The Company of Wolves is about all the things we scare our children with to prepare them for adulthood, and how those things can be taken completely differently than we imagined.
To create the movie, Angela Carter teamed up with another writer: The film was director and novelist Neil Jordan‘s second feature. The result is a sumptuous, creepy story that arouses as much as it scares. It gives us back something of that innocence of youth while exciting our other senses as we are put in the shoes of Rosaleen, our Little Red Riding Hood.
Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) is seen sleeping in a large house that could easily be in our world. She has a mother (Tusse Silberg) and a father (David Warner), just arriving home, and an older sister (Georgia Slowe) who does not speak to her very kindly. After pushing their large German Shepard away from whining at her sister’s door, she yells at her through the closed door. The girl, slumbering in what has to be one of the creepiest 80s bedrooms on film, begins to dream. Naturally, the first event of her dream is the death of her sister by wolves.
Through out the movie, her grandmother (Angela Lansbury) tells her terrifying stories about the nature of wolves, but also the nature of men. In her first story, a woman is abandoned and then threatened by one man, and then abused by the second. Things follow down this cheery logic for the rest of the film as the grandmother attempts to warn her beloved granddaughter away from the men who “have wolves inside them”. Repeatedly, wolves will be shown as analogous to the cruelties expected of men in romantic relationships.
When it’s time for Rosaleen to tell her own stories, they are about men abandoning women, but they also have a tinge of the girl’s spirit: there is a healthy dose of vengeance in them. It is at this point her mother steps in with her own advice and guidance. The final story, the ending of our its one of love, albeit a forbidden one.
The set is a beautifully enclosed town and forest that could both be completely controlled and believable enough as an ecosystem that the small interpersonal dramas taking place on screen become real. Artists who worked on the film were later brought onto projects like Stanley Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket and Tim Burton’s Batman. It’s a shame that a film with so much careful design and talent ingrained into it is not more well known and referenced.
Beyond the hyper-realism of its fairy tale setting, it is also a uniquely 80s piece of cinema: There’s an appearance by post-punk English star Danielle Dax and Andy Warhol was originally tapped for the role of the Devil in the film, but the shooting locations made this impossible for him.
The final scene has to have more dogs running through an enclosed space than any other film in history. It’s a change from the original ending, which Jordan claimed would be impossible with the technology available at the time it was shot. This is an interesting comment, as the special effects are immensely felt. Like the body horror of a stretching and flesh-stripping transformation made famous by the 1981 hit An American Werewolf in London, Company of Wolves provides several prolonged transformation scenes, with even grittier details.
After this, watch: Alice (1988), Barbe Bleue (2009), Labyrinth (1986), Sleepy Hollow (1999)