The Company of Wolves is a 1984 British Gothic fantasy-horror film directed by Neil Jordan and starring Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, Stephen Rea and David Warner. It was written by Angela Carter and Jordan.
In the present day, a young girl named Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) dreams that she lives in a fairy tale forest with her parents (Tusse Silberg and David Warner) and sister (Georgia Slowe), but one day her sister is killed by wolves. While her parents are mourning, Rosaleen goes to stay the night with her grandmother (Angela Lansbury), who knits a bright red shawl for her granddaughter to wear. The superstitious old woman gives Rosaleen an ominous warning, to beware men whose eyebrows meet. Rosaleen returns to her village, but finds that she must deal with the advances of an amorous boy (Shane Johnstone). Rosaleen and the boy take a walk through the forest, but the boy discovers that the village’s cattle have come under attack from a wolf. The villagers set out to hunt the wolf, but once caught and killed, the wolf’s corpse transforms into that of a human being.
Rosaleen later takes a basket of goods through the woods to her grandmother’s cottage, but on her way she encounters an attractive huntsman (Micha Bergese), whose eyebrows meet. He challenges her, saying that he can find his way to her grandmother’s house before she can, and the pair set off. The hunter arrives at Rosaleen’s grandmother’s house first, where he reveals his bestial nature and kills her. Rosaleen arrives later and discovers the carnage, but her need to protect herself is complicated by her desire for the hunter. In the ensuing exchange, Rosaleen accidentally injures the huntsman with his own rifle. Upon this blow, the hunter contorts in pain and transforms into his wolf shape. Rosaleen takes pity on the wounded beast, noting that his pack could leave him behind. She sits down, and begins petting the wolf kindly and tenderly while telling him a story.
Ultimately the villagers arrive at the house some time later, looking for a werewolf within. Instead, they discover that Rosaleen herself has become a werewolf. Together, she and the huntsman escape to the forest, joined by a growing pack.
Back in the present day, Rosaleen awakes with a scream, and discovers wolves outside her house, followed by their breaking through the window of her bedroom. Perrault’s Le Petit Chaperon Rouge is then heard being read, with the moral warning girls to beware of charming strangers.
Granny’s tales and Rosaleen’s stories
Throughout the course of the film, a number of stories are interspersed into the main narrative as tales told by several of the characters:
Granny’s tale to Rosaleen — A young groom (Stephen Rea) is about to bed his new bride (Kathryn Pogson) when a “call of nature” summons him outside. He disappears and his bride is terrified to see wolves howling outside. A search the following day yields a wolf paw print only. Years later, she remarries and has children, only to have her original husband finally return. Angered at her having children with a new husband, the groom transforms into his werewolf form, but is slain when the new husband (Jim Carter) returns.
Granny’s second tale to Rosaleen — A young man is walking through the enchanted forest when he encounters the Devil (Terence Stamp), anachronistically arriving in a Rolls-Royce chauffeured by the actress playing Rosaleen in a blonde wig. The Devil offers the boy a transformative potion, which he rubs onto his chest, causing hair to sprout rapidly. The boy is pleased, but shortly thereafter vines grow swiftly from the ground, twining around his legs and trapping him. He wails in protest and fear, his face distorting with his cries, anguished visage appearing in Rosaleen’s bedroom mirror at the end of that dream sequence.
Rosaleen’s story to her mother — A woman (Dawn Archibald) who lived in a valley “done a terrible wrong” by a rich, young nobleman (Richard Morant) turns up visibly pregnant at his wedding party “to put wrong to right”. She calls out the nobleman and the rest of the nobles for their bigoted actions, and further denounces them by declaring “the wolves in the forest are more decent”. She then reveals that she is an enchantress and magically transforms the groom, the bride, and the other nobles into wolves. They flee into the forest as the enchantress laughs, but afterwards the enchantress commands that the wolves “serenade” her and her child each night.
Rosaleen’s story to the huntsman/wolf — A she-wolf from the world beneath arrives at a village. Despite meaning no harm, she is shot by a villager. She reveals herself in her human form (Danielle Dax) to an old priest (Graham Crowden), who takes her in and bandages her wound. Although touched by the priest’s kindness and actions, she feels she is not fit to stay. Ultimately, after some time, she returns to her world through the village well.
