” to show the Wolfen’s perspective (an early use of heat sensor that was used much more heavily in movies like Predator).  Without real werewolves, there is no real “werewolf transformation”, though Edward James Olmos almost gives you the idea that you are going to get one for a moment.  The movie also benefits from a number of great looking trained wolves.

Wolfen is definitely an interesting horror movie with a different perspective.  The idea and exploration of the true owners of the land feels topical again as the rights of indigenous people are receiving more attention, and Native American myths like that of the Navaho skin-walkers is untouched (even if it might not truly be presented correctly).  The horror builds nicely and the movie is very tense.  You might be expecting a true werewolf movie when you see the title, but with Wolfen, you get something entirely unexpected.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

Leave A Response