Christophe Gans’ 2001 horror period film martial arts mashup Brotherhood of the Wolf Director’s Cut has finally come to U.S. shores on Blu-ray thanks to Scream Factory. The film remains a bizarre blend of genres that shouldn’t work on paper but is still an effective and wildly entertaining show. Unfortunately, fans hoping for an upgrade over past DVDs or the foreign releases on HD-DVD and Blu-ray may be non-plussed by this release. This transfer is the same dated master and while the audio is rock-solid there is an issue with the English subtitle translations that is quite irksome. The film is great and if you need it in your collection it’s one to keep an eye on, - Worth A Look
The Beast has attacked and killed again. So many innocent people have lost their lives or been maimed by the creature, the entire Gevaudan region lives in a state of terror. With the army unable to capture or kill the creature, the King has sent his best naturalist and hunter Gregoire de Fronsac (Samuel Li Bihan) and his Iroquois companion Mani (Mark Dacascos) to investigate. As they close in on the creature, they discover the beast has a Master of its own - and a plot far more sinister than they could have imagined.
The thing I love about director writer/director Bruno Gans and his films is how he just goes for it. He’s an impressive visual master creating beautiful lasting images with his work but designed for what otherwise would have been low-rent genre material. Craft a bat-guano zany story that on paper shouldn’t work but then shoot it like an arthouse epic is his method of operation. That’s been the best way I’ve found to describe Brotherhood of the Wolf to people who haven’t seen or heard of the film before. This is a beautiful film with incredible cinematography - and some really cool action sequences and gnarly horror elements. From the Jaws-inspired opening to the finale, this film is a lush visual masterpiece with one of the battiest plots around.
The Beast of Gevaudan is the stuff of legend but a nice little gnarly nugget of historical fact. I first heard of this creature that stalked that region of France while I was in high school and always thought it was a creepy story. I came across it while trying to research a school paper on the Lions of Tsavo and used it as an anecdote about the inflated number of famous animal attacks. I thought it might make a cool movie someday but I wasn’t expecting a period thriller action horror movie hybrid when I sat down to watch this flick. Actually, the American trailers were generally crap at selling what this movie was to the point that people in the theater I was at got up and left before the first fight sequence because they didn’t know it was in French and subtitled.
For a period mystery thriller, The Brotherhood of the Wolf is great. Samuel Li Bihan plays Fronsac as a romantic Poroit-styled detective. Using the facts at hand and his extensive knowledge he parses through the frantic stories of witnesses and sifts through the evidence. It’s here that Vincent Cassel’s Jean-Francois is the perfect foil for our hero. One-armed, he’s a lethal hunter himself with a similar background to Fronsac, only he’s got a lot more to hide with a creepy thing for his sister. And with her own web of intrigue, Monica Bellucci shines as the sexy and mysterious Sylvia.
When it becomes an action film, the ever-reliable Mark Dacascos delivers. As a martial artist, I’ve always been kind of amazed that he never really took off to the heights of Van Damme or a knucklehead like Steven Seagal. He’s been in great movies - Only The Strong is a favorite and I have a soft spot for Cry Freeman, but he’s never had that star-making film. And no, Double Dragon does not count.
When Brotherhood of the Wolf becomes a horror film Christophe Gans nimbly applies the right amount of tension and terror. The beast attacks themselves are a great example of withholding from the audience. Again, like Jaws, we almost never see the beast full-on for a long stretch into the film. By the time we get to see the creature, we’re fully sold on what this film is that we accept it without question. That big plot reveal is a humdinger and only adds to the mystery and horror of the film instead of breaking it wide open. Had we seen the creature during that first attack of the woman on the rocks, the film might well have been laughed out of theaters.
At the end of the day, Brotherhood of the Wolf is just a bonkers movie. A fan-favorite for the last two decades, it’s one of those early aughts oddities that still holds up. I come back to this film every couple of years expecting the veil of nostalgia to have worn off, but thankfully that doesn’t happen. From the getgo, this is a stylish and engaging movie. It may have a ridiculous plot, but the go-for-broke styling and storytelling keep it alive to the final frame.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
Brotherhood of the Wolf arrives on Blu-ray in the U.S. for the first time thanks to Scream Factory in a two-disc Collector’s Edition. Pressed on a Region A BD-50 disc, the discs are housed in a sturdy two-disc keepcase with slipcover and reversible insert artwork. The disc loads to a static image main menu with traditional navigation options.
