Settle back, folks … we're going to go some distance with this one. So just take your time, and relax. If you can.
I first encountered Whitley Strieber's debut novel Wolfen at the age of nine. I'd been ill with bronchitis and it was the paperback of this phenomenal chiller-thriller about the hunt for the culprits behind a series of savage feral killings in a nightmarish wintry Big Apple that saw me through two weeks off school. Oh, and Lucozade in the classic crinkly wrapper! To date, it remains my most re-read book, with a genuine power to make me shudder and glance over my shoulder. When I found out that a film adaptation had been made, I was absolutely elated. But I was only able to catch up with it on home video a year or two after its theatrical run – which, in the UK, had been very patchy despite the fact that it came out in 1981, the great year of Wolf Movies, what with The Howling and An American Werewolf In London! The film was different from the book in a large number of ways, but I still fell completely in love with its combination of police procedural, supernatural mystery and gritty set-piece mayhem. I watch it very often and it never ceases to thrill, astound, terrify and move me. The book is, very possibly, my favourite novel, and Michael Wadleigh's cinematic take is one of those incredibly rare occasions when the film is at least as good as the literary source material, if not better.
“They can see two looks away. They can hear a cloud pass overhead.”
Complementing Wadleigh's film and, in no small measure, supplying it with that essential heart and soul, is the achingly gorgeous score from the then-young James Horner. Without a doubt, his music for Wolfen is the most impressive facet of a film that knows instinctively how to interpret both fear and wonder and to communicate a strong and thrilling narrative on a spiritual, as well as visceral, level. Horner had just completed The Hand for Oliver Stone and ambitiously graced the Roger Corman double-whammy of Humanoids From The Deep and Battle Beyond The Stars, scores that would elevate not only the low budget movies, themselves, but also his own status in the industry. Thus, at this point with his own star clearly on the ascent and shining bright, even he had some years yet before becoming a fully paid-up A-list composer. But the 80's would become his own hunting ground and genres would fall easy prey to his distinctive writing, though he would swiftly establish his name as being synonymous with action, fantasy, SF and horror. His epic work on Krull, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Aliens, Commando, Willow, Cocoon and Honey, I Shrunk The Kids would confirm his status as the prime creator of intoxicating musical fantasy, lush, sweeping romanticism, pulse-pounding excitement and often astonishing depths of symphonic grandeur and melodic beauty. The fact that he could often employ all of these disparate elements in the one same score was a unique talent that few of his contemporaries could lay claim to. When you saw his name in the opening credits of a movie – more often than not accompanied by an exquisite and instantly memorable main title theme – you immediately knew that you would be in for a musical treat if nothing else.
If most fans cite Star Trek II and Aliens as being the really BIG moments that placed Horner on the map, I feel more inclined towards Wolfen and its sinuous, heartfelt ability to creep into your subconscious as being the lyrical linchpin that made moviegoers and movie-makers sit up and take notice.
When property-tycoon Christopher Van der Veer (Max M. Brown) and his wife, Pauline (Anne Marie Pohtamo) are savagely murdered the night after a groundbreaking ceremony to unveil their grand development project to renovate the slums of the South Bronx, the NYPD together with a well-connected high-tech security organisation begin an investigation. But whilst everyone else believes the crime to be an act of corporate or political terrorism, Detectives Dewey Wilson (Albert Finney) and Rebecca Neff (Diane Venora) find evidence that it is a pack of highly intelligent, super-evolved wolves – the Wolfen – who are responsible. The closer they get to the truth, the more desperate the Wolfen become to protect their secretive existence and soon the hunters become the hunted. Only the Native American construction workers, epitomised by the character of Eddie Holt (Edward James Olmos), understand the wolves, seeing them as their kindred spirits, pushed out, as they have been, by the ever-growing thrust of white civilisation to the extremities of society and forced to scavenge. But with the Indians just being exploited by commercial greed, it is the Wolfen who have learned to adapt and to survive by living off the weak and the destitute of the sickened cesspool world that Man has created around them. In the book, it was the mistake of slaying two cops that blew the lid off their world. Here, they kill the Van der Veers because they are threatening to turn their very lair into a den of luxury apartments and boutiques. The alteration allowed Wadleigh to explore the gaping rifts between the haves and the have-nots, using the Wolfen as a direct metaphor for the underdog fighting back. The film also gave us a great and typically odd performance from Tom Noonan, as an eccentric zoologist and wolf-expert whose devotion to the animals ultimately proves his undoing.
Originally, the film was scored by Craig Safan, but his interpretation, as good as it is, was rejected and Horner was brought in, with only twelve days to spare, to completely re-imagine the whole thing. With this in mind it is all the more incredible and humbling to hear the results … and how they transformed the film into something yet more instinctive, mysterious and memorable. The score from Safan, who would go on to write the awesomely majestic music for Son Of The Morning Star, also released by Intrada, is great and very scary indeed, but it lacks the spiritual and emotional dimensions that aid the storytelling so much in Horner's more inventive hands.
