Wolfen is a 1981 horror-mystery film based upon the novel by Whitley Strieber. The plot follows NYPD Detective Dewey Wilson, who is assigned to solve a bizarre series of violent murders in which it appears the victims were killed by animals. In his investigation, Wilson learns of an Indian legend about wolf spirits, and that there may be predatory shapeshifters living in the vicinity.The film was released the same year as An American Werewolf in London and The Howling. While Wolfen didn't meet the success of those films, it was well received by critics and is somewhat of a Cult Classic.
The following tropes can be used to describe the film:
- Aliens in Cardiff: The "wolfen" (hyper-intelligent, near-mystical (if not actually mystical) wolves) have made their den in a derelict church in a run-down neighborhood of Queens, and don't take kindly to people coming to demolish their stomping grounds in an attempt to gentrify the borough...
- Bizarre Alien Senses: Possibly the first film to use thermographic footage to illustrate this trope.
- Black Comedy: There are some moments of this.
- Cultural Posturing: The film is pretty low key in this regard until the last act, when the protagonist arrives shell shocked at a Native American bar after his friend was mauled by a wolf. The Native American characters (one of whom is a Latino) begin rapid fire exposition/cultural posturing as they affirm their way of life is better, the wolf spirits are above our morality, white man's technology has failed him, and he's basically facing gods dishing out divine punishment.
- Danger Takes A Back Seat: At one point, a wolfen is shown to be hiding in the backseat of a detectives car.
- Gorn: While it's not quite so gory by today's standards, the wolves do rip out people's throats, bite off hands, bite off heads, etc.
- Losing Your Head: Near the end one character's throat is torn out by a wolf, resulting in his head ending up separate from his body. When it's obvious from the attempted mouthing of words and blinking that the head is still functional, a colleague shoots the car he's next to, putting him out of his misery.
- Magical Native American: Subverted. See Transformation Sequence below.
- Nothing Is Scarier: You don't even get to see the beasts until halfway through the film.
- Oh, Crap: Two such moments happen during the climax of the film. One is particularly amusing as a wolf materializes in a car with one of the characters.
- Real After All: The characters get to have a moment where it seems the whole big to-do was a hoax, then they walk outside and they learn just how dangerous the wolfen are.
- Red Herring: In-Universe, the "Gotterdammerung" terrorist group. The New York Police task force and their computers manage to find connections between some of the deceased and this group, theorize that the murders may have been done by the terrorists as some kind of payback or to deliver a message, and finally manage to perform plenty of damage to it-but most unfortunately to the protagonists this investigation overlooked the possibility of something else being behind the murders...
- Savage Wolves: The monsters of the story are mystical wolf-like creatures called "Wolfen".
- Somewhere, a Mammalogist Is Crying: Wolves apparently have thermographic vision in this Verse. Not just wolfen, but regular wolves.
- Spared by the Adaptation: Several of the Wolfen pack
- This Is What the Building Will Look Like: Dewey smashes the model of the building that was going to be build on wolfen's land, so that they'll realizes that he isn't a threat and stop attacking.
- Transformation Sequence: Subverted. Eddie Holt strips naked and makes a bunch of lupine noises and gestures, but it appears he's just messing with Dewey's head.