The October Diaries: The Company of Wolves

Illustration by Max Brown
Blurbs by Shannon Neale and Jesse, Sean & Christof

October 8th, 2014:
The Company of Wolves

Year: 1984
Director: Neil Jordan
Vehicle: DVD
From IMDB: A bag full of symbolic folklore about werewolves, or, rather, their sexual connotation.

Shannon Neale’s Take:

The Company of Wolves never rubbed me the wrong way. One might argue that a rightly made horror movie should rub one the wrong way, on many levels, but I’m not going to do that.

I could handle eating my pad Thai during the goriest scene, which was a face peeling scene. Lots of exposed face muscle, hot red eeew. Neat (tidy) writing. Pearls from freak granny Angela Lansbury were just so.

Really loved the enchanted forest and cottage sets. It’s got that super inviting, faded, dust-in-the-sunbeams look that I pine over: think fire-glow windowed cabins built into tree trunks, black iron gates, loose apples in the yard, high fog in barren branches, light snow fall. A moth among the knitting needles and candle wax, shredded Victorian couches and rocking chair for ol’ Granny. Even when we weren’t in dream world (movie’s a dream, not a spoiler), there are doves in the attic and tea-stained bedrooms.

And the music, well, initially the title of this movie made me crave Billy Joel songs, ala Oliver and Company. It was so much better without Billy — instead it was like Michael Nyman ate a bunch of mushies and got locked in a room with a synthesizer and an octet, and nobody else got mushrooms but Mike, and nobody minded. And I guess that’s a recipe for George Fenton, who actually did the music and does a lot of sweet soundtracks for major movies and wildlife productions. Seems fitting since this movie was full of animals.

List of the LIVE animals that made appearances in The Company of Wolves: wolf, German Shepherd, frog, crow, owl, crane, white rabbit, worm, horse, snake, spider, tarantula, hedgehog, chicken, duck, turkey, piggy, fly, moth, cow.

Dead/reanimated animal included in Company of Wolves: mongoose.

Company of Wolves

 Jesse’s Take:

I can’t coherently write about a film that doesn’t take its own coherency very seriously. My thoughts on this one are going to be disjointed as hell and certainly aren’t all going to mesh together into one epic piece of writing. Which, again, is pretty much how the movie played out to me.

A movie which I would have called: Caddywhompus: A Dark Fairy Tale.

It starts off with a girl way overacting and telegraphing her bad dreams. Her hot older sister keeps pounding on the door calling her a pest. Which SEEMS kinda harsh, even if she did use some of her sister’s lipstick, until the younger sleeping sister proceeds to dream murder her with a pack of wolves, that…wait for it…MAY OR NOT BE WOLVES!!!!


She must really like it in crazy-giant-mushroom-midget-in-a-Stay-Puft-costume dream world because instead of waking up, this kooky little kid moves the whole damned narrative and remaining family members to dream town. In one of the few logical moments to the story, she dreams about her sister’s funeral. After which she takes off with her extra creepy grandma who tells her a story (within a dream) about why you shouldn’t trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.

Now up until this point, the quality of the picture looks as though it was a public broadcasting knock off of Shelly Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre, there has been no on screen violence, no bad language, and frankly everything has looked quite ridiculous. There were animals all over the place and there has been cheery flute music. During the telling of pedo Granny’s story, a man, who disappears for years and leaves a completely incapable woman to raise three young in an old timey hut. We he comes back years later hairy and hungry, he treats her like shit for a moment or two and then starts RIPPING HIS FLESH FROM HIS BODY. The act of which takes forever, and the gore is truly shocking and feels quite out of place for everything that leads up to it.

Remember how I said grandma was creepy? After she tells that story she begs for a kiss in a way that made my skin crawl.

My favorite image from the movie happened around here, our completely unlikable and awkward heroine runs off with the towns ginger boy, and ends up climbing the dream world’s tallest dream tree, and comes across a nest, which has eggs in it. The eggs crack, and of course they contain tiny crying fetus dolls. Which makes no more sense on screen than in reading my disjointed words.