Due to licensing difficulties, there are actually two versions of the film – and I'm not even counting the original four-and-a-half hour cut that Wadleigh compiled. (The Safan score also contains music for a sequence in which the Wolfen pass-up a couple of would-be victims to slay another target, a fisherman down by the harbour. Man, what wouldn't I give for a chance to see the original, fuller version?) The most accessible and familiar version – that found on home video – is missing part of a scene in a bar in which the two detectives try to regain their composure after very nearly falling into a trap set by the Wolfen. Originally, singer/songwriter Tom Waits – who, in this scene, looks a helluva lot like Ron Perlman – played the owner of the bar, and we would witness him crooning away at a piano with Jitterbug Boy, but this element is shorn away from all prints that I have seen except those that have been broadcast on UK TV, most notably the airings that Channel 4 gave the film back in the nineties. Although some people may have liked to have heard the Waits song on this album, it is not here. Also missing is a very brief, but extremely violent cue that comes towards the climax of the film, and the score. I will discuss this has been omitted when we reach the relevant part of the album. But the most important thing – the thing that will have fans of the film, and especially fans of Horner, beaming wolfishly from ear-to-ear is the fact that we now have, for the first time, the complete official score to Wolfen containing every note that the composer actually wrote for the film. In post-production, Horner's music was edited down in various scenes and even repeated in others, but this presentation makes no attempt to replicate such chopping and changing, preferring to keep to Horner's recording order. The album assembly, which the composer, himself, has supervised for this release, has been maintained by Intrada.
So let's now go probing the dangerous shadows of a derelict South Bronx wasteland with James Horner as our spiritual guide … and see what we find lurking there. But be warned, as we go track-by-track, I will be describing the on-screen action and how the score responds to it in great detail.
Horner commences his score right over the top of the Orion Pictures logo with an immediate note of intense foreboding. A treacherously deep low tone heralds the first cue in Main Title, but there are lots of little percussion details incorporated within it and some echoplexing that make this initial statement something of a primal outburst, a sort of flurry of orchestral activity that gets your attention right away. Wild crunching effects from an unusual array of percussion instruments – including trans celesta, waterphone, rub-robs, Indian rattles, plastic pipe, bull roar and wind-machine – and a dark rumbling gnash from the tuba are riffled with brassy claws. A fading repetitive motif then recedes like a grim chime as the film opens out onto a view of a cold and dismal-looking New York skyline, and then one of the score’s main themes is introduced. A lone trumpet makes a plaintiff lament that sears across the roof of the urban forest. Nobody has ever actually remarked about how this haunting phrase is actually a suggestive wolf-howl. Even in the otherwise excellent accompanying notes for this release, a quote from Horner suggests that the motif is simply a noble linking voice for the wolves and the Indians. But, to me, it seems quite apparent that what the composer has crafted is a morose and melancholy howl, almost like the call of the wild echoing around the canyons of glass and steel that have engulfed a once proud natural forest. It is full of old pain and loss, but also strengthened by a sinister undertone that really makes New York appear as a very alienating and dangerous environment in which this sort of predator could actually exist. Sliding, whooshing effects from wind-machine add to the chills making our spines tremble.
Playing like a brief overture, we even get a drum roll two thirds of the way through that gives the theme an unusual stature and defiance. Sounds from the wood-block speckle this heaving swell of squalling primal force, the cue acting like a sort of monstrous take on the hullabaloo of an overcrowded metropolis. After this, the track seems to be fading-out on a long-line sustain of simmering dread, punctuated only by a quieter variation of the two-note piano motif, but listen as Horner then provides an almost hidden layer of dissonant wavering as the cue draws to a close, almost like the echo retained in the ears after shutting the front door on the cacophony of the city. Although still balefully beautiful, this track is the darker, more brooding companion to the End Credits, which gives the same theme an altogether different reading. As we shall see.
“How'd you like to see your own body and know that you were dead?”
