An Ingmar Bergman horror movie! THE HOUR OF THE WOLF was largely
dismissed by critics, and truth be told it is quite dumb.
Bergmanís unforgettable surrealistic imagery, however, makes this a
For those who donít know, the late Ingmar Bergman is
the filmmaker who for film buffs most readily springs to mind when the
term art film is broached. His films--which include the legendary
SEVENTH SEAL, CRIES AND WHISPERS, FANNY AND ALEXANDER and many
others--were always visually expressive, but often suffocatingly
pretentious and horrifically bleak. THE HOUR OF THE WOLF (VARGTIMMEN)
was made in 1968, in between
PERSONA (1966) and SHAME (1968), two of
Bergmanís most acclaimed films. In fact, HOUR OF THE WOLFíS underlying
themes were initially conceived as part of PERSONA, but Bergman
eventually removed them for inclusion in this stand-alone film.
It stars Max Von Sydow and Liv Ullmann, Bergmanís most
frequent and recognizable cast members (Ullmann was pregnant with
Bergmanís child during filming). Also on hand was the filmmakerís stock
cinematographer Sven Nykvist, whoís arguably as responsible for the
distinctness of Ingmar Bergmanís films as the filmmaker himself.
Alma is married to Johan Borg, a famous artist. Through
entries in Johanís diary and Almaís testimony, the story of Johanís
final days is pieced together.
The two left their home for a secluded island,
presumably to avert a nervous breakdown in the increasingly on-edge
Johan. But his demons followed him to the island--literally.
A woman claiming to be over 200 years old approaches
Anna one day and exhorts her to read Johanís private journal. Alma does
so, and, much to her understandable displeasure, comes upon a passage
describing a torrid affair Johann had years earlier.
All the while Johan stays up each night. Heís afraid of
the Hour of the Wolf (3 AM), the time when the most people die and the
most children are born, and when ghosts and demons are at their most
One day Johan and Alma are invited to a party thrown by
a bunch of rich people living on the island, but the get-together is a
smarmy affair that only intensifies Johanís inner torment.
That night all Hell breaks loose. Johan is moved to
reveal to Alma that he once murdered a young boy--he then shoots her, or
thinks he does, and enters into an increasingly surreal universe
where a man walks upside-down, a woman rips off her face and another
womanís corpse springs to lascivious life. Eventually Johan is pecked to
death by the previous eveningís party guests, whoíve turned into giant
This leaves Alma, who in the final scenes reveals that
she witnessed the climactic attack, after which her husband and his
tormentors all vanished. It seems sheís become infected with Johanís
Ingmar Bergmanís filmmaking hails from a different era
than our own. He didnít rely on multiple set-ups or editing to advance
his story, but on old-fashioned craftsmanship. This means HOUR OF THE
WOLF is visualized through a series of carefully chosen wide shots and a
minimum of close-ups.
Contrary to what many commentators would have you
believe, this is very much a horror film in the atmosphere of tense
expectancy that gives way to all-out insanity in the final third. This
section is a dazzling flow of horrific strangeness, one of Bergmanís few
forays into special effects filmmaking, enhanced immeasurably by Sven
Nykvistís incredibly evocative black and white photography.
Of course content-wise the film isnít much. Itís trite
and simplistic, and Johan and Alma are both painfully underdeveloped
characters. Itís never made clear where Johanís delusions come from, nor
why Alma stays with him.
An intriguing angle is broached in the final scenes, in
which it seems Alma might be becoming infected with Johanís insanity
(making this film something of a precursor to William Friedkinís
BUG). I wish Bergman
had done more with this idea, as the framing device--of Johanís journal
entries filtered through Almaís recollections--would seem to allow for
an interplay of illusion and reality far more complex than what Bergman
has provided (for the record, he later admitted HOUR OF THE WOLFíS
narrative isnít all it could be).
But I recommend HOUR OF THE WOLF for its stunning
visuals. As a surreal spectacle the film is virtually unmatched, even if
in every other respect it has indeed been matched, and bettered, many
HOUR OF THE WOLF (VARGTIMMEN)
Director: Ingmar Bergman
Producer: Lars-Owe Carlberg
Screenplay: Ingmar Bergman
Cinematography: Sven Nykvist
Editing: Ulla Ryghe
Cast: Max Von Sydow, Liv Ullmann, Gertrud Fridh, Georg Rydeberg, Erland
Josephson, Naima Wifstrand, Ulf Johansson, Gundrun Brost, Bertil
Anderberg, Ingrid Thulin