It’s no secret that your average fairytale is twistier than a pair of headphones pulled from your pocket and while Disney has done their best to clean them up there are still those that cling to the Brother Grimm way of telling these tales. Authors like Neil Gaiman have kept that tradition alive, and films like The Company Of Wolves make sure that Disney Princesses aren’t the only ones that find adventure in the woods.
Based on the short story of the same name by Angela Carter (who also wrote the screenplay) The Company Of Wolves dives into the story of Little Red Riding Hood. Except here, the sexual terror that is at the heart of the original comes to the fore.
Set up as the world of a young girl’s nightmare, the film introduces us to Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) whose sister has been killed by wolves as she walked in the woods alone. The night of her funeral Rosaleen goes back to her grandmother’s (Angela Lansbury) house and is regaled by stories of werewolves and warned to stay away from men whose eyebrows meet.
This formula repeats throughout the movie. Within the world of this dream, we are introduced to stories inside stories, as various characters reveal their wolfy treats. They’re spectacular treats as well. This film has a dark heart to it, and the tales have a sinister edge. An edge that is backed by the effects used. This may be over thirty years old, but the images of people turning into wolves or flesh peeling off bones will still send a shiver down your spine. If anything the ageing adds to the power. The distortion making it all the more unsettling.
The Company Of Wolves feels like something that Hammer would have made in their heydey. It relies not on jump scares or cackling villains but on an atmosphere that wraps its cold blanket around you and has you instinctively reaching for the light switch the second it’s over. Glancing into the corner of the room and dreading seeing a shining pair of eyes stare back at you.
It’s an atmosphere which allows the film to flourish despite undercooked characters. They are working on fairytale archetypes here. The superstitious Granny and the young girl who strays from the path despite repeated warning not to. However, when you have a film that so skillfully manipulates your nightmares, it’s not an issue. The characters are as caught up in this world as we are and can do nothing but go along with the tide.
I’d never even heard of The Company Of Wolves until I stumbled upon it on the BFI Player which seems somewhat wrong. Neil Jordan’s film is a visually stunning piece of work and puts most modern day horror to shame. It nails the feeling of a world that’s just not quite right and where danger lurks around every twist and turn.
Verdict: Hall of Fame