What comes next is an epic track that details the pivotal murder of Christopher and Pauline Van der Veer, along with their formidable bodyguard – “Ton-ton Macoute. Ex-Papa Doc Secret Police. One tough sonofabitch … worth ten normals!” After the “ground breaking” ceremony that the Wolfen observe in the heart of their territory, the couple are driven in their limo over to Battery Park to revel in nostalgia – they were married there as Dewey Wilson later works out. Horner provides a twinkling twilight sort of neon nocturne, a cadence that comes courtesy of cloud-ushered strings and tepid injections from the woods that makes for a teasingly apprehensive introduction to a long sequence that will take in remorseless slaughter. Skittering notes from the bass make the encroaching darkness all the more malevolent, especially as a mysterious figure darts across the screen as they pass across the Brooklyn Bridge. A bottle is hurled at their window, Horner suddenly mimicking the snarl of a car horn with an ungainly blurt of squealing brass that seems to travel convincingly across the soundscape. Eddie Holt, who threw the bottle, then scampers up the supports of the bridge to watch as they drive away. The music here turns wonderfully mysterious, with harp and celli making little footfalls, almost like padding paws as the figure climbs ever higher up the shadowy structure. The violins that have been providing an icy backdrop to all this reach a spine-tingling sustain. This is magical stuff – darkly magical. Horner has helped Wadleigh to paint the New York skyline as the ramparts of a sort of medieval fortress … and his music makes it totally apparent that to venture outside of those dark walls is to enter a world of supernatural menace.
Horner's cue then descends into the maelstrom of primal rage. As Wadleigh's film allows us to view the world through the eyes and the senses of the Wolfen – a fantastically psychedelic optical approach (devised by Robert Blalack and Praxis) that enhances colours in light of their emotional and psychological significance – the music becomes terrifyingly wild and unpredictable.
As the Wolfen move in closer to the humans, circling around them and the historic old Dutch Windmill, Horner unleashes his stalking motif – a fierce, anvil-clanging rush of musical ferocity. Rub-rods and shifting, reed-like percussion give an animalistic bur to their movement. This material would go on to evolve into the boisterously tribal Khan motif for Star Trek II. Another amazing nod to the Trek Universe is the appearance of Craig Huxley's Blaster Beam that serves to reinforce the supernaturally charged passage of feral hatred with a deep, buzzing laser-reverb that is heard a few times in this and other cues. What is fascinating is that Horner doesn't keep the stalking motif quiet and covert – it is teeming with energy and motion. He alternates this instinctual momentum with spectral lulls denoting the humans' blissful unawareness of the threat that surrounds them. Only their pet dog realises the danger and, visibly shrinking in terror, makes off into the night, leaving its masters to their fate. Chimes represent the swinging metal statuary and woods and strings emulate the passing sweep of the wind-twirled sails.
The Wolfen theme – heard here as a brusque pushing that nudges all aside – takes little impacts nervous woodwinds. Wind-machine sweeps up the last breaths of the victims. The guard sees the Wolfen but is despatched before he can either call out or get a shot off. The animals then round on the Van der Veers. Enormously low-register chords dredge up a dire warning, the wind-machine turning and turning as the tycoon suddenly sees something behind the sails of the mill and realises that they are in trouble. Cymbals, high strings and a whining synth-line herald the execution of the Van der Veers, Horner capturing the swift brutality with alarming precision. Viciously chopping strings see-saw insanely as we watch the bodyguard's severed hand work the mechanism of the gun it still holds. An unearthly metallic shriek adds further chilling inhumanity with a sound like claws raked along steel that even seems to be mimicking whale-song. This shriek makes us flinch several times, a pre-Freddy Krueger squeal of mockery.
This track, which takes in a large portion of screen-time, even covers our introduction to the coroner, Whittington, played by Gregory Hines, as he examines the bodies at the scene of the crime. In a move that sounds reminiscent of the stricken Nostromo theme from Alien, a repetitive cello strike taps out a morose telegraph code as Whittington pulls back the sheet covering the slain Pauline Van der Veer. He tells Dewey, who is clearly a friend of his, about the sinister fact that the head can live on without oxygen for almost a minute, regaling the uncomfortable detective with tales of the guillotine and the French Revolution. Horner's music, with forlorn piano, horns marking time and churning waves of bass, provides a dirge for the victim, yet speaks of something ethereal at the same time. The strings even take on a Williams Jaws-ish sound at one point, speaking of an after-event spell of pure dread. This is spectral, uncanny and yet blissfully tragic, one of the most haunting themes from Horner's first decade of film-scoring. We knew Pauline Van der Veer only slightly more than Whittington and Dewey, but the glacial sorrow at the terrible way in which she died permeates everything thanks to Horner's insidious, soul-gnawing music. In the film this sequence ends with a note of grim black humour as the ambulance attendants remove the body so clumsily that Pauline's head audibly falls from her shoulders. Thankfully, Honer didn't opt to “Mickey Mouse” the moment with music.
It is easy to see where he got most of his influence during this period. Where he uses the echoplex he does so in a similar style to how Goldsmith handled equally atmospheric passages in Alien, attaining that steel chamber resonance that he would go on to employ in both his own addition to the mythos, Aliens, and in Commando, too. Indeed, it would become an 80's hallmark of his. This is exemplified in the next cue.
