Color, 1999, 75 mins.

Directed by Will Gould

Starring James Layton, Lee Williams, RIta Davies, Anghard Rees, Kevin Moore / Cinematography by Laura Remacha / Music by Basil Moore-Asfouri / Written by Charles Lambert and Matthew Read

Format: DVD - First Run (MSRP $29.98)

Letterboxed (1.85:1) (16x9 enhanced) / Dolby Digital 5.1

Since the 1970s we've had dozens of gay riffs on vampire lore, including such glossy big budget efforts as Interview with the Vampire and The Lost Boys which barely even attempted to conceal their sexual politics. Oddly, the werewolf legend has proven less fertile in this area, apart from the rib-nudging Curse of the Queerwolf and a few literary stabs in genre fiction. While it's hard to say exactly what the target audience was intended to be for The Wolves of Kromer, a low budget British production, the film certainly can't be compared to anything else, except for perhaps a gay, gender-twisted variation on The Company of Wolves.

Starting off with a fairy tale narration by none other than Boy George, we meet our two wolf heroes, cocky Gabriel (James Layton) and insecure Seth (Lee Williams), who is coming to terms with the realization that he's actually a wolf. Apart from playfully terrorizing passersby in the woods and swiping the occasional bit of food and clothing to share with their pack, the boys lead a fairly benign existence despite the fearful rumors stirring within the village of Kromer. Meanwhile a scheming maid named Fanny (Rita Davies) schemes with her dimwitted friend, Doreen (Margaret Towner), to kill off her wealthy mistress and pin the blame on the innocent wolves. The influential priest (Kevin Moore) seizes the opportunity for full scale witch hunt -- err, wolf hunt -- and incites the villagers into punishing the two boys simply because they're different.

As a playful riff on familiar fairy tale conventions, The Wolves of Kromer is an interesting attempt to subvert expectations by using wolves to stand in for more familiar speeches involving persecution, sexual identity confusion, and group hysteria. Seth's early "coming out" speech as a wolf is especially funny, though contrary to the plot summary on the box, this isn't really a comedy; instead it's a dark romantic fantasy with a very tragic undercurrent. However, director Will Gould seems afraid to push the gothic or subversive elements too far, as indicated by the odd happy ending closing credits which seem to have stumbled in by accident from Beautiful Thing. Most of the actors do surprisingly well; in fact, it's hard to believe that the two leads were actually models with little prior acting experience. With their pointed ears, razor-sharp claws, and furry goth clothing, they make for an odd, compelling pair of protagonists, and it's certainly more subtle and wry than anything Joel Schumacher would have dreamed up.

With The Wolves of Kromer, First Run finally makes the leap into anamorphic transfers, and the results are quite pleasing. Some of the night scenes are overly dark (probably the way they were shot), but overall the transfer is very clear and colorful. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is also satisfying, particularly when it spreads out the music to emphasize its strange but effective mixture of orchestral instruments tinged with techno elements. Despite the 100 minute running time stated on the box, the film only clocks in at 75 minutes, missing the mark even with all of the supplements included. "On Location in Llanyblowel," a behind the scenes featurette, including interviews with the director, writer Charles Lambert (who also penned the source play), and the main actors, sprinkled with production footage. The running commentary track with Gould and Lambert is a generally affectionate and sometimes insightful account of the filming, and they point out enough anecodotes about the actors and production team to keep things moving along smoothly. Obviously this isn't a film for everyone, but it's a pleasant enough diversion and an interesting twist on the tried and true notion of monsters as outsiders.

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