Monday, November 23, 2015

#1,925. The Company of Wolves (1984) - The Films of Neil Jordan

Directed By: Neil Jordan

Starring: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner

Tag line: "The desire... the fantasy... the nightmare"

Trivia: Neil Jordan named his production company after this film

Based on a short story by Angela Carter (who also co-wrote the screenplay), The Company of Wolves is a dark, gothic retelling of Little Red Riding Hood that at the same time puts a new and exciting spin on the werewolf mythos, presenting the creature in ways few films have before.

Asleep in her bedroom, young Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) dreams that she and her family - father (David Warner), mother (Tusse Silberg), and older sister Alice (Georgia Slowe) - inhabit the world of make-believe, living as peasants in what appears to be an 18th century village. 

When Alice is killed by a pack of wild wolves, her grief-stricken parents send Rosaleen to stay with her Grandmother (Angela Lansbury) for a few days. During their time together, Grandmother tells Rosaleen a number of stories, all of which center on werewolves, while also revealing the three most important rules for surviving in the forest:

1. Never stray from the path
2. Never eat a windfall apple, and
3. Never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle

Giving her a red-hooded cape that she initially knit for Alice, Grandmother kisses Rosaleen goodbye and sends her back to her parents.

Over the next several months, Rosaleen realizes that her Grandmother’s stories were more than simple legends. While out walking with a neighbor’s son (Shane Johnstone), she spots a large wolf, which is then hunted by her father and the other men in the village. They manage to trap and kill the beast, only to receive the surprise of a lifetime. 

Some time later, Rosaleen, while on her way to Grandmother’s to deliver supplies, encounters a huntsman (Micha Bergese) in the middle of the forest. Though his eyebrows meet in the middle, she finds herself drawn to this stranger, and even accepts his wager that he will somehow get to grandmother’s house before she does.

With its impressive set design, awesome special effects, and a grandiose performance by Angela Lansbury, The Company of Wolves works quite well as a retelling of Little Red Riding Hood.  It’s the movie’s “other” segments, however, i.e. the reenactments of the various stories told first by Grandmother then by Rosaleen herself, that make this Neil Jordan-directed fantasy / horror film a true treasure. 

With tales ranging from the frightening (the first, about a traveler played by Stephen Rea who marries a pretty young woman then disappears into the night, features what is easily one of the most shocking werewolf transformations I’ve ever seen) to the darkly comic (a wedding feast is interrupted by a peasant girl the groom had impregnated and tossed aside, and her revenge against both he and his prestigious guests will bring a smile to your face), these segments are every bit as important as the main story in establishing both this fantastic, unusual world and the people / creatures that populate it.

From start to finish, Jordan infuses The Company of Wolves with a dreamlike quality; even the opening credits, supposedly set in the "real world", feature elements (swooping camera movements, foggy exteriors) that suggest all is not as it seems. Toss in not one, but two amazing transformation sequences, both of which belong in the conversation alongside Rick Baker's groundbreaking work in An American Werewolf in London, and you have an occasionally gorgeous, often disturbing werewolf film that continues to impress to this day.

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