Track 3 takes us In The Church with Dewey and Rebecca as they investigate the ruined old structure in the epicentre of the Dresden-like remnants of the South Bronx after some grisly body-parts with lupine hairs on them (similar to the Van der Veer remains) have turned up there. Whilst Wadleigh crafts the scene superbly – the disinterested Dewey making sarcastic comments about Catholicism whilst the Wolfen, hidden upstairs, mimic the sound of a human baby to lure the woman away from him – Horner saps the nerves with skin-prickling atmospherics. It may be broad daylight outside, with the sun igniting the weirdly ominous stained-glass pictures in the windows, but the sense of being trapped right within the enemy's lair is paramount. “The Devil on one shoulder … and the angel on the other,” chides the cop with an exaggeratedly Oirish accent. Raucous strings and woods and unusual percussion grate against one another as we see the humans through Wolfen-eyes, the pack tracking them from hidden vantage points as they wander up to the church. That “crunching” effect from rub-rods and wooden rattles and shakers taps against your rib-cage. Swift cutting across the cello unsettles, a sound really amplified with clarity here like never before, making you feel as though a Satanic storm is brewing just outside your door. Sinister bass and echoing chime, like a rusted bell struck with the Blaster Beam, slowly warns us not to go inside the building with the cops. Woods suggest an ill-wind wafting through the shattered doorway and the dilapidated walls. We hear the xylophone – like shredded knuckles dropped down bloodied steps. Woods are echoplexed to chilling effect. Added to this are the echoing thumps of ethnic percussion that remind us of the suspense of Alien, giving that same distinctive impression of being in absolutely the wrong place at the wrong time. Rebecca begins to climb the stairs, lured towards certain death … but Dewey finally discerns the animal yelp that is behind the fake baby-cry and hauls her out of there just in time, and back to the car. In the film, the music carries on over this tumbling, chaotic rescue but, curiously, Horner doesn't actually score the moment. Instead, the film edits-in part of the exciting cue from Track 5, which I will discuss later.
In the rather misleadingly titled Wolfen Run to Church, Track 4, the pack wait until nightfall to pick up the trail of the two nosey cops and pursue them into the city, but, if anything, they are running away from the church. Either way, this is a cue of barrelling aggression as the animals, who still remain unseen by us, save for a flitting, red-eyed shadow on the stairs of the church, move across the bridge and then, taking cover behind various cars and in certain doorways, track the detectives first to a bar, and then presumably to Neff's apartment, where a couple of false feline scares lie in wait. A shivering string phrase, together with harp, slithers down a brassy wall. Echoplexed percussion then clamours like a boulder dropped into a steel tunnel … and suddenly we're off, up and running with the pack. Trombones and tuba make gut-shrivelling and impulsive lurches, gathering strength and speed, brass even treating the main theme to a freakishly wild pull by the scruff of the neck. Frightening medieval strings sizzle and screech. The Wolfen move onto the bridge. One late-night workman pays dearly for seeing them on the charge and is sent flying over the railings to his death. There are anvil clashes and searing viola, bellicose brass and furious bass and horn-work to contend with in this blistering salvo of galvanistic anger. We hear the piano and the belching roar of the tuba. As demented as all this, you can glean the blood-rush thrill of the pack as they pound along. Synth and gypsy-like violins go toe-to-toe. A strangled trumpet rendition of the Main Title cuts through the energetic swamp of sound, the haste and agility of the 67-piece orchestra keeping up with the Wolfen, but leaving us breathless and shaken by the end of the track … which has been an absolute standout.
The score, as heard on the album, is not strictly in film-chronological order. But I will attempt to keep this review in-line with the movie's action and its own sense of momentum. Thus, in film-order, we now come to to Track 6.
Here in Shape Shifting, Dewey follows Eddie Holt after he leaves the Indian bar. Already a suspect in the Van der Veer killings for his militant tendencies, Eddie has previously mocked the detective with fanciful talk of being able to transform into different animals at will. “One night a deer. The next night a salmon.” “Or a wolf?” asks Dewey with a hint of a baleful grin. Eddie just regards him without a flinch. “Sure.” Dewey witnesses an older, wiser Indian put something like a wafer into Eddie's mouth, before leaving the activist to make his way down to the beach, where he strips off and performs a bizarre ritual that culminates in him running through the black lapping sea, drinking from it like a dog, and howling at the full moon. Horner's music makes this startling sequence eerie, lyrical and bewitching, with a tragic frankness that seems to allude to mental instability … until Eddie spies the detective and begins to stalk him … and the cue then turns savage and intimidating. Partly returning to the Wolfen hunting motif, this deliberately sets-up a direct affinity between the Indians and the wolves. Eddie, who finally corners the cop, spits out the tribal medicine and coldly informs him, “Dewey … like I said … it's all in the head, man.” One of the film's most unusual scenes, this acts as partial red-herring, partial examination of how the Indians are gradually allowing Dewey into their world. Albert Finney absolutely nails the curious combination of conservative bewilderment, fear and subliminal comprehension that all is not as it seems. Indian rattles and shakers, a tribal flute and tam-tam evoke the Native qualities of this ritual. This theme is totally new to the score and certainly sounds authentic, but there is a vague reminder of the Wolfen main theme warbling away in the background. As Eddie succumbs to the spirit of the wolf, Horner then applies the lone trumpet, and whirling whipporwills of strings and wind-machine, bringing in the main theme with an enhanced sense of loneliness. But this brain addled-reverie then erupts into a bestial anvil-clanging temper as the naked Eddie pretends to “hunt” Dewey and Horner gives us a species-modified variation on the Wolfen hunting motif.
