Director: Neil Jordan,
Starring: Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Sarah Patterson, Brian Glover. UK 1984. 95 mins.
The novelist and filmmaker Neil Jordan’s second feature after his made-for-television sectarian drama Angel (1982) was an adaptation of Angela Carter’s Gothic short stories Wolf-Alice, The Werewolf and The Company Of Wolves, from her 1979 collection The Bloody Chamber. Jordan and Carter proved a good match – the former a romantic with a love of surrealism and deep roots in Irish literature, the latter destined to become recognised as one of Britain’s greatest writers, a feminist and magic realist fascinated by fairy tales, desire, and destruction.
The young first-time producer Stephen Woolley completed the creative triangle. Hot from his triumphs as a brilliant film programmer and distributor, Woolley had recently unleashed audacious US indie horror movies The Evil Dead (Sam Raimi, 1981) and A Nightmare On Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984) on British audiences. The Company Of Wolves pays homage to both, and subconsciously draws from Woolley’s eclectic programming of London’s Scala repertory cinema, with shades of An American Werewolf In London (John Landis, 1981), Czech fantasy Valerie And Her Week Of Wonders (Jaromil Jires, 1970) and The Draughtsman’s Contract (Peter Greenaway, 1982).
The Company Of Wolves is an enchanted Russian doll of a movie; its present-day framing device opens up into a series of stories within a dream. A girl who has stolen her older sister’s lipstick falls into a troubled sleep and is recast back in time as the daughter of grieving villagers struggling to protect their livestock from forest wolves, while her grandmother spins a series of alarming old wives’ tales. Steeped in violence and eroticism, the stories are peppered with exquisite visual symbolism courtesy of the film’s production designer Anton Furst.
Full of familiar faces – Angela Lansbury, David Warner and Brian Glover – The Company Of Wolves also features inspired casting for the transformative wolf/people: dancer Micha Bergese, experimental musician Danielle Dax, and Jordan’s troubled muse, Stephen Rea. Rosaleen (‘Little Red Riding Hood’) is played by Sarah Patterson, who was just 14 at the time, while the real-life wolves are gloriously anarchic, crashing through windows and bounding through the film that bears their name.
Too arty for mainstream horror fans but much gorier and more muscular than the arthouse expected, The Company Of Wolves remains an endless delight for film enthusiasts and lovers of the Gothic tradition. Angela Carter subsequently adapted her 1967 novel The Magic Toyshop for a 1987 film of the same title, edited Wayward Girls And Wicked Women: An Anthology of Subversive Stories (1986) and two volumes of The Virago Book Of Fairy Tales (1990) before her death from lung cancer in 1992 vanished a brilliant, maverick talent at the age of 51. The same year, Stephen Woolley’s production and distribution company Palace Pictures went bankrupt and Neil Jordan’s filmmaking future appeared precarious. But thanks to the US success of The Crying Game (1992), the filmmakers rebounded with a second female-authored Gothic fantasy, a big-budget Hollywood adaptation of Anne Rice’s bestselling novel, Interview With The Vampire (1994).
The Company Of Wolves screens as part of The Enchanted Screen: A Season of Folk and Fairytale Films and Vintage Sundays on Sundays 3 December.Find your cinema and book tickets