Wolf is a Mike Nichols film from the ‘90s, and as the title suggests, it’s about a werewolf. It’s a strange film because it has a cast that includes Jack Nicholson, Christopher Plummer, Michelle Pfeiffer, James Spader and Richard Jenkins, all actors who are top range actors, but ends up being halfway between a prestige project and a straight-ahead horror movie. Nichols was also an odd choice to put at the helm.
Nicholson plays Merle Randall, a New York editor with a top publishing house who has a younger co-worker, Stuart Swinton (Spader), who steals both his job and his wife. Around the same time, Randall is bitten by a wolf and is slowly turning into a werewolf (although the term ‘werewolf’ is never used in the film). He soon starts having an affair with Pfeiffer, his boss’s daughter.
It’s a film that has understandably been somewhat forgotten despite the great cast giving strong performances. It’s Nicholson past his prime, but he’s having a lot of fun here (he was friends with Jim Harrison, the writer of the original draft of the script, so it was something of a passion project.) He’s doing his usual schtick, and it’s fun and entertaining.
The film’s real theme is actually office politics, and the lengths men will go to compete with each other. Spader does a great job of playing a real slimeball, the kind of role he is always good at. There’s a great scene where Nicholson actually pisses on Spader’s shoes to show what an alpha male he really is.
Harrison’s script was rewritten several times, including Wesley Strick doing a revision, and Elaine May rewriting the dialogue to add more black humour. The final act goes to ridiculous levels, with Nicholson jumping off things. That’s even after an extra eight months were added to the filming schedule after audiences in initial previews found the final act unbelievable.
The very believable makeup effects are by Rick Baker, who definitely knows how to create a werewolf. Nicholson obviously didn’t want loads of heavy makeup on, so Baker knew what he could and couldn’t do. He looked to the 1935 Werewolf of London as his model. Nicholson told him he had an allergy to spirit gum (an adhesive used to attach hair to skin), which he didn’t believe and at one point ended up using anyway by mistake. Unfortunately it turned out to be true, as he found out when Nicholson came to the set the next day with serious skin problems… but fortunately for Baker Nicholson took it in his stride.
Twenty years later, a film with this cast would have a good shot at being an Oscar contender, but back then the Academy considered horror films out of bounds. The demographics of the Academy have now changed, of course—it will be interesting to see how Get Out is received next year, for example.
Wolf has some of the worst geography in any film–it’s set in New York, but the lead character works in the Bradbury Building, an iconic LA landmark. However, it has a very effective Ennio Morricone score.
The main special feature on the disc is a new 50-minute making-of featurette. Baker, Strick and the producer Douglas Wick are your guides to the somewhat chaotic and weird production. There are over 20 minutes of archival EPK interviews with cast and crew (minus Nicholson), B-roll footage, a trailer, and a stills gallery from the set and promotional photography. A booklet with an essay by Brad Stevens, an overview of contemporary responses and additional articles.