“You don't have the eyes of the hunter … you have the eyes of the dead.”
Next up, in film-order, is Track 7, Rebecca's Apartment. After Tom Noonan's character is killed-off, again completely unscored by Horner as with the earlier slaying of a vagrant, Dewey heads over to his new partner's place, his sixth sense clearly jangling with premonitions of danger. As he sits in his car outside, acting as a sentry, his tired hallucinations about the church and what it might contain give way to a real sighting of a couple of colossal wolves standing atop a wall, and a third on the ground in front. As he flicks on the headlights to illuminate them, they vanish. Dewey alerts Rebecca and she allows him into her apartment, and then her bed. Horner now has the opportunity to relax the tension with a subplot love theme … but he is not about to give in to cliché quite so easily. Intercut with the languid, though still slightly edgy romantic theme for piano, woodwinds and strings he scores the Wolfen-vision moments that depict the animals climbing up the fire-escape and watching the two humans in-rut with more of the harsh, blood-quickening animal motif. This crazy alternating track makes for a wonderfully rug-pulling sequence of tenderness and terror. Although the Wolfen won't attack during such an event, Horner ensures that with brazen barrages of deep brass and with the sharp striking of the anvil, we are kept on tenterhooks throughout. A variation of this track can be heard as a bonus later on.
Going back now to Track 5, we get Whittington’s Death, a scene that actually comes about two thirds of the way through the movie after the last two tracks that we have covered. In this, Horner ramps up the suspense and the violence considerably. Dewey and the hip coroner stake out the eerie wasteland of the South Bronx with night-scopes and high-powered rifles, both taking up positions that flank the disused church. This sequence of the score plays like a continuation of In The Church. A deliciously spooky piano phrase sounds eerily reminiscent of what Dr. Venkman plays in Dana's apartment in Ghostbusters. Chiming warbles that flutter like suddenly materialising fireflies act as optimistic replies to the much darker, ominously deep chords of pure menace that slowly erode all confidence we might have that this mission will end happily. This sequence is one of the most terrifying that I've seen in the movies, the sense of isolation and vulnerability enhanced by the foolhardy confidence of Dewey and the edgy sense of humour that Whittington tries to lighten the mood with. “They're here,” Dewey informs his buddy over the radio-mike after spying what he takes to be Wolfen breath steaming from behind a wall. He moves off to investigate the old church – the very place that he believes, correctly, to be the lair of his quarry. Horner magnificently bristles the hairs on the back of the neck and makes the blood freeze. In the film, this early part of the set-piece is tracked-in with other elements of the score – little pieces that, when placed together, sound exactly like a template for what we would hear in the more suspenseful passages from Aliens and Commando. The odd thing is that the cue, as heard here, plays out in a completely different fashion than it does in the film. Here, we get a variation of Track 4, which I suppose is why the two cues flow so well together in this album presentation. It is something of a disappointment, I feel. All these years, I've loved this part of the score without realising that Horner, perhaps, didn't even have time to compose for it … and the music editors drafted-in those cues from elsewhere.
Dewey does the unthinkable and breaks cover to enter the church and investigate its tower. He finds nothing but “F*ckin' birds!”, although poor Whittington is stunned to discover one of the Wolfen bearing down upon him from the rafters with a truly evil grin upon its face. In the film, a barrelling rush from tuba and trombone wrestles with caterwauling strings as the gun-toting coroner is taken out. Sadly, we hear none of this in Horner's original composition.
Even so, the score now shifts into another gear that lifts it into the realms of genre classic.
