In 2000, the Canadian low budget horror movie entitled “Ginger Snaps” was a bonafide metaphor for coming of age and a girl getting her period. Expanding on Red Riding Hood, “Ginger Snaps” was a full on series of metaphors about a young girl blossoming in to adult hood with lycanthropy acting as a symbol for her becoming a predatory sexual being that was brought out from her wolf-like tendencies after surviving a mauling from a vicious werewolf. 1994’s “Wolf” however is a tongue in cheek social commentary that examines almost the same themes except acts as a metaphor for male dominance in a youth obsessed consuming society.
Instead of the wilderness director Mike Nichols sets down on the business world of capitalism where the young consume the old, the alpha males are pushed aside in favor of younger cubs, and there’s a constant match for the affections of a mate. Jack Nicholson is excellent as aging businessman and philanthropist Will Randal, a man prone to hitting on women half his age and desperately trying to keep up with his protégé Stewart, a sycophantic suck-up who aides Will but is secretly vying after his job in the background. Will’s life is changed when bitten by a long wolf one night while driving home and the change is instant relying more on male trappings and alpha male battles of wits and intellect rather than creating something of a goofy monster movie.
As with most werewolf movies, the transformation within Will is something of a metaphor for a mid-life crisis, a new changing of the guard who experiences a rejuvenation in sexual thrills, blood lust and the like, all of which turn him in to the business man he used to be. This allows Will to keep up with his business and do battle with his conniving assistant as played by James Spader, who battles with Will over the course of the film in a duel that becomes much more violent as the story progresses. Spader is about as slimy as the script expects him to be and he’s a despicable villain, one who takes great pride of stabbing Will in the back when it becomes clear he can snatch his job out from under him once he lets his guard down.
Director Mike Nichols offers up some iconic and memorable moments in cinema from the nineties here including one moment where Will pees on Stewart’s foot in the bathroom marking his territory and Will’s inevitable hunting in the woods that results in a gruesome animal maiming. Will’s romance with Laura Alden, as played by the ever gorgeous Michelle Pfeiffer, become a key element in the story as her enigmatic presence makes for some interesting rivalries among Will and Stewart which ends in a climactic and brutally excellent battle to the death between the beast Will and Stewart who quickly embraces his transformation after Will bites him out of anger.
In the business world Stewart is something of a bizarre jellyfish, but in full lycanthropic form, he is something of a surreal and absolutely menacing evil that Spader makes his own. “Wolf” is an underrated horror gem, one that works as social commentary and horror cinema, and it’s a great piece of nineties filmmaking. Filled with an understated intellect and using the werewolf movie formula as a commentary for aging and the battle of the males in a society obsessed with power and dominance, Mike Nichols “Wolf” is one of our favorites of the genre, and a guaranteed good time for anyone looking for a different kind of horror film.