Movie of the Week: The Company of Wolves

Do you remember the story of Little Red Riding Hood?  It’s a popular bedtime story told around the world.  I remember my mother and grandmother telling me the story when I was a kid.  We even had storybooks of Red, a Little Golden Book edition if I remember correctly (it’s been a while since then).  These were all the sanitized versions being told to me and countless other kids.  It wasn’t just Red either that was tidied up, but practically all the Grimm stories from Hansel & Gretel on down.

The original version Red Riding Hood is a messy affair.  The woodcutter, or hunter, depending on which version you read, cuts the wolf open after it has eaten Red and her grandmother.  They jump out and decided to fill the wolf with stones and sew him back up.  In one version, the stones kill the Big Bad Wolf while it tries to escape, in another the rocks cause the wolf to drown in the well.

The uncut, unabridged version of the story didn’t fly in my mama’s house.  It took a few years of independent study before  I learned the original story.  Naturally, I preferred it (no guts, no glory).  Still more years later, I discovered Neil Jordan’s The Company of WolvesIt’s a strange movie, but any movie operating on dream logic should be.  It is based on Angela Carter’s short story of the same name, and it is one of the more unique werewolf movies ever made.  Probably one of the most beautiful and unnerving as well.

In the present day, young Rosaleen spends her time in a dream world inside her head.  Her fantasy land is an ancient forest full of shadows, towering trees, and menacing creatures.  In this forest, something vicious is on the prowl, hunting in the night.  Cattle are found dead, attacked by wolves.  Wolves also kill Alice, Rosaleen’s sister.  Once the villagers catch and kill a wolf, the beast reverts to a human man.

In the middle of all this, Rosaleen visits her grandmother (Angela Landsbury), who not only gifts her a wonderful red shawl, but warns her to beware of men whose eyebrows have grown together.  In two shakes of a slaughtered lamb’s tail, Rosaleen meets a hunter whose eyebrows meet.

That’s just a small portion of this fevered film.  The Company of Wolves is a story about telling stories, of dreams within fantasies and the mysteries of desire.  It’s the uncensored Red Riding Hood, a horror-filled fairy tale.

As an added bonus, when you have finished the movie, be sure to read Angela Carter’s story collection The Bloody Chamber which contains the story the movie is based on (Carter co-wrote the screenplay).  The other stories in the collection are based upon fairy tales, too.  They are just as enchanting and twisted.