One of my favourite pieces of music comes in the hauntingly effective Indian Bar. To maintain the order of the film’s narrative, this should be played directly after Whittington’s Death. Dewey, injured and in shock, and enraged at the slaying of his friend now has first hand knowledge of the existence of the Wolfen and their ferocious capabilities. He drags himself to the bar where Eddie Holt and his cohorts hang out. He knows they have an understanding of the pack and he seeks answers and … some perhaps some sort of sanctuary. Given a beer, he sits with the Indians as they tell him the secret history of their blood-brothers, the Wolfen. “They can see two looks away. They can hear a cloud pass overhead.” With dialogue as emotionally resonant and as spiritually evocative as that, Horner weaves a spell from his established themes that curls like the smoke in the crowded bar, twisting a tale of spectral harmony and menace that serves as a grim fairytale of a parallel world. Flutes and whistles, glittering song-bells, a sad phrase from the oboe and wind-fluttering strings decorate the passage. Gentle taps on the piano, a glistening and descending motif from the strings and a morose, mountaintop croon from the woods signify something akin to a confession. The Indians are divulging a secret … but it is Dewey who has come to make amends. Horner so eloquently flavours the scene with authentic Native sounds that the cue sounds as though it has been culled from some tribal ceremony.
“Oh, man … this is all just Indian jive.”
This cue then segues directly into the simply mesmerising passage that denotes Dewey’s sudden realisation why the Wolfen killed the Van der Veers in the first place and, thus, set this whole investigation in motion. “Territory … territory. Terrorism. Terror.” Horner has the strings slide with singular melancholy as Dewey now sits in the Van der Veer penthouse, idly toying with a shimmering metallic ornament that tinkles like chimes in his touch. The sequence is bedecked with harp, celli, bells, chimes and all manner of glassy, ethereal percussion. Behind Dewey the windows are covered with shining iridescent blinds, his face reflected over and over in them, Horner’s music perfectly bringing the setting to ghostly, magical life around the detective. A jazz-style trumpet can be heard – slow, whiskey and smoke infused, evoking the limbo phase of the end of the night and all the colliding thoughts that appear at that time.
An echoplexed trumpet nudges against a slow metronomic pulse on the tom-tom, a gradual but insistent driving phrase for strings and horns takes the pace as Dewey works out that the animals are only killing outsiders to protect their hunting ground. Solo trumpet calls out, but low tones assert a mood of tension. The harp undulates and the main theme gets a weirdly aggressive yet cleverly subdued recollection via solo trumpet. The track ends with a shivery refrain for chimes and metal percussion.
The scene is set for a bravura showdown with the Wolfen.
Thinking that they have caught the real culprits – urban terrorists who use wolf symbolism as their calling card – Rebecca and Police Chief Warren (Dick O' Neill) arrive to bring Dewey back into the real world. Still stunned by his knowledge, Dewey is content to let them go on thinking that they've solved the case … until the three cops find themselves surrounded by the pack out on a deserted Wall Street.
The score really bares its fangs here. The subterfuge is gone, the shadows are peeled back. The Wolfen need to take these people out, and the cops know it. Rebecca suddenly realises that she's been wrong all along. Before that fierce tribal Wolfen motif returns with heavy, uncamouflaged zeal, we hear high keening strings, reeds and rub-rods and thudding piano chords that create an encircling wall of orchestral violence. The music is lithe and powerful, matching the vigour and the superior skills of the Wolfen.
As members of the pack move into position, a particularly lean and sinewy black wolf trotting across the street, Horner raises the pitch signifying the quickening the blood of all concerned. Then trumpets burn the air with piercingly high-register phrases of the main theme, and then as we see and hear the trio from the Wolfen's perspective, enhanced heartbeats and pulsating reds against a white-negative, woods and brass trilling in the heat of ambush. In a purely awe-inspiring touch, chimes cascade like crystals as the pack-leader, a regal white wolf, emerges from the subway.
Warren's had enough, and as draws his gun – against Dewey's hissed advice – Horner builds up to a crescendo. The cop makes a run for his car, but one of the wolves removes his gun-hand, mimicking the assault on the Van de Veer bodyguard at the start … and the film then incorporates pulverising material from Horner's score for The Hand, appropriately enough. The score for the sequence in Wolfen the album, however, retreats at this point as Horner didn't have the time to complete it. I can't deny that it is a shame we don't hear the material as we do in the finished film, because it is genuinely exciting, but the omission is totally understandable. During the frenzied climax to the scene Warren gets into the car but discovers that there is a wolf sitting on the backseat, just waiting for him. In blind panic, he flees the vehicle only to be stunningly beheaded by another pack-member in one casual passing chomp. Coincidentally, John Landis had the exact same thing happen to his closed-minded police inspector in American Werewolf too. Dewey fires at the gas tank and turns the car into a fireball, giving him and Rebecca a chance to get away in the confusion.
But Horner is not yet finished with this musical confrontation.