“This isn’t a werewolf movie in the accepted sense,” explains Stephen Woolley, “as the characters don’t turn into the type of creatures seen in The Howling or American Werewolf, they transform into large wolves.” That said, it’s difficult to pinpoint where Company of Wolves stands within the genre, as it possesses the Gothic atmosphere of Terence Fisher at his best, whilst sharing the poetry of Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast.
‘The film really does have a strange originality about it,” adds Woolley, who, at 26, is a British movie brat. “The nearest comparison I can draw is with The Elephant Man. You couldn’t call that a horror movie, yet the scene where he escapes from France is something straight out of Tod Browning’s Freaks”.
And that’s what we set out to achieve; a film which would hopefully break down the barriers between horror and fantasy, but with the look of a film like Polanski’s Tess so there would be scope for a wider audience. Horror films now fall into the Friday the 13th mold or that of The Thing. One sort tends to be nasty for the sake of it, and the other gets bogged down with special effects. I don’t think it’s easy to bridge the two. Cat People is a good example of an intelligent horror film that didn’t make it, but that’s what we aimed for. Company of Wolves has its share of unpleasant shocks but they are valid in terms of the story. Hopefully people will find it interesting too.”
Company of Wolves is a multi-layered film which weaves its magic both as an allegory genres and to present them in a more varied manner. For example, one day we’d screen The Brain Eaters as part of a Roger Corman show, while the next day we’d have a Jean-Luc Godard double bill. The idea was to show world cinema as it stood, treating everything with equal respect: independent trash movies, continental art films, Hollywood classics—the lot.”
Woolley is more akin to Corman than Spielberg and company, particularly in terms of his eclectic attitude towards distribution and his preference for low budgets. He established Palace Pictures in 1982 when he went into partnership with Nik Powell, a former head of Virgin Records, releasing films simultaneously in cinemas and on video. Their all-encompassing attitude to distribution is reflected in the varied selection of titles they have successfully distributed Basket Case, Videodrome and The Evil Dead, their top grosser to date. It has always been Palace’s ambition to move into production. As Woolley puts it: “We made a fair amount of money distributing potentially uncommercial films like the French thriller Diva, Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence [starring David Bowie] and The Evil Dead, so production was the next logical step, one we had always hoped to achieve.”
Palace became involved with the project right from the start. Woolley and fellow co-producer Chris Brown had recently packaged 10 classic trash movies, including Plan 9 from Outer Space, for Channel 4 under the umbrella title of The Worst of Hollywood, bringing Harry Medved (of Golden Turkey Awards fame) over to England to introduce each film. Since Palace had distributed Danny Boy on video, a co-production deal was negotiated. However, when Jordan and Carter redeveloped the screenplay it was soon apparent that the proposed budget was totally inadequate.
Exit Channel 4. Undeterred, Palace searched for new investors, a task which inevitably proved difficult. After months of phone calls, ITC, the former entertainment empire of Lord Grade, entered the scenario. The organization had taken three years to recover following a string of failures, notably Raise the Titanic, and was preparing to resume active. production. Despite Company of Wolves’ unique premise, ITC decided to be adventurous and a deal was clinched.
At first glance Neil Jordan seems an odd choice for director for a sophisticated effects-orientated fantasy such as Wolves. An unfamiliar name to American film aficionados, he is first and foremost a well respected novelist and short-story writer, yet he may very well become a leading international filmmaker within the next decade.
Jordan entered films when he approached director John Boorman (Zardoz, Excalibur) with a script during the late 70’s. Boorman liked the idea and suggested they collaborate on a rewrite. When this film fell through and Excalibur, a project Boorman had long wanted to make, replaced it, Jordan was retained as a creative consultant, contributing many ideas to the overall shape of the screenplay. This partnership continued, culminating with Boorman producing Danny Boy.
Company of Wolves began life as a film when Angela Carter showed Neil Jordan her original script. Jordan had recently completed his first film Danny Boy (Angel in the U.K.) and was searching for a new project, preferably something totally different in subject matter from his debut, a revenge thriller dealing with the IRA. Impressed with the idea, and excited by the prospect of working with Carter, whose work he had long admired, he took the film to Channel 4, Britain’s newest television network and the co-financier of Danny Boy. They, in turn, expressed considerable interest.
