Hour Of The Wolf (1968)

JULY 20, 2011


Oddly, it was pretty much exactly two years ago today that I watched Antichrist, an alleged horror film that I couldn’t make heads or tails of, and largely didn’t enjoy. I remember the timeframe because I left for Comic Con the next day, which is why my review of that film is so half-assed – never had time to write one while anything about it was fresh in my head. So that’s why I am writing my review of Hour Of The Wolf (Swedish: Vargtimmen) – another strange, horror-lite Scandinavian film about a couple dealing with their issues – today. It might not be a great review, but dammit it will be multiple paragraphs!

Obviously I didn’t make the connection to Antichrist right away; it wasn’t until a scene about midway or so through the movie that I at first thought was a flashback to the death of their child, which is also around the time where I realized that I was going to have trouble writing a review because I was having trouble following the narrative (and then the train of thought proceeded to the “I didn’t write a review of Antichrist because I was going to Comic Con” part). But as it turns out, this young boy, like just about everyone else in the movie, was some sort of manifestation of Max Von Sydow’s character’s fears, in this case his minor homosexual yearnings. Other characters represent his jealousy, longing for a past love, violent tendencies, etc – in other words, it’s a movie you have to constantly analyze while you watch it (or watch a few times), which isn’t quite how I like to watch movies. I remember when Devin wrote a pretty fascinating piece about how Inception was actually a metaphor for filmmaking (Leo was the director, Ken Watanabe was the executive producer, etc), and that’s a fun thing to consider when you watch it a second time... but for the first, it’s just a pretty damn great heist movie, and works as such.

Can't do that with this one, though. At face value, Hour of the Wolf is about a guy who doesn’t talk to his wife, meets some weird neighbors, runs around for a while, puts on a dress, and disappears. To hell with spelling things out, many plot elements seemingly go out of their way to remain vague (meaning: open to interpretation), such as the subplot about an ex-lover of Sydow’s. There are some hints that he may have beaten or even killed her in a fit of rage, but that’s the sort of thing I kind of wish would be clear, as it would change how I looked at his character.

And it’s certainly not really horror on a visual level – a guy tears his face off at one point, and there’s a creepy segment near the end that looks like the art school version of Carnival Of Souls, but that’s about it. But ironically, this is exactly the type of movie I started Horror Movie A Day for in the first place – I’d love to talk about the movie with others after (so keep these comments coming!).

Because oddly enough, I did enjoy it. It may have been impenetrable to my (admittedly not very abstract-thinking) mind, but I never got bored, and even when I had to look away from the screen to print out a Con related email (and also when I tweeted "Are you guys sure this is a horror movie?"), I paused the film so that I wouldn’t miss anything (the highest honor I can bestow!). Hell I would have been happy to just watch it as a drama instead of a horror movie (saving me the trouble of writing a review that isn’t exactly flattering to my intelligence level), because I was enjoying the rather sad tale of a woman trying to keep the spark alive in her marriage. There’s a scene where she is trying to get him to help her figure out the monthly finances, and he refuses to even look at her or her notes (he simply pushes them away and returns to his soup), and it’s just heartbreaking to watch. It’s those little things that really get to me; I can watch a hundred fights over another woman or spending too much time at one’s job or whatever and not feel a thing, but show me a woman trying to spend a few minutes bonding with her husband over a trivial matter, and I get all bummed out.

It doesn’t hurt that Sydow and Liv Ullman are incredible actors. Sydow barely speaks in the film, but is a master of delivering information with the look on his face, such as the first dinner party, where he goes from seemingly trying to fit in to being annoyed, and does so with only a few words. And Ullman has a lot of ground to cover; she’s the film’s narrator, and also has more of an arc than Sydow, going from a doting, cheery wife to a lonely, hysterical wreck over the course of the film.

And it looks gorgeous. It’s funny, today I got a press release that they are re-releasing the pilot of The Walking Dead in black & white, which I scoffed at even before I watched this movie. Taking the color out, even with a lot of care (and Darabont has had practice thanks to the DVD release of The Mist), to me is like converting a film to 3D instead of shooting it that way. You can make it as great as you like, but it still will lack that je ne sais quoi. Compare any high contrast closeup of Sydow’s face here to a similar shot of Tom Jane in The Mist (or Andrew Lincoln in TWD) and you will find that it’s no contest. I also enjoyed what Bergman did in the “horror” scenes, dropping out the source audio entirely and using only music, as if to alert us that this wasn’t going to be a typical sequence.

So there it is. I was hoping for something more along the lines of The Virgin Spring, i.e. fairly straight-forward (I also wanted a damn wolf!), but at least I was able to enjoy it on other levels. If I had the time (maybe I should try to save “brainy” movies for AFTER Comic Con in the future?) I’d read a long form analysis (or a few of them) of the film and then watch it again, armed with the interpretations of folks who are a lot smarter than I am. Alas, I must go interview the cast of Underworld 4, which I am guessing will have actual wolves. And it’s in 3D! Yay! *Cracks open a beer*

What say you?


  1. And more than one paragraph, it is.

    This movie has been on my netflix queue for a while but haven't been able to bring myself to watch it. I'm not sure if your review convinced me to watch it sooner, but I think I know what I'm in for when I do.

  2. I saw this at a free screening at the University of Minnesota in 1988 or 89 when I was a freshmen (yeah I'm old). It was a room filled with film nerds and drunk U of M students who had just wandered by and had no idea what they were watching. They had a film print but projected it on a tiny screen and we sat on the floor. You are dead on with your take on Max Von Sydow. This is one of my favorite roles of his and yes that includes Brewmeister Smith in "Strange Brew". It's a film that is even better on a second viewing. By the way, love the site. It's one of the first ones I check out when I log on everyday.


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