Getting back to the Van der Veer penthouse, at the top of a high-rise, the two believe that they are out of danger. But as Dewey sits in horrified contemplation of the day's events - “Their senses transport them “inside” your mind” - heavy low chords dragging his soul to hell, his partner slowly sits up, her eyes widening in fear and calls out to him with a steadily rising tremor in her voice. Horner gradually spirals the tension for strings that twist and climb, rumbling bass, highly agitated woods and percussion, the cue swarming like a host of voracious ants up a hill, the cymbals clashing as we see the faces of the Wolfen leaning in through those incandescent glass blinds. The music builds until the animals, as one, crash through the windows in spectacular slow-motion, and then Horner's treatment reaches a paralysing plateau of mutual distrust. Violins are sawing and the French horn hailing the main theme with heightened adrenaline, the brass chewing up the ground beneath the two opposing parties with tense growling tones. The strings then undulate with a slithery anxiety … until calming down for a second as Dewey unloads his revolver to show the Wolfen he doesn't want to fight. Echoplexed woods and piano signify the cops placing their trust in the intelligence of the pack, dropping their guns and Dewey showing open-handed supplication to their leader.
With crashing cymbals and a cathartic release of brass, Dewey demolishes the plaster model of the Van der Veer project that would have swallowed up pack's home, symbolically taking the threat away from them. Woods echo the importance of this act, rippling the meaning of it back through the ages. This section is a more chaotic and violent variation of Track 8's realisation motif. The Wolfen understand his message, watching as he implores them to realise that he means them no harm, and that he will protect their secret. James Horner had come from a background of low-budget horror and SF, and only had a handful of scores to his name, but he completely “gets” the power of this statement with genuine grace and maturity. Visually, emotionally and musically, this is one of the most audacious of genre conclusions. With cymbal clashes, surging strings and horns, and a watery flurry on the harp, Dewey creates a pact with the Wolfen and, under the leadership of the commanding white wolf, the pack raise their heads and howl in a bizarre truce. As security men arrive and strafe the penthouse with gunfire, the wolves turn and majestically disappear as though they were never there. Dewey and Rebecca maintain the pretence that it was the terrorist group who killed Warren and attacked them in the penthouse, keeping their word with the pack.
“In arrogance, Man knows nothing of what exists in the world.”
The film ends with a magnificent montage of the Wolfen scampering back to their hunting ground, safe for the moment and locked into a fragile détente with their two former hunters. As we see them run and jump and jostle together in the light of dawn, they look beautiful, and their affection for each other is plainly apparent. It is impossible not to get a lump in your throat as they glide, like wilderness phantoms, back into the ruined church, finally coming back to their sanctuary. Their home. Dewey narrates a coda for this conflict, condemning Man’s dangerous ignorance of the natural world, and James Horner delights in a soaring, comforting theme of deliberately ecclesiastical beauty for strings and horns. A long shot of the church is silhouetted against the darkening sky and we hear the Wolfen howl in unison. Horner joins in with moaning brass undulating beneath the pack’s unified cry of victory. But the final shimmering and unsure notes are suggestive of the fact that this harmony can only ever be temporary. Thus, after the Epilogue cue from Track 11, we get the mournful End Credits cue, in which the full main theme is played out in a sublime, poetically languorous fashion that reflects upon the pain and the death, the terror and the serenity and, ultimately, the acceptance that the characters have gone through. Occasionally, an abrupt and abject appeal from the “howl-call” is made, reminding us against this softened and more sympathetic reading of the music, that these animals are still immensely dangerous … and that they live in the shadows of our own society. It is a wonderful touch that almost reacts to the sad beauty that Horner has crafted from their magical existence. The film's final titles play out over a dusk-lit shot of the Indians atop the Brooklyn Bridge, their new spiritual home, the theme one of fragility and mystery. This final cue rounds out all of the menace and horror that has gone before with a lingering symphony of wilfully incomplete resolution. We began in darkness and fear, but we end in understanding and Horner's music acts like a cloak of tranquil foreboding.
It is rare for a composer to reach such heights of violence and beauty in the same score, but James Horner succeeds fabulously with Wolfen.
Intrada have supplied two bonus tracks to this release.
The first, Track 12, is an alternate run of Rebecca’s Apartment. In this variation, after the whimsical piano phrase, the inclusion of a solo jazz-bar trumpet evokes the late-night siren-call of New York City in all its typical film allure. Woozy, half-lidded eyes … and the smell of bourbon and cigarettes. The Wolfen motif returns, but this solo trumpet is the major difference in Horner's original take. The final version is softer with regards to the relationship between Dewey and Rebecca. Here, the trumpet seems to make the scene feel more clichéd.
The second is another alternate take, this time a slightly longer version of the Epilogue and End Credits theme. Essentially, this is the same as the version heard in the film, just with a few extra bars. Horner simply elected to shorten the track for the final score. But more time in the company of this ghostly theme is certainly no discomfort.
