It Came From the ‘80s is a series that pays homage to the monstrous, deadly, and often slimy creatures that made the ‘80s such a fantastic decade in horror.
Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire just celebrated its 25th anniversary. A decade before directing the sprawling vampire Gothic romance, he directed a Gothic fairy tale centered around werewolves. Co-written by Jordan and Angela Carter, The Company of Wolves gives a dreamlike Red Riding Hood spin on a coming of age story. Here horror meets fantasy and presents a unique sort of anthology. Matching that uniqueness, of course, is the way the werewolves are handled on screen.
The core story is set in the present day and follows young teen Rosaleen (Sarah Patterson). She’s at the age of coming into womanhood, and when she falls asleep, she dreams of wolves. Specifically, that she lived in a fairy tale forest in the 18th century, and wolves have devoured her sister Alice. While the family mourns, Rosaleen goes to stay with her Granny (Angela Lansbury), who knits her a red shawl while spinning tales of wolves disguised as men. Later, Rosaleen recounts werewolf stories of her own. The two storytellers have opposing views of the werewolves; Granny is warning Rosaleen of man’s carnal evils while Rosaleen embraces the wolves.
In true Grimm fairy tale fashion, these stories tend to be grisly. The fevered dream setting is a stark contrast to the gory nature of men transforming into a beast, as evidenced by the first story Granny tells. On his wedding night, Young Groom (Stephen Rea) is about to consummate his new marriage when the call of the moon beckons him. He doesn’t come back, though. Eventually, his Young Bride moves on, remarries, and has children. Years later, Young Groom returns and is enraged to discover his wife bore children by another man. So much so that he begins tearing his flesh apart to let out his inner beast.
This transformation and the film’s special makeup effects were created by artist Christopher Tucker (The Elephant Man, Star Wars: Episode IV- A New Hope). Tucker happens to have firm opinions when it comes to werewolves. He’s not a fan of bipedal wolfmen; werewolves should be actual wolves, Tucker feels. And that’s how he designed his werewolves for this movie, though the transformation is very bloody and painful.
For the particular transformation scene with Young Groom, Tucker and his crew created six stages of transformation. The first is the most simple; yellow contacts and some facial prosthetics- “never trust a man whose eyebrows meet in the middle.” Then, he tears at his flesh. From there, Tucker and crew built multiple animatronic creatures from scratch. Each one grew more canine in appearance, all bearing varying levels of muscle and sinew.
The final articulated mech creature was a fully formed, hairy wolf. In other words, stages 2-6 were all animatronics. No small feat, especially considering the exposed muscle means it’s not so easy to hide the wiring and mechanisms. Or that the entire production operated with a minuscule budget.
The budget does sometimes show in The Company of Wolves, but it’s such a strange outlier that it’s not to the film’s detriment. A waking lucid dream, this fantasy horror creates a set of rules for its werewolves unlike any other horror film. And while I don’t entirely agree with Tucker’s strong beliefs on what a werewolf should be (I’m a fan of all types, bipedal and otherwise), he did manage to present a wholly different kind of transformation sequence and resulting lycanthropes for this 1984 gem.