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Horror in the 90s: 'Wolf' Starring Jack Nicholson

Why did Mike Nichols want to make a werewolf movie?

By Sean PatrickPublished 21 days ago 4 min read

Wolf (1994)

Directed by Mike Nichols

Written by Jim Harrison, Wesley Strick

Starring Jack Nicholson, Michele Pfeiffer, James Spader, Kate Nelligan, Christopher Plummer

Release Date June 17th, 1994

Published June 23rd, 2024

Why would a director like Mike Nichols, known for classy dramas about classy characters, deconstructed by Nichols talented wit, want to make a horror movie? It's just not his genre. Horror is not in Mike Nichols' wheelhouse. As evidenced by Nichols' only horror movie, 1994's Wolf, he doesn't have the stomach for it. Bloodless, dull, and mildly embarrassing for all involved, Wolf is one of the most curiously bad movies of 1994.

Will Randal (Jack Nicholson) is a book editor with a great reputation and a loyal core of popular authors. However, he's also a bit of a pushover. Thus, when his job is on the line, he doesn't have the instincts needed to see that his youthful protege, Stewart (James Spader), has been angling for his job as Editor in Chieff of a prestigious book company. The company has just been taken over by a billionaire magnate, played by Christopher Plummer, who appreciates Stewart's cutthroat approach.

Meanwhile, Will is recovering from being bitten by a wolf. Yes, a wolf bites Will early in the film and he's now starting to... change. For one thing, since he was bit, Will has stopped having to wear glasses, he can hear things from a distance with precision, and he has nightmares where he runs through the streets of New York City feeding on bad guys who steal wallets and whatnot. But are these really nightmares? Or, is Will Randle transforming into a wolf and running the streets at night?

In a second, meanwhile, Will has fallen for Laura (Michele Pfeiffer), the daughter of Christopher Plummer's boring billionaire. Laura is bored and takes to Will mostly because he's there and he's a little weird. It also helps that her domineering father doesn't like Will. Laura remains interested in Will despite the fact that he was married when they met, Kate Nelligan plays Will's wife who is also sleeping with Stewart. Laura will soon come to suspect that Will is a wolf and a killer, but even this fact is somehow not a deal breaker.

At some point, Will attacks Stewart, though if the attack is in the movie I missed it. Stewart then becomes a wolf and we are set for a wolf fight in the final act that is laughable at best and embarrassing at worst. Spader versus Nicholson should be a battle of wits and it feels perverse to have these two brilliant hams growling at each other instead of verbally slicing chunks out of each other's outsized egos. Somehow, Wolf is only the second most embarrassing movie of 1994 for Spader who also starred in the awesomely bad, sex thriller, Dream Lover.

As for director Mike Nichols, I am not sure what he's going for here. According to the IMDB trivia, Nichols was chosen to direct the film because of his relationship with Nicholson. This may explain why he seems to have little passion in his direction, it's not his baby. Nichols also clashed with the films' original screenwriter Jim Harrison who is quoted as saying that his approach and Nichols approaches to the material were different. As he puts it, Nichols wanted Apollonian and he wanted Dionysian. For the less literate among us, it simply means that Nichols wanted classy and arty and Harrison wanted primal and passionate. Neither really gets their way in the end.

Unfortunately, Nichols' idea of classy, arty, and adult, means removing the elements that make horror, horror. In trying to make an Apollonian horror movie, Nichols removed the passion, viscera, and grit. In place of the horror, we have drama in the world of book editing and a shockingly tame romance between Jack Nicholson and Michele Pfeiffer. The two have almost no chemistry on screen and without a bit of sex appeal to liven up the proceedings, Wolf just sort of limps along to a goofball ending. The wolf fight at the end of Wolf is comical but not in the laughing with the movie sense. Instead, we are laughing at the movie derisively while feeling a poignant sadness for the embarrassment the actors likely experienceed upon seeing the dreary result of their efforts.

Wolf is the latest movie to be featured on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast spinoff, I Hate Critics 1994 podcast. Each week, myself and Gen-Z'er M.J and Gen-X'er Amy watch a movie that came out 30 years ago that weekend and use the movie for a jumping off point for how pop culture and movies have changed in the past 30 years. It's a fun show and we would love it if you gave it a chance. You can listen to I Hate Critics 1994 on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast feed, wherever you listen to podcasts.

Find my archive of more than 20 years and nearly 2000 movie reviews at SeanattheMovies.blogspot.com. Find my modern review archive on my Vocal Profile, linked here. Follow me on Twitter at PodcastSean. Follow the archive blog on Twitter at SeanattheMovies. Listen to me talk about movies on the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast. If you have enjoyed what you have read, consider subscribing to my writing on Vocal. If you'd like to support my writing, you can do so by making a monthly pledge, or by leaving a one time tip. Thanks!

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About the Creator

Sean Patrick

Hello, my name is Sean Patrick He/Him, and I am a film critic and podcast host for the I Hate Critics Movie Review Podcast I am a voting member of the Critics Choice Association, the group behind the annual Critics Choice Awards.

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Comments (1)

  • shanmuga priya21 days ago

    I enjoyed reading your movie review Wolf .

Sean PatrickWritten by Sean Patrick

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