The premise of this film sounded very interesting to me, and I’m pretty glad I watched this film. It feels like something rival studio Toei would have produced, being filled with blood, nudity, and unusual filming techniques. It’s pretty much exploitation, but the film shines in the cinematography and music departments.
In the mountains of Alaska, a young werewolf boy, Akira Inugami, is living with his werewolf family when his home is destroyed and his family gunned down. Some 10 years later, Inugami is a high school student in the same class with the son of the yakuza boss who killed his family, Do Haguro, son of the Tomei Society president. Haguro sees Inugami as a freak and a threat to his secret love for their teacher. A forbidden romance is at play between Inugami and his teacher, but Haguro knows the truth about it and will do anything to get rid of Akira...
The film's pacing is relatively well done, there are only a few minor hiccups with the plotting, but the movie performs with a relatively brisk speed. The film has several surreal sequences, one of which has the teacher in a dream-like state with Akira. These pad out the film but are very well-filmed and don't distract. I’ve heard a few complains about the character of Akira Inugami being somewhat “wimpy” due to not truly fighting back until the end... these are unwarranted to me as the dodging Akira prefers is fitting with his rather docile characterization. The romance between the teacher and Akira Inugami isn’t that well thought out, but I’ve seen worse to be fair.
The acting is probably Horror of the Wolf's weak point, with Taro Shigaki being relatively inexperienced at the time and mostly relying on “dull surprise” to portray emotion. His rival, Do Haguro, is played by the late Yusaku Matsuda and has a screen presence due to his unique deep voice and smarmy grin, but doesn’t appear all that often and has his lackeys do everything for him. Michiko Honda as Kiko Kimura, the teacher, clearly has great love for Inugami as well as fear of Haguro (no doubt culminating when Do rapes her, note that the scene is considerably more explicit in the manga, Haguro mostly judo tosses Kimura around and the rape is only implied in the film). Toshio Kurosawa has a memorable role as the police detective assigned to keep watch over Kimura. His facial expressions give off great conviction and the scene where he conflicts with Inugami over his wolfen nature is well played, especially through his voice. Other than that most of the actors aren’t memorable.
The cinematography shines in the film and the practical effects used to realize Inugami’s werewolf state is quite creative. I must commend film editor Isao Takeda for editing together the various shots at such a breakneck pace. The cinematography is absolutely beautiful, especially in the opening credits with young Inugami playing in the snow with his wolf family. The editing combined with the cinematography in the ending is quite unique, as the Tomei Society crest pops up amidst the burning mansion of the now dead Do Haguro. The techniques used to realize Inugami’s wolf state are quite unique, when running in his Wolf form Inugami is a German Shepherd, then when he leaps at the throats of the yakuza goons he is a hand puppet. The wolf mask in his “semi-human” state looks better on film than in close-ups, the mouth and eyes move rather well. The camera movements are quick and tight, and overall the camerawork and production is done well.
Ah, Riichiro Manabe. A composer who tends to divide many, his work on this film is probably some of his best of his 1970s scores. Utilizing a lot of piccolo and flute, my personal favorite track is “Big Fight” which plays when Haguro sends his goons after the whole school during a gathering. Using lots of electric guitar and flute, the track feels rather carefree. Another great one plays when Haguro beats Kimura then rapes her. As Manabe’s teacher Akira Ifukube described, counterpunkt is when music in contrast to what is going on is playing as the score, and that is what is occurring with this track. Manabe sets up a rather odd string, organ and snare drum piece for when Haguro tosses Kimura around. It actually makes the scene even creepier. Another excellent track is “Jest In A Vision”, playing in the surreal dreamlike romance sequences between Inugami and Kimura, with beautiful flute and piano passages. The overall soundtrack is a winner for Manabe who is probably one of the most divisive composers in Japan.
Overall, this film is very well done but slightly flawed. The manga by Kazumasa Hirai has potential to be game for a Hollywood remake if you ask me, with the Twilight craze still sweeping America’s youth. The film would later get a sequel from rival studio Toei. The film’s premise may seem odd but it’s a grower.