At this stage the film ran to 50 minutes and appeared ideally suited to television, the script lacking the substance and scope required by the big screen, a factor that didn’t worry Jordan. “I read Angela’s screenplay,” he says, “which only slightly expanded the original short story so that the young girl experienced the incidents recounted in the tale. And though it was sparse, the images were so exciting and the transitions so bold, I knew I wanted to make it. I found its limitations attractive, and it was very challenging to take a simple type of narrative that everyone’s familiar with, and to rearrange it in an unusual manner.”
Angela Carter, author of the original short story “The Company of Wolves”, worked with director Neil Jordan on the script for the film. This was Carter’s first experience of writing for film. However, it was also only Jordan’s second feature film as director.
Whilst ultimately based upon the short story of the same name from The Bloody Chamber, the plot of the film bears closer resemblance to Angela Carter’s 1980 adaptation of “The Company of Wolves” for radio, which introduced such elements as the additional stories being told within the narrative by the characters themselves, such as Granny. Originally, these stories had been placed before the main narrative.
Carter and Jordan met in Dublin in 1982 to discuss extending Carter’s radio drama adaptation of her own story, which Jordan called “too short for a feature film”.
“Every morning we would meet in Angela’s house to imagine these extraordinary scenes, we would think about them every night, then meet the next day and create more. We had total freedom playing with different genres, multiple meanings, and ideas of reality and fantasy. We had a ball with it.”
Jordan suggested that The Company of Wolves, a Bloody Chamber tale inspired by Little Red Hood, might provide a starting point for the other stories. “If there were various storytellers alongside a central grandma narrator we could create a branching structure, from one story to another and back to the granny. This would allow me to make a movie based on all the tales in Angela’s collection.” Bloody Chamber stories The Werewolf and Wolf-Alice worked their way into the finished screenplay and further tales-within-tales, from Angela’s original, inspired bravura sequences like a werewolf-infected wedding. A snoozing protagonist allowed the filmmaker freedom to move dream-like from story to story.
The film has a strong theme of female empowerment. Rosaleen continually stands up for herself and her own freedom of choice in the film with lines like “why couldn’t she save herself?” and “I’d never let a man strike me”. A few years after the story (on which the screenplay was based) was published, Carter stated in an interview, “Women have not had a voice until so recently and even now this issue is not one with which the women’s movement seems concerned”. Through this story, readers can see Carter’s strong belief in women voicing their desires and beliefs by taking action.
Writer Angela Carter and director Neil Jordan discuss Company of Wolves 10/17/1984
Writer Angela Carter and director Neil Jordan discuss their newly released feature film ‘A Company of Wolves’. Item from the Channel 4 Visions series transmitted 17 October 1984
The Company of Wolves was filmed in Shepperton Studios in England. The film’s cast was primarily made up of British actors.
“This was a wonderful film to cast,” Jordan smiles. Angela Lansbury [The Manchurian Candidate, Murder She Wrote] starred as the grandmother; old-faithful Stephen Rea [V for Vendetta, The Crying Game] appeared as a werewolf who loses his head; and Terence Stamp [Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, Star Wars Episode I] even stopped by the set one afternoon for an uncredited appearance. “We chose a ballet dancer, Micha Bergese, for the Prince of Darkness [lead werewolf]. He had never acted before but was quite wonderful. Danielle Dax, an underground star in an extreme rock band, played the role of a strange wolf girl who emerges from the village well.” Stealing the show was Sarah Patterson, a 12-year old actor whose uncanny balance of childhood innocence and adulthood experience makes The Company of Wolves one of cinema’s most memorable coming of age treats.
“Sarah accompanied a friend to auditions,” Jordan recalls. “I spotted her waiting, auditioned her and gave her the role. When you write a part for a child, you either end up with a child actress, which is generally bad news, or with someone who has never acted before. That was the first time I gave a role to someone inexperienced
Sarah Patterson made her screen debut, despite being much younger than the kind of actress the casting director had been looking for, and likely too young to understand some of the film’s more adult concepts. Her youth also meant having to make special arrangements with her school in order for her to be away for nine weeks while shooting took place.