She meets the huntsman, who is just about as creepy as the grandma and they spend a good ten minutes playing a game called attempted Forest rape. She goes home so she can tell her mom a story about white faced socialites who eat turkey legs like viking warlords. Due to the way that they eat, they turn into wolf people.

Only in the final act does the movie somewhat resemble a twisted version of Little Red Riding Hood. Though even then the framing device of this all being a dream left me clueless as to what was going on anymore. I realized I’d fully checked out, and I just kinda let the movie finish.

The entire film can be summed up in a single line of its own dialogue “Once you stray off the path, you are lost entirely.” It’s as though Neil Jordan showed up on day one to make this a gritty dark fairy tale, saw a path, and said “fuck it, I’m not gonna go there” and ultimately everything, especially coherence was lost entirely.


Sean’s Take:

Knowing the night of October 8th was going to be a full moon we made the pilgrimage to Movie Madness to procure proper werewolf supplies. We almost opted for Wolfen but ended up picking up Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves (along with two more days worth of horror rations). The box art from this one — with wolf mouth burst-crawling out from within human mouth — has cozy-haunted me for decades now. It’s about time I paid proper respect to that fine piece of VHS art.

For a guy who likes to indulge in well more than his fair share of nostalgia-laced viewing experiences, this one was right in my wheelhouse. I loved it. It felt like a Red Band episode of Shelly Duvall’s Faery Tale Theatre. Theatrical and dark while maintaining the aura of good cinema.

It was shot entirely on stages with a limited budget for this type of film, but it pulled off some real beauty despite some clunk. Whenever it threatened to lull me into lowering my expectations, I’d get hit with a bout of delightful, and life-affirming, body horror. This is also when I’d realize where a good portion of this already limited budget must’ve went.

At one point I felt like I was watching a version of Little Red Riding hood that I might have seen during some grade school afternoon (when the teacher was too tired to teach anymore). Then, the innocence would break, flesh would be ripped, and the movie would satiate my more  “mature” cinematic bloodlust.

To help establish his fairy tale tone, understood that popular fairy tales often featured forests brimming with animals. This movie was a non-stop parade of specimens. If you were playing a drinking game where you had to take a shot every time a different animal appeared on screen I’d have to ask you why you were trying to drink yourself to death.

Like Shannon, I was also keeping track of animals appearing on screen, and Shannon’s list checks out on my end.

The structure of this one involved a present-day framework where a girl dreams of a fairy tale world. In the fairy tale, the characters tell stories to one another. Stories on top of stories on top of dreams. The floaty air of good storytelling permeated the whole thing, due in large part to Jordan’s confidence and flair. It might’ve been a strangely non-linear fairy tale, filled with abstract flourishes, but the sensation of being a member of a story’s audience is one often lacking in October titles.

There was a full moon outside the living room window and a full moon inside the TV window. It was pretty easy to get caught with both.


Christof’s Take:

The Company of Wolves is exactly the Halloween-heavy, cobweb-horror I needed to revitalize me. Similar to Deadly Friend, it felt PG until it hit you with the hard-R moments. But that is about the only thing these two have in common. This is a cheesy, low-budget, fairy-tale-dream mess that is sort of an anthology – mini-stories are told within a primary story that itself exists within another hyper-mini-story, a simpler one (yet the most complex one of all): a young girl’s dream.

It’s a nifty little framing device that doesn’t tell us much other than how she’s reacting to the dream. This is not Dorothy after she’s fallen off the fence and had her dog stolen while a storm brews — well, it is, but we don’t know about the fence and the dog and the storm. The only clues to her “real” life are embedded in the master framework as well as its stories, which are encrusted into that crown.

