Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #381
Number of Views: Three
Release Date: 21 September 1984 (UK)
Country of Origin: United Kingdom
Box Office: $4,389,334
Running Time: 95 minutes
Director: Neil Jordan
Producers: Chris Brown, Stephen Woolley
Screenplay: Angela Carter, Neil Jordan
Special Effects: Christopher Tucker, Alan Whibley
Cinematography: Bryan Loftus
Score: George Fenton
Editing: Rodney Holland
Studio: Palace Productions
Distributors: ITC, Cannon (US), Vestron Video
Stars: Sarah Patterson, Angela Lansbury, David Warner, Micha Bergese, Stephen Rea, Kathryn Pogson, Georgia Slowe, Brian Glover, Graham Crowden, Susan Porrett, Shane Johnstone, Tusse Silberg, Danielle Dax, Jim Carter, Terence Stamp
Suggested Audio Candy:
George Fenton The Message
Fairy tales always fascinated me as a child. In particular the works of Jacob and Wilheim Grimm from the early nineteenth century allowed my over-active imagination to soar. The brothers popularized many German and Scandinavian mythologies during their lifetime and these have become cherished folk-lore over the past two centuries, bedtime stories for young whippersnappers who have drunk their milk and eaten their cookies. My vivid imagination has always been my most treasured asset and these parables fuelled my intrigue to such a degree that my sleeping hours became densely populated with all manner of wonderful, mythical creatures.
“Little girls, this seems to say / Never stop upon your way / Never trust a stranger friend / No-one knows how it will end / As you’re pretty, so be wise / Wolves may lurk in every guise / Now as then, ’tis simple truth / Sweetest tongue has sharpest tooth”
I was twelve when I first watched Neil Jordan’s The Company of Wolves, which was the precise age of its main protagonist Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson). It was around the time of my own sexual awakening and also a particularly sweet spot for my knack of distorting the boundaries of my own imaginings. Jordan’s film, based on Angela Carter’s werewolf anthology The Bloody Chamber, struck a chord instantly and encouraged my young mind to vacate its comfort zone and probe the darker recesses not yet scrutinized. Consequently I began to suffer lurid phantasms although suffer may not be the most accurate way of describing my receipt of such visions. Other kids my age were terrified by night terrors whereas, to Keeper, they offered unparalleled enchantment. This wonderfully surreal movie stole away my innocence and ushered me through adolescence.
Its gnarled Gothic setting, shot almost entirely in the studio, looks like the creation of H.R. Giger and features no end of Freudian symbolism. The woods are strewn with oversized toys, each representing Rosaline’s enduring innocence and desire not to part with it. She is on the cusp of adolescence and young womanhood beckons; but all the while she desires to regress back to her childhood and a more secure period. Alas, the red cloak she wears on her back betrays her with sexual urges and twinges representing menstruation. Meanwhile, men are dominant forces and, their predatory instincts, something to fear but surreptitiously lust after. It’s a mindfield for the poor girl and that’s exactly the point Jordan’s tale endeavors to hammer home.
“Never stray from the path, never eat a windfall apple and never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle”
The narrative comprises a number of short stories, interspersed into the overarching story beautifully and each highlighting the girl’s curiosity as she prepares for her inevitable deflowering. It’s a good thing that granny (Angela Lansbury) is on-hand to offer her pearls of wisdom. Menopause has long since come and gone, any hot flushes have been replaced by piping cocoa, and her advice is incalculable for a young girl about to embark on her own passageway into womanhood. One such gem is that Rosaleen should never give it up to a suitor bearing monobrow. Such candidates are inherently evil, wolves in a lamb’s attire, and will snatch your immaculateness and feast on it before your very eyes. This should have raised red flags as one of my closest friends had a real growler; a flatline of fur which he wore like spectacles atop his brow. Thankfully, I was on the correct side of the fence, he was never likely to pick up my own menstrual scent, and instead I just feared for any young girls in his vicinity. But I did take heed of granny’s warning.
George Fenton The Story of The Bride and Groom
Time waits for no man, or woman either, and Rosaleen’s folly is that, despite her best attempts at clutching her chastity, invariably the wolves will come knocking at her door. They’re cunning bastards for sure and think nothing of donning granny’s bloomers in order to pull the wool over her eyes, much like their male counterparts. They also hunt in packs and it is in their nature to claim what they believe to be rightfully theirs. Of course, we all know about boys with toys, and eventually they will destroy her childhood innocence by running amok and destroying every last one of her playthings. It’s one huge metaphor for coming-of-age and Rosaleen was right in the thick of the forest.
The photography by Bryan Loftus exemplified the dreamer in our protagonist and surrealism acted as a stepping stone from tale to tale through his nightmarish formulation, coupled with Jordan’s own lurid vision. The forest spilled over with angst-ridden trees, thorny brambles, harrowing pathways into dark cubby holes, and a palpable mist that you could almost taste. What they achieved with a decidedly modest budget is downright startling and, when the realms of reality were contorted, the quality of Christopher Tucker and Alan Whibley’s award-winning make-up was there for all to marvel at. The transformation effects, in particular, are amongst the most mortifying ever crafted and tested our endurance by pushing the envelope farther than the likes of Landis and Dante ever facilitated. In addition, George Fenton’s hypnagogic musical compositions fitted snugly like granny’s petticoat.
The tales themselves were purely cautionary fare. Granny was aware that girls will do what girls will do but wished to arm her granddaughter with knowledge for her skip through the thicket of womanhood. Each parable was woven intricately into the narrative and one thing was consistent, that being that she’d better pack a can of mace in her hamper. Jordan’s ensemble comprised dab-hands like David Warner, Stephen Rea, Brian Glover, and Terence Stamp in an uncredited role as the Prince of Darkness himself. This role was originally intended for Andy Warhol, but the extrovert’s fear of travel prevented him from making the cross-Atlantic journey. All the players were in their element and everything tied together quite wondrously for the gifted director (who later brought Interview With A Vampire and The Crying Game to the masses).
Most critically it was the brooding, loitering atmosphere which served The Company of Wolves so well. The woodland intentionally felt insular, starved of sunlight, and constantly at odds with our free will. We became ensnared, just like Rosaleen, but also set free to explore the darker side of popular folk-lore and its sexual relevancy in the contemporary. In many ways, Jordan’s film was evocative of works of Hammer and courted the same level of madness as their finest fables. Thirty years on it remains a true one-off, quite unlike any other film, and still as full of vitality as it ever was. I spent the entirety of my pubescence crying wolf and nobody could discern my anguish. The Company of Wolves was very much aware of my plight and offered the freedom to explore my sensational imagination further. Quite the wolf in sheep’s clothing it appears.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Who’s afraid of the big bad wolf? Careful, his bushy brow foliage bridges at the intersection. That means he is hairy on the inside and cannot be trusted you know. In The Company of Wolves we were afforded sight beneath such wispy veils of humanity as sheep’s clothing is shed in all its gory glory and it truly was a sight to behold. The transformation scenes were executed quite brilliantly and there are few other fairy tales quite as adult as Jordan’s. The Brothers Grimm would be most appreciative I’m sure.
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Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2015