Shout Factory brings a fan favorite to US Blu
2001 ended up being among the most momentous years in the brief history of my life thus far. It’s not every year that ends up becoming a line in the sand where we begin thinking of society as “pre” and “post”. But 2001 was that year. It’s feeling like 2020 will become another one of those seminal years. But give me 20 years and I’ll let you know. It’s perhaps gauche, then, to ponder the events of the year 2001 and then focus in on the memories and impact that one very particular and weird little genre movie had on me. But please either indulge me or just ignore me.
I was in college, and studying abroad in Jerusalem, of all places. My film fandom had only just begun to find its way online, and I vividly remember ravenously consuming every piece of information I could find about such tiny indie films as The Lord Of The Rings and Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man. In those days it still took a long time to get a trailer to load. But at this momentous time for me, as I began to discover “my people” in places on the internet like Ain’t It Cool News and CHUD, my cinephilia really hit new levels that now feel obvious because of how extremely online many of us are today. But this was a revolutionary time for me as my film fandom went from being something I just did with friends in a very analog and real world way, to something that became a real part of my identity.
And an extremely exciting French film called Brotherhood Of The Wolf was being hyped up by genre film nerds the world over. My anticipation levels were through the roof. And to be honest, I’m not entirely certain how I eventually got my hands on the movie. I’m going to guess Blockbuster Video. But I do know that I watched the film at least half a dozen times in those very early 2000s. It was a total standout for me. A film unlike any other. Of course, today as a much older cinephile with two more decades of context and films watched, I am able to see that genre mashup exercises such as Brotherhood Of The Wolf weren’t unprecedented. But dammit, at the time, Brotherhood Of The Wolf really opened my eyes up to what cinema could be. Here was this French language film (I felt classy if I watched anything in another language, even if it was titillating genre fare), a monster movie, a period piece, a martial arts film… I didn’t even know what to do with myself because this movie seemed to truly have it all. And because it was somewhat niche, something being talked about online but not in my real life circles, Brotherhood Of The Wolf became one of those movies I just wanted to show other people. I took it upon myself to spread its gospel.
And, having never gotten a Blu-ray release in the United States until the year of our Lord 2021, a full 2 decades after its initial release, it really feels like a big deal to me that Brotherhood Of The Wolf is now available in glorious HD for western audiences to feast over. I won’t be here to tell you that this new release is some kind of definitive home video release that exceeds any and all expectations. But I am still very excited about this release and thrilled to own this seminal work in my own film journey.
In Brotherhood of the Wolf’s most iconic imagery, two men approach a small band attacking a father and daughter. These men are clad in incredible period garb, masked under tripoint hats. With glorious slow motion and rain machine effects abounding, one man jumps down from his horse and delivers a martial arts ass kicking, complete with a bow staff, that still stands the test of time as a marvelous big screen action set piece. This mysterious ass-kicker is Mark Dacascos as Mani, the last survivor of his Native American tribe, who has come across the pond with his blood brother, the French naturalist and all around big screen adventurer type, Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Le Bihan). Writer/Director Christophe Gans had provided Dacascos another starring role in Crying Freeman in 1995 (speaking of films that have never gotten proper western releases…), and here provides Dacascos with one of his very greatest big screen roles, allowing him to display his martial arts and acting talents, not to mention his physique, in his absolute prime.
These 2 travellers in their sumptuous costumery have arrived in this French countryside in search of a legendary beast that has been killing women and causing a general public outcry. They must solve the mystery of the beast of Gevaudan. So we’ve got mysterious heroes, we’ve got a monster/horror angle, we’ve got components of a western, there’s a mystery to solve, and our vaguely Native American co-lead does martial arts. Eventually Gans will throw in politics, secret societies, groundbreaking digital effects work, and plenty of sex too. (I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the early CGI camera work that transitions from a camera gracefully flying across a nude Monica Bellucci to twin mountain peaks. It’s horny, it’s techy, and it is unforgettable). Truly, Brotherhood of the Wolf is a kitchen sink motion picture.
But all these disparate components come together in a final film that still stands out from the crowd as something quite singular, even if mash ups like it have since become de rigueur. Bellucci shows up as Sylvia, a lavishly costumed courtesan who is more than meets the eye. The always fantastic and flamboyant Vincent Cassel strikes a memorable presence as Jean-Francois, a one-armed aristocrat with a penchant for hunting. And Fronsac (and the camera… and the audience) falls head over heels in love with Emilie Dequenne as Marianne. With this talented and gorgeous cast of characters teasing out a very X-Files-esque mystery yarn, one can’t help but get sucked into the story being told. Then Dacascos will whip out some gorgeously shot and choreographed (by the legendary Hong Kong talent Philip Kwok who was best known to me as Mad Dog from Hard Boiled) martial arts, and then a slowly revealed beast will create sequences of terror and early CGI attempts, and one simply can’t help but be charmed by the audacity of Gans’ vision.
While the digital effects do feel dated and clunky in today’s context, and the concept of mashing genres together has become commonplace today, Brotherhood Of The Wolf remains a spectacular piece of work. Its lush visuals, costumes, sets, and locations offer remarkable production value, and Gans displays talent when dabbling in whatever genre he chooses from martial arts to thriller to period drama. And then the cast just takes this weird little project and knocks it right out of the park. I’m a genuine fan of French genre films and particularly love a whole lot of the action cinema that has come out of France in the past couple of decades. But in 2001 a film like this emerging from France was quite singular, and the past few decades of top notch French genre cinema owe more than a little to Christophe Gans and Brotherhood Of The Wolf.
I’m thrilled about this release and my joy about revisiting this title that has meant so much to me over the decades will not be denied. But all that said, I’ll lay a few criticisms in the direction of Scream Factory’s release. From what I can tell, this release ONLY includes the Director’s Cut of the movie. And I find it odd that the theatrical and Director’s Cut wouldn’t both be available. The subtitles also have quite a few errors, though that never particularly distracted me from the experience. I believe there’s some kind of 3 disc international DVD release of this movie that featured multiple cuts of the film and a bevy of bonus features, so purists really might take issue with anyone who might call this latest release “definitive”. But with a gorgeous HD presentation and literal hours of bonus features from lengthy deleted scenes with commentary to a feature length “making of” documentary, there’s more than enough here to recommend Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release of Brotherhood of the Wolf as one of the most exciting physical media releases of 2021.
And I’m Out.
Brotherhood Of The Wolf hits Collector’s Edition Blu-ray July 27th, 2021 from Scream Factory.