Well, folks hoping for a new remaster or restoration for The Brotherhood of the Wolf are in for a bit of a disappointment. While this film comes in the far superior Director’s Cut, it’s also saddled with being sourced from a dated master that frankly is only marginally better than the Director’s Cut DVD. Film grain is on the thick gauzy side of the spectrum - particularly in dark firelit scenes. Scenes that take place outside in natural light look the best. Fine details have a chunky quality to them without clean lines.
Close-ups and middle shots look generally pretty good, but wide shots are on the dodgy side. The colors are in pretty good shape with some nice bold reds and blues to pop up the primary saturation. Black levels and contrast are hit and miss I’m afraid to say. Blacks and shadows in any scene with candle lights or a fireplace are particularly problematic with some notable crush issues and an overall flat appearance. Considering this film’s status as a cult classic, I’m surprised this hasn’t received a new restoration or remaster of any kind. This is just one of those unfortunate cases of a label licensing a title and getting stuck with what they’re given.
There’s better news in the audio department - but another issue also arises that I’ll go into detail about in a moment. But first, The Brotherhood of the Wolf enjoys a trio of audio tracks to chose from. An English dubbed DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, an English dubbed DTS-HD MA 2.0 mix and the original French DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix. As far as English dubs go - the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks aren’t bad, the 5.1 mix fares much better offering more impact where it counts. The dialog sounds natural enough, except for Fronsac’s voice, which sounds a bit goofy at times, but it works overall. Scoring by Joseph LoDuca is some beautiful stuff. The 5.1 mix has some great surround effect details, especially during action sequences or the wolf hunt.
The ideal way to watch this film is in the original French language and on its own the audio mix is terrific. Dialog is clean and clear, the surround effects hit a bit stronger with a better LFE presence for punches or kicks. The problem here is the subtitles. After confirming with the folks at Scream Factory, for some reason, they weren’t given access to the English subtitle files of past DVDs and so a new subtitle track that apparently slipped past QC had to be created and it’s just bad. Names are misspelled, lines of dialog simply replaced by an [inaudible] or [indistinct] card, or worse are complete gibberish. To be fair, there are good stretches that work just fine, but when it fails it’s a disaster. The scene where Mani checks the French aristocrats’ totems, for example, his native language word is billed as [Speaking Foreign] or [Speaking Foreign Language] when the DVD track actually had proper subtitles for the Iroquois animal names. It may not be a big deal to some, but after seeing this movie dozens of times over the years, to have a really bad subtitle track is deeply disappointing. It makes me wish I knew French better than I do, which isn’t much of at all.Blu-ray English Subtitle
English DTS HD MA 5.1 - 4/5
English DTS HD MA 2.0 - 3.5/5
French DTS-HD MA 5.1 - 4.5/5 (English Subtitles 2/5)
All of the bonus features assembled for this release are found on Disc 2. This is most if not all of the archival bonus features released over the years on DVD and the foreign market Blu-rays. The deleted scenes are pretty cool but you can see why they didn’t make either the theatrical or the Director’s Cut since they really slowed down the pace. The making of documentaries provides some excellent in-depth materials to pick through. I hadn’t looked at these in a long time and they’re an interesting look at what it took to get the movie made. All of these features are in Fench with English subtitles.
The Brotherhood of the Wolf is a weird and wild genre mashup of a movie. Somehow writer/director Christophe Gans pulled it off. One part horror, one part period drama, one part mystery thriller, and ten parts martial arts action flick - there’s a lot in this movie and it’s damn fun stuff.
Like many folks, I was very excited about the news of The Brotherhood of the Wolf coming to Blu-ray in the U.S. after a long time living with the DVD. Sadly my enthusiasm has faded quite a bit. While watchable, the video transfer is due for a much-needed restoration and remaster. While the audio mixes are technically great, the English subtitles for the original French language mix are just plain bad. The good news is the archival bonus features are included and they provide a terrific look at the making of the film and the behind-the-scenes drama that went on. I wish I had better news to report. Worth A Look