Booknado 2016: October – Book vs. Movie Smackdown! – The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber/Wolfen (1981)

Werewolves always get short shrift. In the pantheon of monsters, they’re kind of an afterthought, despite theoretically sharing a genetic heritage with the best animals of all time.

I am Charlotte, descendant of the mighty wol-is that a sandwich?

In literature and film, werewolves are often portrayed as playing second fiddle to the sexier, cooler monster, the vampire, a relationship either servile or adversarial and always one-sided (see: True Blood, Twilight, Underworld, Dracula). It makes sense: vampires are everything we want to be: powerful, immortal, cool. Werewolves are what we fear we are: feral, bestial, animal.


The Wolfen does nothing to improve upon the monster’s legacy. Though not technically werewolves (hence Wolfen, a more sentient, deadlier version of a normal wolf), they possess a rudimentary intelligence and tribal mentality that enables them to wage a terrifying campaign against a pair of detectives who have inadvertently stumbled onto their secret.

That they don’t immediately slaughter the two cop ten pages into the book requires quite a leap of faith, considering these two bumbling idiots might as well stand in Central Park smearing Alpo on their faces for all the clever evasive moves they accomplish. That they live on, even posing a challenge for the Wolfen is pretty damn embarrassing, like any football team losing to the Cleveland Browns.

Surely, I thought, the movie can’t be worse than the book.


It can’t be too terrible, I thought. I get that it came out in 1981, so I was prepared to accept a certain level of production quality. And it stars such names as Albert Finney, Tom Noonan, and Edward James Olmos. The fact that it deviates considerably from the source material could only be a bonus.

Holy hell,this movie was amazing.

I don’t even know where to start with this lost gem, so I will presents a few carefully curated insights to allow potential viewers to decide for themselves whether this film is worth two hours of their life:

  • Approximately 50% of the movie is filmed in “Wolf-o-vision,” which is basically a lo-fi Instagram filter
  • Starring: Albert Finney’s hair. Albert Finney’s sweatpants. Albert Finney’s eyebrows. Not actually starring: Albert Finney.
  • Lady Detective. Did you get that? Lady. Detective.
  • In a fairly offensive Native American stereotype, Edward James Olmos takes peyote and runs around naked, thinking he is a wolf.
  • Also starring: An old timey windmill.
  • Spoiler alert: the Wolfen look like normal wolves.


Skip both. Bad bad bad bad bad.

*Neighboring Packs

  • Whitley Strieber is still actively writing, focusing on alien encounters and journaling about out-of-body experiences. Apparently, he experienced an abduction/encounter himself back in the 80’s and wrote a popular book, Communion about it. So there’s that.
  • Here are some books about werewolves you should maybe read, and then tell me if they’re any good: The Book of Were-Wolves by Sabine Baring Gould, The Wolf’s Hour By Robert McCammon, The Howling by Gary Brandner, The Wolfman by Nicholas Pekearo.
  • Here are some good films about werewolves: The Wolfman (1941), Werewolf of London (1935), An American Werewolf in London (1981), Silver Bullet (1985), Cursed (2005).
  • Here is a song about werewolves: Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon.

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