Anton Furst Design for The Company of Wolves
Preproduction work on Wolves started in the summer of 1983. It was felt the film required a special selection of key creative personnel, a point Stephen Woolley is quick to emphasize. “The end result had to be special so we decided to call upon a number of new talents. That sounds risky and it was but the project was a big risk right from the start. Apart from Neil and myself there are a lot of reputations riding on the performance of this film. Brian Loftus, our lighting cameraman, had only worked on commercials, so this was an important project for him.
Company of Wolves Original Storyboards (for the story “The Traveling Man”)
Nichola Bruce Mike Coulson with additional drawing by Jane Bruce
The film’s visuals were of particular importance, as Jordan explains. The visual design was an integral part of the script. It was written and imagined with a heightened sense of reality in mind. Jordan worked for several weeks in pre-production with artist filmmakers Nichola Bruce and Michael Coulson to create hundreds of detailed storyboard drawings. Also involved with production was art director/production designer Anton Furst, had never supervised the construction of a feature film before.
We chose him on the strength of his work for Flash Gordon and Alien. Considering that Furst was to be responsible for the design of the large surreal forest that eventually covered an entire sound stage at Shepperton Studios, you realize just how big the risks were.
We had this idea of creating an entire forest on a studio set, but didn’t have much of a clue how to do it. Anton immediately loved the idea, and said things like, ‘I know, a kind of cross between Dali and Dore’. I had no idea what he was talking about, but he had this manic enthusiasm that meant it was hard not to nod your head and say ‘yes, yes, yes’.’
Anton’s instincts and talents were for those heavily designed expressionistic movies that were being made at the time. Anton created an adept way of creating a village and a series of forests using trees on rollers. We built a forest that could be transformed into another forest into another, until it became an endless forest even though we were only shooting at two stages in Shepperton.
‘His big message was that the only point to this work was to create stuff that had never been done on film before,’ says Eddie Butler, a sculptor who worked on all of Furst’s films. ‘His references were complex and hugely varied, and he needed strong images that could be developed deeply. He never played the intellectual, but he had an intellectual approach.’
Believe it or not, it took over seven long, uncomfortable hours. It was horrible but I think the scene turned out really, really well. And I had a blast in post-production, dubbing all sorts of screams and growls and what not over it.
-Actor Stephen Rea Remembers THE COMPANY OF WOLVES
After several initial production meetings Chris Hobbs, who worked on XTRO, was contracted to storyboard the ideas for the effects sequences so that the producers could present Tucker with concrete concepts. He was duly impressed, and agreed to tackle the project. Woolley admits they never had anyone else in mind for the special effects so it was fortuitous that Tucker acquiesced.
Jordan’s adaptability stood him in good stead regarding the high effects content of the picture, another area of filmmaking he had no previous experience in. “It wasn’t intimidating, but when effects don’t work you can feel that they’re directing you. There were only one or two occasions when I felt that was happening, simply because what we’d conceived turned out to be mechanically impossible. A doctor in Ireland informed me that in violent cases of whiplash the skin on the neck rips and the face of the accident victim just peels back to the scalp. That was something I’d have liked in the transformations, but it couldn’t be done. So we had actor Stephen Rea tear his face off instead,” he shrugs philosophically.
“Apart from that, everything went quite well, and I was able to satisfactorily control the sequences with a lot of help from Chris Tucker,” he continues. “The minimum of opticals made it easier; everything else was shot in-camera so we knew what we were getting.
“The main problem with the effects was to successfully integrate them with the movements of the actors, to convey the physicality of the transformations so the audience would believe the wolves were coming out of the skins of humans. We wanted to get away from the usual effects sequence wherein you see the first stage, then cut to a reaction shot, cutting back to the next stage in the transformation. I tried to compose the scenes so that the metamorphosis takes place in the foreground while the actors could react in the background. I think it works very well, but without Chris Tucker we’d have been stuck.”
The Original “Bert”
Tucker’s involvement with the film began way back in April 1983 when Palace Pictures first telephoned with their proposals. He was naturally interested and said a tentative “yes.” Preproduction meetings to develop the various ideas for the effects sequences commenced in July that year, Come August he was fully committed to the project and by September he started work, with the aid of his long standing assistants Sinnika Ikaheimo and Stephen Grassby, on “Bert”, a prototype anamatronic figure which forms the initial stage of the major transformation scene.
“Once September arrived we launched into building Bert and one or two other effects which we shot tests of. This was mainly for the benefit of ITC (the main backers), so they could reassure themselves that the effects were feasible. As soon as they were satisfied the rest of the money was forthcoming,” he explains. “Basically, the financial situation was dependent on me delivering the goods, as is usual on a film of this nature; which means you’re working under additional pressure, but it’s certainly not your main concern, You’re trying to get the job to fruition on time and it can be difficult because there are so many elements that have to go together in a certain sequence, stage 64 can’t be ready until stage 63 is complete, and so on, Obviously that’s the worry, to try and get everything to arrive on time.”
Bert, a charming moveable head and torso with radio-controlled eyes, was finished in early November. Not satisfied with various elements, Tucker dismantled his creation following the test shoot. “Bert was really very experimental and was never intended to be the final product. I think the producers thought he was, and he didn’t look too bad. They were very pleased. In fact, Peter McDonald, the effects cameraman, said Bert was the best thing he’d ever seen, and he’s had far more experience in this field than anyone else on the project as he’s been doing effects photography all his life. But Bert hat many shortcomings, mechanically and artistically, as I never intended him to be anything other than a prototype that could be refined. What in fact we ended up doing was to virtually rebuild the whole darn thing. We salvaged bits and pieces and modified certain things, so by the time we finished there was very little of the original left. Once you alter any part of the internal structure you inevitably alter the external structure to some degree. Also I insisted on using mechanical sound principles, like proper ball races, etc. meaning every component had to be engineered correctly so the mechanisms wouldn’t fail under any circumstances. Of course that’s time-consuming, but it had to be done.”
What was it that attracted Tucker to the film “Well, it was different from anything I’d been offered before and it was quite unique, it’s not often that someone attempts to make a macabre fairy tale for the cinema. Also because it presented me with the challenge of creating werewolf transformations of the type I’d like to see myself. Besides, it promised to be far more interesting than eternally aging someone. I think I’ve probably done more aging makeups than anyone else. I’ve done so many jobs of that sort that I’m getting old rapidly just looking at them,” he laughs in his soft baritone. “Making an actor look like someone else, or aging them, is very precise and demanding work. Prosthetics of that nature require so much attention to detail that I really felt a need to do something on a larger scale.”
The evolution of Tucker’s ideas frequently took place while he soaked in a hot bath at four a.m. after a hard day’s (night’s) work. To aid his extensive research he took his video camera along to Downey Court in Buckinghamshire to record the movements of a colony of grey timber wolves that live there. Seeing real wolves hardened his resolution to turn the characters in the film into four legged animals.
Probably the most ambitious aspect of the film is that the several transformations vary in their styles, a factor that increased Tucker’s workload considerably. The two main metamorphosies retain the same theme of man into wolf but deliberately avoid repetition. Tucker believed that the first one should be explicit, showing exactly what would happen if the human body changed into a totally different shape. The end result turned out very realistic and rather repulsive.
“I wanted to ring the changes and to make the whole thing macabre in keeping with the rest of the film, so I decided to remove the character’s skin and hair and develop it from there,” he admits. “wasn’t being gratuitous for the sake of it, as to rid the skin helps to remove certain appendages that get in the way, such as the ears, nose, and lips. It was logical to get all that stuff out of the way and to get on to the real business of the bones and muscles rearranging themselves. Who wants to see another stretch effect? I certainly didn’t. It makes the transformation more convincing and interesting. I think, and I’m sure audiences will agree.”
To achieve the transmogrification of the Travelling Man (played by Stephen Rea) Tucker broke the process down into six stages.
The first stage required the use of contact lenses and prosthetic facial appliances, Rea’s eyes turning a predatory yellow seconds before he rips off his face.
The flesh-tearing acts as a transition and the actor is then replaced by Bert 1, the skinless articulated anamatronic creature that removes the remaining epidermis.
Bert 1 evolves into Bert 2, who adopts a lupine position as the bones begin to elongate. The fourth stage involves Bert 3, whose function is to grow the pointed ears and projecting snout of the wolf, precipitating the change into Rover 1, an oversized animal minus its pelt.
Rover 2, a hairy wolf, completes the transformation.
Due to the enormous work-load, Tucker brought in Roger Shaw, who worked on Greystoke, to build the final stage. By this time he was averaging a 20-hour day and the effects crew had grown from two to seven.
The situation rapidly snowballed as the day of reckoning grew nearer,” Tucker recalls. “We were changing some of the ideas around and there were several other things I wanted to attempt, but there wasn’t time. You think up little details at short notice which would enhance what you’re doing but by then it’s too late. A lot of the things wanted to do were never completed, not that they would have made much difference to the finished film as it was already crammed full of effects, but they would have been nice.”
Considering the wide range of effects featured in the film it’s surprising to learn that the production was relatively free from serious problems. Nothing calamitous appears to have happened during the shooting yet circumstances were extremely complicated as Tucker readily emphasizes. “You could describe the effects as a problem in themselves because once you attempt a transformation in this manner, without skin, you immediately impose terrible limitations as you’ve got nowhere to hide the mechanisms. There’s only the skeleton and the musculature, but they’re moving. So we are talking about a concept which multiplies the normal difficulties by a factor of about 30.
“Fortunately I have a very vivid imagination imagine in Technicolor,” he smiles, “so I developed the ideas quite quickly. Though I chose the simplest ways of making them work the mechanics were still extremely elaborate. But the main drawback with having a fertile mind is that you’re continually thinking up further ideas which are potentially more exciting, ultimately complicating matters. For example, on the last transformation I wanted the wolf not just to emerge from the Huntsman’s mouth, but his whole head to turn inside out. Obviously I Couldn’t do that because there’s nowhere to conceal the mechanism. Still, it annoyed me greatly.”
During the six weeks it took to shoot the transformations there was only one incident which threatened to disrupt the tight schedule. All the major elements worked very well, but we did have one or two minor hiccups when the cables snapped on Rover 1, primarily because of the sheer size and weight of the beast. It needed a much thicker, stronger cable to cope with the friction. The fact we were working on a tiny, cramped sound stage didn’t help and prevented the cables from running in a straight line, consequently applying an unnecessary degree of tension. Despite the fact that we used ball races to minimize the friction on the business end, the seven ply steel hawser actually broke, which tells you something about the size of the rig.”
Chris Tucker seems to thrive under pressure and his effects for The Company of Wolves transcend their low-budget origins the FX budget was somewhere in the region of $80,000, as does the film as a whole. It appears certain that this movie will bring him wider public attention, but Tucker stresses the invaluable assistance of his crew. They were all tremendous and deserve medals. Stuart Robinson did some great engineering work, and Ian Whitaker worked wonders on the eye mechanisms. Steve Onions and Graham High produced excellent sculptural work, and I would have been stuck if Stephen Grassby and Sinikka Ikaheimo, my long suffering assistants, hadn’t given their usual tireless dedication to the molds and casting. There are a lot of others who gave invaluable aid but I just can’t list them off the top of my head. Suffice it to say everyone was terrific. I didn’t actually do as much specific work as I would have liked because I was in charge and had to keep a close eye on all the proceedings, so I had to be content with occasionally sticking my oar in,” he laughs. “I couldn’t have wanted a better crew. And I think the film shows that.”
Principal photography commenced on January 9th, 1984 at Shepperton Studio Centre, a few miles southwest of central London. For the following nine weeks the studios were deluged by a mélange of real wolves, synthetic fog, polystyrene fungus, snakes, tarantulas, frogs and insects of all descriptions. Anton Furst certainly had his work cut out for him, but in his opinion it was the film he was destined to work on, consequently prompting him to inject all his creative energy into the project, a fact that is mirrored in the dark beauty of the sets. He wasn’t, however, the only person to give his all to the film. Woolley again: “Right across the board everyone involved put in an extra percentage of effort. I think you rarely find that, and it reflects just how much everybody believed in this film.” That said, Company of Wolves speaks for itself, having the look and feel of a big budget movie.
Working on a studio soundstage can pose a number of problems, particularly if the director is accustomed to shooting on location. Since Danny Boy was very much a location film, we wondered if Jordan experienced any difficulties adapting to the constraints.
“Not really,” says the Irishman, “but there were a lot of technical details I had to learn so I could control certain elements. For instance, how you frame a shot can differ between location and the studio. Things like street signs crop up on location, usually where you don’t want them, restricting the way you compose the shot required, whereas that never happens in a studio. If the sets have been designed correctly and you know what exactly you want, then you should be able to get it. I did find that I had to work more slowly, but if something went wrong we were able to redo it and get it right, which is very rare on location.”