We open with the sleeping girl’s sister knocking on her door, but the young girl doesn’t respond. She just sleeps and stirs, watched over by dolls – looking like a doll (since she’s been at her sister’s lipstick! The “pest”!) Next to her head is a book titled, “The Shattered Dream”, thus continuing our hot streak of dream-themed horror flicks this month. Neil Jordan is letting you know right away that you are in for some dream-horror. What I loved most was how the dream aspect would creep back in for strange details. You’d get lost in the fairytale landscape, but then the film keeps getting its reality bent by dream logic – strange happenings such as a human head breaking like glass or a car driving up along a village in a time that pre-dates such technology.

The charmingly low-budgeted sets of forests with hanging fog and a general ambiance of fun fairy tale fear disarmed me. This expectation of PG-pleasantness was ratcheted up by the creepy-but-safe presence of America’s Grandmother, Angela Lansbury, who of course plays the grandmother character in the primary story-framework, which is a loquacious and slow-cooked dream-rendering of a familiar fairy tale. Lansbury tells her granddaughter stories while knitting her a little cloak, one with a hood, that’s red, and perfect for riding. With your guard way down, the movie will throw some grotesque body-horror your way and you don’t see it coming – really juicy low-budget practical effects. Worth a watch alone if you are looking for some transformation sequences. (It’s nothing on par with A Werewolf in London, but it’s not really aiming that high. And it doesn’t really need to. )

My favorite scene is the story of fancy-lads at a wedding dinner. I can’t explain why I love it so much. So many good, awkward choices made here. Just watch it.

“What if I’m not interested in fancy-lads at a table?” you ask. “What else does this movie have going for it?”

Well, if you like thinking about stuff (or if you just enjoy counting things), you should know this film is a symbolic feast – an all you can interpret buffet! We’ve got conventional symbolism; we’ve got contextual symbolism; and we’ve even got intertextual symbolism!

We’ve got babies, dolls, kisses, crucifixes, milk, lipstick, broken mirrors, and a cradle in a tree! All the best symbols! And more! Exotic symbols you’ve never seen before, such as eggs next to a mirror in a nest. Yowza! And inside the eggs are little figurines of human babyzoids! Say whaaaat? Come on down to the Wolf Company Symbol Emporium! On route 9!

But it doesn’t stop there. Fair warning to any figurative vegans, the animal symbolism runs rampant in this picture. There is, of course, the ongoing theme of The Wolf, reinterpreted for us over and over in different contexts, with some wolves being “hairy on the outside” and others being “hairy on the inside” as granny Lansbury had warned us. But we also have enough ancillary animals to give Noah a conspicuous boner. They even take our focus all the way down to minute animal life with a worm in an apple, a moth drawn to a flame, and spiders falling on an open bible – a particularly frightening image for an arachnophobic atheist like myself.

This subconscious-rich fairy tale reminds you long after you need it to that this revision is also an abandonment of fairy tales and myths. Our leading lady, at the behest of the wolfy-huntsman, tosses her little red riding hood into the fire. Like the priest who earlier in the film tells us why he is pruning the tree, this film is cutting away the old branches to make way for the new branches.

When the movie finally ends (maybe after we already were at one ending too many, maybe not) the dreaming girl (our nonautonomous god of the master framework) wakes up to wolves from her dreamscape breaking into her reality, and they do this through a painting on the wall – they are literally and figuratively transported to the “real” world through a window of art(ifice), asking us, “Where does the dream end and reality begin?”

But wait! What’s all this symbolism about? Does any of it really mean anything, man? What the fudge is going on?! Who’s in charge around here!?

For a semi-silly horror flick, this is salad mix of ideas and potential meaning. I’m sure a much more intelligent and focused individual could write a thesis heavy enough to break your fingers, but you’re stuck with me for the time being, and here’s my opinion to further skew how you might look at this movie:

At an age somewhere between dolls and lipstick. A theme of kisses and people wanting them from you. A fearful preoccupation surrounding the thought of pregnancy.

Hair, blood, transformation: childhood is The Shattered Dream, and puberty is the culprit behind the fracture.



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