“The old ones called it “the hour of the wolf”. It is the hour when the most people die, and the most are born. At this time, nightmares come to us. And when we awake, we are afraid.”
‘Hour of the Wolf’, directed by Ingmar Bergman in 1968, is a horror movie that is surprisingly explicit in expressing its genre roots. It follows a couple, an artist and his wife, as they settle on a remote Swedish island and encounter the strange inhabitants. Part social satire, part surreal psycho-drama, Bergman employs both Buñuel-esque dream imagery, and more conventional shocks to create what may be one of the strangest vampire movies ever – if the inhabitants are vampires, of course. In certain moments it foreshadows both David Lynch’s movies and Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’. It also has striking similarities with Roman Polanski’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’, although there must have been something in the air as both movies were made at the same time. ‘Hour of the Wolf’ has a strange mixture of Bergman’s conventional, understated style and the extravagant, at times outrageous, horror imagery, but for the most part this worked. The dream sequences were a definite highlight: particularly the scenes of Max von Sydow’s character roaming the halls of a gothic castle in what must surely be a nod towards Tod Browning’s Dracula. The quieter scenes are also memorable however, for example the close, intimate conversation between the couple, Bergman focusing, as he does, tightly on their faces, turning their expressions into epic emotional landscapes. Despite the subject matter and the dark suggestions of the supernatural this is ironically a far lighter film than his other movies such as ‘Cries and Whispers’ and ‘Through a Glass Darkly’. The glorious and unashamedly macabre horror imagery tip it into genre territory and gives it a black humour that is compelling. It’s not the deepest or most profound Bergman movie I’ve watched – but it’s one of the most instantly enjoyable.
Would I recommend it? Yes, either with Bergman’s earlier films, maybe ‘Persona’ for contrast, or with Polanksi’s ‘Rosemary’s Baby’. Oh – and watch ‘The Shining’ as well. Because it’s great.