Wolf (1994) – WTF Happened to This Horror Movie?

The new episode of the WTF Happened to This Horror Movie video series looks back at Wolf, starring Jack Nicholson

The Wolf episode of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? was Written and Narrated by Adam Walton, Edited by Juan Jimenez, Produced by Andrew Hatfield and John Fallon, and Executive Produced by Berge Garabedian.

If anybody ever had the acting chops in the 90s to convincingly play a publisher who gets bitten by a werewolf and then slowly starts to become one himself, it’s Jack Nicholson. This must have been exactly what producers Douglas Wick and Neal A. Machlis were thinking when casting their 1994 romantic horror movie and who better than the guy that convincingly played unhinged characters previously in both One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and The Shining? His past work as an actor was already impressive enough and his distinctive features and natural charm meant that he was perfect for the role. The movie sits snugly in the ‘so bad it’s actually pretty good’ category and there’s not necessarily anything we can say that would prepare you for the experience that is watching director Mike Nichols’ Wolf (watch it HERE). So, get ready to for a transformative experience as we howl at the moon and find out just WTF Happened to This Horror Movie!

The year 1994 saw many memorable and classic movies released, as well as some features that were, to put it nicely, challenging to sit through. Great films such as Leon, The Shawshank Redemption, Pulp Fiction, Speed, Forrest Gump, Natural Born Killers, The Crow and Dumb and Dumber graced movie theaters to high acclaim and hilarity. While, on the flipside, we endured films such as The Shadow and The Flintstones with the studios banking on known IPs to boost their box office figures. In this case, they failed somewhat. Wolf sits somewhere in the middle of this. It’s one of those movies that is undeniably enjoyable but as you sit there admiring the visuals, and Jack Nicholson’s hirsute werewolf face as he takes a chunk out of a poor, unsuspecting deer, you can’t quite pinpoint exactly why you’re enjoying it.

Wolf WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

The film’s plot follows aging, down on his luck publisher, Will Randall, played by Jack Nicholson, who’s being usurped by his younger colleagues at work and finds out that the guy who replaces him is also sleeping with his wife. However, after being bitten by a black wolf he unwittingly runs over on his way back home, he suddenly finds himself energized, more competitive than ever, and possessed with amazingly heightened senses. It’s a gloriously baffling movie and features a wealth of talent both in front of the camera and also behind the scenes. Alongside Jack Nicholson we get Janet Van Dyne herself, Michelle Pfeiffer, who also has form for playing characters with a split personality. Pfeiffer plays Will’s love interest while James Spader is on board as his slippery protege Stewart Swinton, as well as Kate Nelligan as Will’s unfaithful wife Charlotte. Filling out the rest of the cast are excellent stars such as Richard Jenkins, Christopher Plummer, David Hyde Pierce and Om Puri as Dr. Vijay Alezias. We also get an appearance by Allison Janey who unfortunately gets a solitary line then disappears completely.

As well as an eclectic cast, the talent behind the camera was also impressive. The movie’s director, Mike Nichols, had already enthralled audiences with 1966’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf and The Graduate from 1967, and would later go on to direct solid movies such as 1988’s Working Girl and 2004’s Closer. However, the production had seemingly bitten off more than it could chew in pre-production with Legends of the Fall author and screenwriter Jim Harrison clashing with director Nichols over those dreaded ‘creative differences’, stating that, “I wanted Dionysian, but he wanted Apollonian. He took my wolf and made it into a Chihuahua. I cracked up for 10 minutes and then went out into the country and stood in front of a wolf den and apologized while my dog hid under the truck.”. Unfortunately the experience on the movie led to Harrison leaving Hollywood for good.

Looking back on the film for this retrospective and you can see why such well known and talented people became involved in the project. There’s an interesting satirical commentary on social behaviours in the script that bubble away until the Wolf is finally unleashed. Nicholson’s Will is an intelligent, well-read fella whose job is to judge written works of art and sell them on to equally civilized individuals such as himself. However, he’s restrained by the usually accepted ‘norms’ of society, avoiding confrontation even when his job is taken away by the same guy that’s having sex with his wife. At one point he also seemingly gives Stewart his blessing as the younger guy moves into his job, probably not long after having fucked his wife the night before. However, the movie’s called Wolf for a reason and when Will is bitten by that pesky black wolf all bets are off and the beast within rears its humorously vindictive face.

