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  • Composed by James Horner
  • Intrada / 2011 / 46m

Michael Wadleigh’s 1981 film Wolfen adapts Whitley Strieber’s novel, in which Albert Finney plays a detective investigating brutal murders – with the culprits turning out to be super-intelligent wolves.  It was the only film Wadleigh directed other than his legendary 1970 documentary Woodstock, which must be one of the oddest pairs of films ever to make up the entire career of a filmmaker.  Also starring Diane Venora, Gregory Hines and Edward James Olmos, the film got decent reviews and did OK at the time.

The music was composed by James Horner, only 27 at the time, and on the verge of his big break with Star Trek II.  He came to the project rather late, with Craig Safan having suffered the blow of having his score rejected.  But while Horner may have been a youngster, he was an extremely confident film composer even then and he wrote a very powerful, strong score which – as with many of his earlier scores – contains material which would later be developed in the composer’s work on much more successful films down the line – in this case, primarily in his Star Trek scores and especially Aliens, large parts of which are very similar to this score (even the Khachaturian is here!)

James Horner

James Horner

That famous action ostinato from Aliens makes its debut in this score’s opening title piece, which is designed to be chilling and succeeds in its aim.  In the next cue, “Van Der Veer’s Demise”, the composer pushes things further – that motif gets a fuller airing, we hear Star Trek III‘s Klingon theme long before anyone had even started searching for Spock, and there’s a spooky piano device which is very effectively unsettling.

The suspense continues in “In the Church”, with a few subtle bursts of that science fiction film score device of the day, Craig Huxley’s blaster beam, thrown in this time, along with the echoplex effect which would be used in the same way in Star Trek II.  The first real melody emerges in the later moments of the cue – it leaves almost as soon as it’s arrived, but not before offering some truly haunting sadness.  The brief “Wolfen Run to Church” offers some snarling, angry-sounding action material from horns and trombones, later strings in full-scale horror style.  Darker still is “Whittington’s Death”, clanging percussion added into the mix now.  It’s actually barely distinguishable from (and hence just as good as) some of the most intense action music in Aliens.

“Shape Shifting” offers more of the same before a change of pace in “Rebecca’s Apartment” where Horner offers the most tangible warmth in the score, a lovely piece for piano and strings that sandwiches growling horror music in the middle section of the cue.  My favourite cue is actually the score’s most low-key, the superb seven-minute “Indian Bar”, which has the qualities of a lament, including a take on the main theme for strings which has a very different effect in this form.  The action returns in the frantic “Wall Street and the Wolves” and then gets taken to new heights in the furiously full-on “The Final Confrontation”.  Finally, the composer gets to provide a six-minute end title piece which sees restrained reprises of many of the score’s main ideas, always tinged with a deep sadness.

The score is went unreleased for thirty years before Intrada finally put it out in 2011, their album including Horner’s whole score (39 minutes long – within the film, several cues were repeated and others were tracked in from his music from The Hand, a score which remains unreleased to this day).  It’s an intense work, an assured one, which may lack that most reliable Horner trademark – melody – but which makes up for it in its wonderfully raw atmosphere.  The scores which followed in this style may have become much more famous, but no James Horner fan should be without Wolfen.

Rating: **** | |

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