Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson) is a 12-year-old girl whose older sister has just died. On the eve of said sister’s funeral, Rosaleen dreams of how she may have died – imagining her fleeing through the dark woods outside their home and being pursued by hungry wolves.

Following the funeral, Rosaleen is consoled by her Grandmother (Angela Lansbury). The old lady sees it fit to regale her granddaughter with tales warning about the wolverine nature of men. The first of these yarns to be turned into a vignette-within-the-film concerns a local woman who married a traveller (a very young-looking Stephen Rea), only to go on and experience the worst wedding night ever.

Far from being disturbed by her Grandmother’s stories, Rosaleen is intrigued more and more by the notion that men may be wolves in any other guise. She is, after all, on the cusp of sexual maturity, and already enjoying the attention of a teenaged boy in their village.

The stories continue, until one Sunday the boy offers to walk Rosaleen home from church. She accepts (having sought permission from her parents: her father is David Warner – how cool!), and they skip nonchalantly into the woods.

However, Grandmother’s warning about never straying from the beaten path is soon forgotten when the flirty pair begin a game of kiss-chase. They deviate into the forestry, and make a lucky escape back to their village square when confronted by wolves.

The males among the community respond by taking to the woods with guns. Later that night, Rosaleen’s father returns to their home with a severed hand. He says it came from a wolf that he shot, and which later turned back into a human. It seems that, despite Rosaleen’s mother’s protestations to the contrary, Grandmother’s claims were true!

Of course, none of this stops Rosaleen being knitted a red hood and then sent off a few days later into the woods, on a mission to visit her lonely Grandmother. What’s the betting that she’s going to encounter something or someone big and bad along the way …?

Within minutes debut feature director Neil Jordan (later to direct INTERVIEW WITH THE VAMPIRE, THE BRAVE ONE etc) sets out his metaphorical stall, depicting woodlands filled with phallic toadstools and a girl in virginal white being hunted by wolves with glowing red eyes. Red, that is, as in the colour of lust, danger, violence, rage …

Furthermore, as events progress we realise that animals feature at regular intervals as symbolic threats against the sexual world Rosaleen is teetering on discovering. Look out for spiders, snakes, ferrets and – my favourite – a hedgehog which turns up in a newlywed’s bed, blatantly signifying the perils in store for this woman who’s on the verge of losing her virginity. By the time a pivotal character’s elongated tongue starts protruding from his mouth like an erect penis, it’s fair to say Jordan is to subtlety what Jimmy Savile was to babysitting.

If you enjoy such heavy allegorical content though, then sit back and enjoy. It doesn’t get much more brazen, outside of surrealist cinema.

On top of all that, we get some of the most ridiculously gorgeous Gothic cinematography ever committed to celluloid, and a great horror score worthy of the classic Hammer era. Jordan definitely intends this piece as a love letter to the halcyon days of great British horror films, albeit with the added shock factor of more overt sexual leanings and – of course – a fair old dose of early 80s FX wizardry. As such, viewers can expect some marvellous (for their time) werewolf transformation sequences.

Perhaps most impressive on a visual level though are the scenes in the woods, which are a significant character in themself. The scenes where Rosaleen collects water from a well in the centre of the woodlands are reminiscent of PAN’S LABYRINTH in their haunting, beautiful charm. Although obviously filmed on a set for the most part, these scenes are simply wonderful to behold: they’re truly, cinematically beautiful.

To cap it all off, we get an interesting cast too. As well as Warner and Rea, you can look forward to seeing the late great Brian Glover and, of course, Lansbury as the adage-quoting Granny ("never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle" etc). Not to mention Terrence Stamp in a cameo as the devil …

Taking in elements from classic fables (‘The Boy Who Cried Wolf’, ‘Little Red Riding Hood’ etc) is pulled off more deftly than you’d expect. In fact, it’s only the occasional bum performance and inconsistencies (an innocent 12-year-old wearing lippy for bed; the manner in which some men mutate into wolves, while in other cases the beast literally bursts out of their skin) that compromise an otherwise surprisingly timeless proposition.

ITV have previously released THE COMPANY OF WOLVES onto blu-ray in the UK. They’ve now re-released it in a limited Steelbook edition, which also features a second disc proffering the film on DVD.

Their previous blu-ray release came out a few years ago now and, although I watched it once, I can’t honestly remember it well enough to make a comparison. However, from memory, I would say this is the exact same VC-1 transfer. Specks I remember on the screen from back then are still evident, as is a softness in some early scenes. So, there’s no new transfer from the looks of things and certainly no major restoration having been undertaken here.

But, having said that, the transfer is impressive at many turns. Grain can be seen dancing agreeably in darker scenes; colours are heightened over the DVD version; flesh-tones are natural and detail is definitely increased. The depth and texture of the rich ‘exterior’ night scenes do, at times, dazzle in their HD clarity. If the transfer is uneven (and it is, some day scenes looking disappointingly hazy), then the overall result is a satisfying one.

English mono audio is clean and impressive in terms of playing back the excellent score. But sometimes the dialogue is too low unfortunately. A lossless mix would’ve been nice in this day and age.

Optional English subtitles are provided. Annoyingly, they don’t appear to be correctly framed – which results in the bottom half of them being cropped off!

The blu-ray disc opens to an animated main menu page. From there, pop-up menus include a scene-selection menu allowing access to the film via 12 chapters.

Extras on the first disc begin and end with a commentary track from Jordan, moderated by Robert Ross. Ross is a good interviewer; Jordan has a highly listenable Irish twang to his voice. It’s a good audio commentary: fluent, interesting, informative.

Over on the DVD, there is a softer presentation of the film – it’s duller palette-wise too, serving to really highlight the strengths of its higher definition counterpart. Mono audio is on a par with the blu-ray disc’s. The optional English subtitles here are different to those on the blu-ray, and are positioned correctly within the framing.

Again opening with an animated main menu page and boasting 12 chapter scene-access to the film, the disc mirrors the blu-ray’s inclusion of the superb commentary track – as well as throwing in the original 3-minute theatrical trailer and a 34-strong stills gallery (billed on the packaging as a "Behind the Scenes Dossier").

So, the DVD is the same as the old release. As for the blu-ray, ITV have sadly missed an opportunity to fully restore the film and sort out their problematic mono audio mix. A few new bonus features would’ve been nice too but, no, all we get is a combination of the blu-ray and DVD discs that have previously been made available, and a Steelbook packaging – which, admittedly, is pretty gorgeous.

Even so, if you’ve yet to add the film to your collection, it is a classic that ages extremely well – and the HD transfer, while not perfect, is easily the best this film has yet received.

Review by Stuart Willis

Released by ITV DVD
Region B
Rated 18
Extras :
see main review