‘Wolf’ (1994) revisited

We took at look back at 1994’s Wolf starring Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer, recently re-released on Blu-Ray by Indicator.

In terms of blockbuster cinema 1994 was a very different time from today. Comic book adaptations were still a rarity, struggling to match the success of Tim Burton’s Batman films, the only comic book films to be released that season were The Shadow and The Mask, one of them was more successful than the other. The rest of that summer was dominated by the likes of True Lies, Speed and Forrest Gump. Films that whatever you may think of them today were all working from original scripts, not based on existing properties or following on from other ones.

Among these releases, and largely forgotten about, is Wolf. A Jack Nicholson and Michelle Pfeiffer horror thriller from the director of The Graduate released at the height of summer. It is hard to imagine a studio would pump so much cash and star power into a genre film, especially horror, today. Indicator’s recent blu-ray release serves as a gentle yet welcome reminder of a time when Hollywood was not dominated by brand recognition and liked to cater to adult audiences every once in a while.

To call it a horror thriller however is to oversell it somewhat. Although you have Jack Nicholson getting bitten by a wolf, gaining newfound athletic abilities and more of a backbone at his publishing job he also unfortunately develops a bushy pair of sideburns and an impressive underbite sporting a pair of fangs like Winston from Time Bandits. This is pretty much as horrific as it gets. Nichols was obviously more interested in the office politics and corporate backstabbing aspects of the story than that of a man losing his humanity and the transformative aspects that the great werewolf stories deal in.

To be fair however the film is never less than enjoyable and somewhat diverting. Nicholson manages easily to gain the audiences sympathy in the beginning and watching his take no shit attitude develop, particularly in regards to his boss Christopher Plummer and back-stabbing protégé James Spader is fun. This would have been a fine film in itself so when the lycanthrope angle raises its head its all a bit deflating, Nichols interest and enthusiasm seems to wane and as a result so does the audiences. The horror here is bloodless and carries no weight or even scares. Was Nichols ashamed of slumming it in such a genre? One wonders what the likes of directors like John Landis or Joe Dante would have come up with if such a project came their way in those days, or even Abel Ferrara when he was at the height of flirting with the mainstream in the mid-nineties.

Pfeiffer, coming off the double whammy of Batman Returns and The Age of Innocence, does as well as she can with the thankless task of token female who has to play love interest to a man nearly twice her age and then later damsel in distress from a sadly ridiculous looking James Spader, who ends up looking like a feral “Eddie Munster”, a sad waste of Rick Baker’s talents echoed by the man himself in the documentary included here on the Blu-Ray. Fun however can be had in spotting a number of pre-fame appearances by the likes of David Schwimmer, Alison Janney and even Richard Jenkins, who looks the same age here as he does nearly a quarter of a century later.

This is a film of two parts, one more successful than the other and sadly it’s the part that the film was sold as that is a missed opportunity. Nevertheless it’s a welcome reminder of an age gone by when every second big studio film wasn’t released by Disney/Marvel. Indicator have done well by the film releasing it along with the rest of their impressive catalogue with a neat package of extras including the hour-long documentary with considerable input and insight from Rick Baker, producer Douglas Wick and screenwriter Wesley Strick. Far from essential but an interesting reminder of a time in cinema when films were mainly sold on star power and not brand recognised IPs

Indicator Limited Edition Special Features

• High Definition remaster
• 5.1 surround sound track
• Alternative stereo audio
• The Beast Inside: Creating ‘Wolf’ (2017, 54 mins): a new documentary on the making of the film with new interviews from SFX legend Rick Baker, screenwriter Wesley Strick and producer Douglas Wick
• Never-before-seen archival interviews with actors Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader and Kate Nelligan
• Never-before-seen archival interviews with director Mike Nichols, producer Douglas Wick and writer Jim Harrison
• Never-before-seen archival interviews with SFX maestro Rick Baker and production designer Bo Welch
• B-roll footage
• Original theatrical trailer
• Image gallery: on-set and promotional photography
• New and improved English subtitles for the deaf and hard-of-hearing
• Limited edition exclusive booklet with a new essay by Brad Stevens, an overview of contemporary critical responses, and historic articles on the film
• UK premiere on Blu-ray
• Limited Blu-ray Edition of 3,000 copies

❉ ‘Wolf’ Limited Blu-ray Edition (UK Blu-ray premiere) is still in stock in limited quantities from Indicator/Powerhouse Films, cat. No. PHILTD021. BBFC cert: 15. RRP £15.99.

Iain MacLeod was raised on the North coast of Scotland on a steady diet of 2000AD and Moviedrome. Now living in Glasgow as a struggling screenwriter he still buys too many comics and blu-rays. Has never seen a ghost but heard two talking in his bedroom when he was 4.

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1 Comment

  1. I remember enjoying ‘Wolf’ at the time. It may be time to take another look!
    Hat’s off to you for the Winston from ‘Time Bandits’ reference!!!

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