The disc is marvellously packaged with the American poster-art of a fearsomely lucid eye juxtaposed with the full moon behind the blood-red title legend, and comes with a fine 20-page booklet of notes by Scott Bettancourt on the film and the score, and Tech Talk about the production of the album from Intrada’s Doug Fake. This is illustrated with great stills from the film and the original cue slates from James Horner’s recording sessions.
From a personal standpoint, I cannot put into words quite how enthralled I am to finally have a legitimate copy of this wonderful and influential score. I have been hypnotised by its eloquence and its terror and its spiritual mystery ever since I first saw the film, and to hear it now in such outstanding quality is a dream come true. I am obviously biased, but there can be no denying the power of Horner’s music and the level of ambition and emotional intuition that he revealed with this early score. That so many of his soundtracks in the decades since Wolfen was first composed have borrowed the motifs, phrases and instrumentation he audaciously developed here is testament to how deeply emotive and heartfelt they were in the first place.
There will be people who claim this score to be little more than a James Horner Greatest Hits compendium, but those people are forgetting one extremely vital point. Wolfen came before all of those accepted classics … and it was here that the composer found those now canonistic themes and motifs. It is here that they are at their freshest and most dynamic. This is the iconic moment when some of the most heartfelt, most emotionally resonant and devoutly hypnotic, and most critically and commercially lauded movie themes were actually conceived. And the fact that they were crafted in a mere 12 days just makes them all the more remarkable. It is horribly easy to slate James Horner for self-plagiarism, but with music of a calibre this resplendent it is not hard to understand how it has permeated his subconscious so indelibly that iterations of it have filtered through so much of his highly cherished work.
Wolfen is one of the most unusual of horror films. It needed a score that reflected this deviation from the well-worn path. With James Horner’s emergency musical facelift, it found something that has defied time and genre, and gone on to become a bonafide classic of primal force, dark atmospherics and eerie, melodic beauty.
This is an incredible score. Intelligent, scary and moving, it blends the wild with the urban and, alongside Wadleigh’s captivating visuals, makes you understand and actually care about the “monsters” with genuine sincerity. Wolfen is an eco-horror film, and Horner’s score describes with aching poignancy the delicate balance that struggles to be maintained between the natural world and the harsh realities of an ironically all-devouring society. It is also uniquely eerie and splendidly mysterious. Horner would go on to become one of the greatest of modern film composers but everyone, even his most ardent fans, should listen to how such a talent first found its voice in a dark tale of wolves and men.
“But in the end … it is all the hunting ground.”
Full Track Listing
Main Title 2.25
Van der Veer's Demise 7.13
In The Church 3.15
Wolfen Run To Church 1.15
Whittington's Death 1.47
Shape Shifting 2.13
Rebecca's Apartment 1.24
Indian Bar 6.54
Wall Street and the Wolves 2.58
The Final Confrontation 3.33
Epilogue and End Credits 5.41
Rebecca's Apartment (Original with Trumpet) 1.24
Epilogue and End Credits (Original Version) 1.24
Total CD Time 46.29
Gloriously packaged with that fearsome cover-art, Intrada's release of James Horners by-turns terrifying and moving, but always hypnotic score for Wolfen is a real dream come true … since it has been one of those always elusive and much sought-after Holy Grails that fans thought would never actually happen. Horner's music for so many films is widely available and he remains one of the most bankable and prolific of Hollywood composers, but the real delights in his extensive oeuvre always seem to be found in his earlier works. For, certainly, it was during this incredible run of cinematic genre gold that he made his name, and created and developed the themes and the style that film-fans have come to expect and adore.
With Wolfen he found the voice, the eloquence and the lyrical surge and aggression that he would use to shape Star Trek II, Aliens, Glory, Titanic and Avatar. But here the material is fresh, alarmingly dynamic, wholly mesmerising and profoundly haunting. He manages to convey the spiritual worlds of both the spectral wolves and their blood-brothers, the Native Americans, and to lend a musical tableau that pays homage to a natural order that is defiantly fighting back against the heartless rush of civilisation. His score is epic and intimate, the province that only a handful of Golden and Silver Age composers seemed able to concoct, and his writing is passionate, deeply personal and thoroughly affecting. There is ominous fear, and deep, guttural fury at work here. But there is also morose reflection and heartrending realisation. From someone who was still so new to the game, this is nothing short of miraculous – and he did it in 12 days!
The audio quality of this release is stunning in clarity, and the booklet is full of trivia and imagery. I wish that the material from The Hand could have been incorporated, but this is still one of the best score releases from what has been a truly outstanding year for both new arrivals and for highly prized gems from yesteryear.
Intrada take us running with the pack as they defend their hunting ground, and the experience is nothing less than spellbinding. So rub your eyes for a long time to attain your own Wolfen-vision and let James Horner guide you on a New York odyssey of a decidedly more ferocious nature.
Very highly recommended.
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