With that scene as an example of one that wasn’t scripted, a major problem turned out to be dealing with the live wolves. In common with Tucker, Woolley had no idea how difficult the animals would prove to be. The script calls for a great number of wolves to appear. Due to budgetary constraints and other factors such as cast safety, most of the ‘wolves’ shown in the film are in fact evidently Belgian Shepherd Dogs, mainly Terveurens and Groenendals, whose fur was specially dyed.
“Wolves, as you can understand, are very difficult to deal with. They’re wild animals and we had to adroitly combine real wolves with Malamutes. A Malamute is a cross between a husky and an Alsatian – it has a ridged spines which makes it look like a wolf,” explains Jordan.
“The wolves were trained—to a point,” he said. “What we found, however, was that they couldn’t be expected to be ferocious and angry on cue. At one stage a wolf dives into a pit after a live duck and then tries to claw itself out. You can’t use a real duck because of regulations, so when you take the bird away, you are left with a mean, wild animal cheated of its prey. Even so, we did manage to capture the wolf shot of all time for this film. It’s where Sarah Patterson has to be friendly and is licked by one of them. That made up for all the disappointment.”
Jordan notes the bravery of young star Sarah Patterson when acting amongst the genuine wolves. Using particular light angles, the eyes of both real and “shepherd” wolves are made to glow dramatically in the film.
“This is the scene where a wolf’s snout emerges through the mouth of the hunter. That scene had to be filmed at the dress rehearsal in case anything went wrong. The eyes were radio controlled and there were so many cables down the dummy’s throat that at one stage it didn’t look like the mechanisms would fit. The original idea was to have the whole hunter’s face turn inside out to become a wolf, but it was impossible to do on schedule. To push the mechanism back in the mouth without splitting the skin needed a lot of surgical jelly. These were pre-CG days of animatronics and although “special effects were fun”, limited finances posed challenges. “Some effects turned out great, others were ponderous, and I would perhaps change some of the editing of these scenes. I can now see the machinery working in the transformation sequence where Stephen Rea turns into a wolf, but the most spectacular effect was when the wolf came out of Micha Bergese’s mouth. Very simple, very graphic, but very visceral.” As it stands, the ending of The Company of Wolves was not what Carter and Jordan had envisaged. “We constructed an ending that was absolutely beautiful but one which ultimately we could not deliver. Rosaleen was to awaken after all these dreams and stand upon her bed. Her mother and sister are outside the door and she bounces up and down then dives through the floor and vanishes, the ground rippling in her wake. We built a wax floor over a swimming pool but it was an impossible effect for us to realize with the resources we had, so we came up with the idea of an endless succession of beasts diving through a canvas. It was interesting, but it didn’t have the liberating effect of the ending we wanted. It’s something you could do quite easily today… you see it in commercials all the time.”
Because THE COMPANY OF WOLVES is being made by a new and young production company, Woolley is pleased with the enthusiasm everybody has been channeling into it. “It’s an exciting experience for all concerned,” he said. “Everybody has been putting in that extra 10% that you often can’t expect. There’s the working til midnight and still getting in at 5 o’clock in the morning, after waking at 3 a.m. to scribble down notes.
We’re pushing everyone harder than they’ve ever been pushed before. Director Mike Hodges visited the set the other day and we asked him to estimate the cost of the forest set we have built on one of the soundstages. He said $150,000. In actuality it cost a tenth of that because everyone from the polystyrene artists on up feel the same as we do about the film.'”
The Company of Wolves marked the beginning of a long relationship between Neil Jordan and producer Stephen Woolley, whose Palace Pictures (co-partnered by Nik Powell and Chris Brown) financed the film. Canon released it in America as a late-night gross-out feature, which was never going to work given the film’s aesthetic leanings, but in Europe the movie was a bona fide hit. Only when Neil toured the various continental countries with Mona Lisa did the cult success of Wolves strike home. An award for Best Film and Best Director from the London Critics Circle rubber-stamped the movie’s accomplishment.
Cinefantastique Vol.15 #01 (Jan 1985) by Alan Jones
Film Ireland Magazine, Issue 105 2005
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