Let's all thank god for Neil Jordan. Not only did he bring Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire to the screen in an uncompromising, superb adaptation, but way back at the start of his career he also brought us this mini-masterpiece about werewolves.
The setup is simple. A teenage girl in a country manor falls asleep while reading a magazine (with a cover story entitled "the shattered dream" -- a subtle hint to some of the themes of this movie), and she has a disturbing dream involving wolves which appears to take place in the woods visible from her bedroom window. It begins with a girl being chased down by a pack of wolves and killed, then we move to her funeral and discover she had a sister. The sister is your typical inquisitive girl just blossoming into womanhood, and her wise old grandmother tells her stories about men changing into wolves, with the message that all men are beasts. These stories make the girl uncomfortable about the advances of a local boy, and later a charming nobleman, and her perceptions of her parent's love life don't help. As the town becomes more and more terrified by the danger of wolf attacks, they begin to unearth evidence that there are in fact werewolves out in the woods. These findings and her own active imagination lead the girl to come up with her own werewolf stories. And when she is sent out through the woods with a red cloak and basket to visit her grandmother, you just know that there's going to be trouble ...
The Company of Wolves is a well-made, smart and highly original piece of work, and it is this movie that got Irish director Neil Jordan noticed internationally. The surreal, dream-like atmosphere of the movie is both superb and engaging, and the metaphorical nature of the movie is reasonably subtle. It is about a young girl's coming-of-age, trying to decide whether or not all men are in fact beasts when she still isn't quite sure exactly what they want from her.
Generally, werewolf movies made by European film-makers tend to have more substance and more familiarity with actual werewolf folklore -- it is part of our history after all, while Hollywood has had to create it's own werewolf myth over the years. This is probably the best British werewolf movie, followed by Dog Soldiers and Curse of the Werewolf, but even American classics like The Wolf Man and of course An American Werewolf in London, had to be set in Britain.
The lead role is played by Sarah Patterson, a young girl in her debut role at just 12 years old. After this she only appeared in one more movie (Snow White, also in the Canon Movie Tales series) then for some reason gave up on movie acting. She would certainly have had a successful career after this, you would think. The supporting actors also do good jobs, particularly Micha Bergese as the huntsman and Angela Lansbury as the creative grandmother. Other well-known names appear here in smaller roles, including Brian Glover (the yorkshireman from American Werewolf), David Warner, Stephen Rea and Terence Stamp.
It currently ranks as one of my all-time favourite werewolf movies, and I expect it to grow on me even more over time. I can recommend this without any reservation.