Unfortunately, the movie is somewhat tame when it comes to the Wolf-infused violence. Wolf-Will starts to stand up for himself, gets his job back and has Stewart fired, not before pissing on his shoes in one awesomely hilarious scene. However, as a movie designed for adults the writers could really have mined some good old fashioned sex and violence from the concept. Instead we see Will hook up with Michelle Pfeiffer’s Laura Alden in a great scene consisting of insulting dialogue, and noisy peanut butter sandwich eating. We do get a relatively gnarly scene in which Will finds the severed fingers of a mugger he killed the night before, having possibly saved them for a midnight Wolf-snack. There’s no mention of this murder again in the movie, however, and instead of facing the consequences of suddenly becoming all-Wolf, the transformation is nothing but great for him. Mostly. The final stretch of the movie naturally sees the most conflict and while it’s good to see Will and Stewart finally go full-wolf, the visual effects from legendary VFX maestro Rick Baker are not the best example in the genre, and certainly not a patch on the transformation scene from An American Werewolf in London, for example. But, that’s a high bar to reach for, admittedly.

Wolf WTF Happened to This Horror Movie

The opening credits are, in fact, notable for stating “special effects by Rick Baker” and as he designed the aforementioned lupine VFX in An American Werewolf in London the expectation from viewers was probably that they would at least get close to that classic movie’s most iconic scene. The make-up effects in the earlier sections of the movie are fairly cheesy but when it gets to the hairy middle-aged werewolf fracas at the end, the effects elicit more of a mild chuckle, rather than the viscous claws and teeth battle it could have been. At least they probably kept the local fancy-dress shop going by buying their entire stock of fake teeth!

The movie was released to some acclaim in the US on June 17th, with the UK and other territories getting the movie a little later in the summer. It grossed $65 million domestically and $66 million internationally, for an overall total of around $131 million worldwide. The critical reception for the film was mixed, with some praising it for keeping to its satirical metaphors earlier in the narrative and also for it’s non traditional take on the werewolf movie; about what would really happen if a New York book editor actually did become a deer (and peanut butter) munching werewolf. Less favourable were other reviews with some critical of it being a horror movie about office politics while Time Out stated that; “Quite frankly, it’s hard to fathom why exactly anyone would have wanted to make this slick, glossy, but utterly redundant werewolf movie. Overall, this is needlessly polished nonsense: not awful; just toothless, gutless and bloodless.” Perhaps this movie needed more ‘bite’ for some tastes.

Following the movie’s theatrical debut in 1994, it was initially released on VHS in January 1995 by Columbia TriStar Home Video, followed by a laserdisc version in February 1996. The DVD would follow in November 1997 with about as many extra features as there were scares in the film – hardly any. The region one release was fairly vanilla while most other territories had the theatrical trailer to enjoy for harcore fans. It wasn’t until the Blu-ray release in October 2009 that we got to see some substantial extras alongside the theatrical cut. The most notable of these was the documentary ‘The Beast Inside: Creating Wolf’, that featured interviews with producer Douglas Wick, screenwriter Wesley Strick, and special effects artist Rick Baker. The doc is fairly lengthy at 55 minutes but watching it makes you realise why it’s almost an hour long as the production was fairly substantial. There’s some interesting tales from this making of, such as the tinkering with the film’s ending, which apparently was mainly the addition of a $700,000 shot of Jack Nicholson’s wolf-jump, as well as Rick Baker suggesting the movie’s denouement was a disappointment. There’s also a few surprising anecdotes from the production team, such as The Rolling Stones legend, Mick Jagger, being considered for the role Christopher Plummer played, and overall it’s an engaging look behind the scenes.

The rest of the disc includes more archival material such as interviews with the majority of the cast, producer Douglas Wick again and also writer Jim Harrison, who recalls an incident in a cabin that influenced the film. There’s also around four minutes of B-roll footage, the theatrical trailer and also an image gallery to round off the special features. Fans also get a nice booklet with an essay on the movie, interviews and also extracts from the more favourables reviews for the movie. In May 2014, Mill Creek Entertainment released a 20th Anniversary Series edition of the movie on DVD with the grand total of ‘zero’ extra features, which seems completely pointless with the Blu-ray boasting a lengthy documentary plus other decent additions.

Mike Nichol’s Wolf is one of those rare movies that tackles a beloved genre and spins it on its head in a way that worked for some, and for others is simply a baffling exercise in Wolf-themed social commentary, albeit a largely bloodless one. I’m going to award the movie 6 out of 10 peanut butter sandwiches as it really is an interesting take on the werewolf genre, but lacks sufficient gore and sex for this particular reviewer. So, what are you waiting for, ditch what you’re doing tonight and seek out Mike Nichol’s Wolf and approach with an open mind. It may not gleefully howl at the moon as it could have done, but it’s entertaining in its own goofy, charming way.

A couple of the previous episodes of WTF Happened to This Horror Movie? can be seen below. To see more, head over to our JoBlo Horror Originals YouTube channel – and subscribe while you’re there!

Source: Arrow in the Head

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