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  Company Of Wolves, The Dread Riding Hood
Year: 1984
Director: Neil Jordan
Stars: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Tusse Silberg, Micha Bergese, Brian Glover, Graham Crowden, Kathryn Pogson, Stephen Rea, Georgia Slowe, Susan Porrett, Shane Johnstone, Dawn Archibald, Richard Morant, Danielle Dax, Terence Stamp, Jim Carter
Genre: Horror, FantasyBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 3 votes)
Review: Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) is a young teenage girl who lives with her family on a country estate in the forest, but today she is not feeling well. In spite of her parents arriving back, she does not go to greet them, much to the disdain of her sister Alice (Georgia Slowe) who runs up to Rosaleen's bedroom and knocks on the door, hissing "Pest!" at her through it. But if the girl hears, she does not respond, as she is fast asleep and suffering a series of strange dreams that verge on nightmares, beginning with a vision of Alice being chased through the forest by wolves. She will not escape...

It's difficult to come up with much that's new in the field of werewolf movies, but Neil Jordan and his co-writer Angela Carter did just that with The Company of Wolves by taking the traditional fairy tales of childhood and exposing the sexual subtext in them. You might think this was something of a stretch, but the film concerns itself with its main character's sexual awakening which largely adopts the form of a deep-seated fear of what awaits her when she finally loses her virginity. Potentially this is dodgy territory, but any sleaziness is undercut by the remarkably sustained atmosphere of fables, helped hugely by Anton Furst's glorious production design.

When this first came out, it was often compared to then-recent werewolf efforts such as An American Werewolf in London or The Howling, because Jordan staged a few effects sequences where people are transformed into lycanthropes. In truth, it's apparent the budget was not as high here as it was on Hollywood productions and the puppetry is obvious, yet this is mitigated by the imaginative aims of having, say, a long-missing groom return to his wife and tear off his skin all the better to change into wolf form, or a huntsman opening his mouth only for a lupine snout to be forced out. You can forgive the more blatant-looking fakery when the vision is so dedicated.

But it's men who get a very bad reputation from this film, as seen by Rosaleen dreaming that she is in a fairy tale and her Granny (Angela Lansbury great in a creepy-funny role) continually warning her to stick to the path and don't stray: she might as well be telling her that all men are after one thing so don't trust a single one of them. The idea of romantic love is given short shrift, as none of the men are a respectable match for the women they end up involved with, mainly because if they're not mediocre and lecherous then they're actual werewolves. The pattern this presents is a series of horror stories on this theme, all mounted in the larger woodland village narrative that the dream Rosaleen is inhabiting.

For as much as The Company of Wolves is about sexual feelings, it is also about storytelling and how these simple tales can relate so much about our hopes and fears; granted, it's mostly about the fears in this. The Little Red Riding Hood analogies reach their most obvious conclusion when Rosaleen goes to visit Granny in the woods and is distracted by a handsome huntsman (Micha Bergese) whose eyebrows revealingly meet in the middle. Yet while this is all very clever, it is peopled by such symbolic characters that you never grow quite as involved as you might have wanted, and there's a two-dimensional feel to them which is at odds with the psychology that they are made to bear. It's a very arch fantasy all round, and the treatment of male sexuality as something animal and predatory isn't especially flattering when it puts the female counterpart on such a pedestal. Music by George Fenton.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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