Theatrical Release: February 8, 1980 (Mexico)
Blu Ray Release: October 25, 2016
Director: Burt Kennedy
Review by James Klein
This little known, almost forgotten film is given new life thanks to Kino in a less than impressive restoration. Shame too since Wolf Lake is a decent thriller about the effects of PTSD and what defines a true patriot.
Although shot in Mexico, the film takes place in the Canadian wilderness during the fall of 1976 as four long time friends journey via plane to a remote cabin off the lake for a long weekend of hunting, fishing, and drinking. Lead by former drill sergeant Charlie (the always great Rod Steiger who has never met a scenery he cannot chew) the men are greeted by a stranger instead of their normal guide. The stranger is a young, introverted man named David (David Huffman from Firefox) who is helping in maintaining the cabin along with his girlfriend Linda (Robin Mattson from Candy Stripe Nurses).
Charlie instantly detects something wrong or off about David but cannot pinpoint it. After a strange confrontation with Linda where she shows her breasts, Charlie calls her a bitch, and they both slap one another, tensions rise as Charlie soon finds out from one of his friends that David served in Vietnam but was a deserter and is hiding out in the wilderness. Charlie, the hardcore patriot whose own son died in Vietnam, instantly flips his marbles upon hearing the news and goes from antagonizing David and Linda to attempting to kill them.
Wolf Lake plays like a combination of Deliverance, The Most Dangerous Game, Coming Home, and The Deer Hunter all wrapped up in one little film. While there is plenty of suspense and some action in the film, Wolf Lake is more of a psychological drama as Charlie and David soon confront one another about their beliefs and past. Moments such as David flinching every time he hears a gunshot to Charlie talking about his son being killed are great, memorable moments that really stand out. However, I do have issues with the screenplay as to why Charlie’s simple friend Wilber (Jerry Hardin from Big Trouble in Little China) would even tell Charlie about David’s past since he knows Charlie is a somewhat loose cannon. Wilber is afraid of what Charlie would do and his only reason of telling Charlie is that “he never keeps anything from him”. Also, what happened to their guide that they were expecting? It is never mentioned as to what happened to him.
I also would have liked to have seen a more gradual confrontation between the two men instead of Charlie almost instantly spazzing out over David’s non-patriotic decision. I think that if the screenplay was better written by making Charlie more sympathetic and not such a nutcase, it would have added more tension. If Wolf Lake was made today, the film would be overloaded with messages and politics (all from the left no doubt) so I am happy to say the writer didn’t attempt very hard at making this thriller too political.
The performances by the cast which also include Paul Mantee (The Manitou) and Richard Herd (V) are top notch and with no other characters, the actors carry the film without any problem. I also loved the setting as this cabin almost feels like another character of its own. Why are woods/ cabins so goddamn 70’s? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining as from the opening images of the serene lake I could feel myself getting excited as I knew I was watching some good old 70’s cinema.
Now for the disappointment: the transfer. The film which barely saw the light of day in U.S. theaters was not kept in good shape. The picture jitters quite a lot, very distracting. The colors are washed out and muted, having a reddish look to skin tones. The picture looks best when in the dark or at night but in daylight, the image looks faded and worn out. Also to note, some pretty obvious print damage as well. I understand the film negative may have been in poor shape but I would have liked to have seen Kino put more of an effort into restoring this decent thriller. Shockingly the DTS-HD 2.0 sound mix is pretty decent with no issues to note.
Special features are pretty forgettable as there is an interview with producer Lance Hool who discusses the film being shot in Mexico and his involvement in producing not just this picture but also his career. There is also an interview with actors Herd and Hardin who have remained close friends since they met on this film. Herd is the more animated of the two as Hardin pretty much just sits there. Both are in their 80’s so they tend to forget what happened in the past and talk over one another. Then the blu ray has trailers for other films by Kino such as Assassination, Hero and the Terror, and Avenging Force to name a few. No trailer for Wolf Lake is provided. The blu ray packaging does contain a reversible cover of the alternate cut The Honor Guard which apparently has a completely different ending according to imdb…so why wasn’t this footage or alternate cut provided? This is a let down.
Regardless of the less than impressive blu ray, I still recommend Wolf Lake as the film is an enjoyable, dramatic thriller with plenty of screaming from Steiger that borders on unintentional comedy. I liked the themes of patriotism and the horrors of war and the damage it causes. Thankfully, it never gets too heavy handed with messages that can alienate certain viewers. Clocking in at just 86 minutes, this is a good time waster on a rainy weekend.
Blu Ray Rating: