"I take orders from the Octoboss."


tn_wolfhoundYou know how these things start out. A little kid in some medeivalish village, frolicking in the sunshine, his dad is forging a sword, everything is happy. There could be a whole movie just about this worry-free childhood, or about hobbits jumping on a bed, but instead the band of savage marauders storm in on their horses shooting arrows, lighting shit on fire, throwing women on the ground. The pricks.

And of course they kill the kid’s family and drag him away to become a slave in a mine. Not to sound racist, but it seems like Barbarians are always trying to pull shit like this. I mean, not all Barbarians. There have been many great members of the Barbarian culture throughout their proud history, such as Conan the Barbarian and Theobald Boehm, the inventor of the modern flute. But SOME Barbarians act like a bunch of dicks, doing shit like this. That’s where the stereotype comes from.

Well, after the opening credits it could go through the whole thing where the kid escapes and then tries to run away but he meets some wise individual who trains him and teaches him about his destiny and then he swings a sword around in the air for practice, possibly has two ferret pals, passes a series of tests or trials, gets advice from an old hag oracle, and after some long boring stretches he meets a girl, more boredom, possibly fighting a monster or ogre of some kind, perhaps has to solve a riddle, then at the very end tries to get revenge. Not WOLFHOUND. This one skips right to the kid, now fully grown, long-haired, scarred and badass, laying siege to the fortress of the Man-Eater (one of the two dicks responsible for the massacre of his family and Grey Dog clan), killing that asshole and taking back the sword his father made right before his death. Also he has a pet bat.

mp_wolfhoundMan, I really liked this movie. It’s a Russian picture, based on a Russian fantasy novel. The Russian title translates to “Wolfhound of the Grey Dog Clan.” The Weinsteins released it here, but I don’t think they cut it and although it defaults to a dubbed version you can switch it to Russian with English subtitles. And it’s even a rare case of the American poster being better than the original one. Wolfhound is such a badass the Weinsteins don’t even know how to ruin him.

I gotta compare the appeal to CONAN THE BARBARIAN and BEASTMASTER. But just by way of being filmed in Russia it gets a really different feel to its fantasy world. Cold and grey, mountains and forest trails, and everything’s dirty. Maybe there’s a little FLESH AND BLOOD in there. It definitely reminds me more of the old ’80s sword and sorcery movies than of the post LORD OF THE RINGS era, but it’s more entertaining than most of them. Digital effects are very subdued until the climax, and then the style of the effects reminds me of the stop motion monsters that would be in the old school ones.

Anyway, the plot is not about his quest for revenge, it’s mostly about the consequences of having already achieved his revenge. Killing a motherfucker nicknamed “the Man-Eater” sounds real good on paper (such as a scroll), but this time it throws off the whole balance of power in the area. Turns out Man-Eater was always bickering with Zhadoba, the other guy involved with the Grey Dog massacre, and that’s the only reason they never bothered to conquer the kingdom of Galirad. The king figures the only way to be safe is to send his daughter to Man-Eater Jr. in exchange for making sure Zhadoba (who now wears a scary skull-faced mask like the guy in WILLOW) doesn’t fuck with them.

So our boy Wolfhound proves himself to the princess so he can be one of her guards on the journey.

There are many reasons why Wolfhound is a great badass character. First of all he just looks cool, a grizzled, mangy bastard. Unlike, say, BEASTMASTER (sorry Beastmaster) there’s no thought in the back of your head that he might be kind of a weiner. You just look at his mug and know not to cross him. His long hair is era-appropriate, he looks like a scummy mercenary, not a Rob Zombie character. Kind of Rutger Hauer-esque, actually. And whenever he ties his hair back it means the same thing as when Billy Jack takes his boots off.

Second, I believe Wolfhound incorporates an innovative double-back or boomerang form of badass juxtaposition. See, he has this cute, squeaky pet with an injured wing that he’s very protective of, that’s the badass juxtaposition. But at the same time it’s not like it’s a baby duckling or something, it’s a fucking bat, and it’s even commented on early on that you can’t trust somebody who would carry a pet like that. So it works simultaneously as a cute thing to play off of his toughness and a demonic thing to make him seem scarier.

Wolfhound (center) doesn't talk much, mostly stands around grimacing like that until it's time for swords. I'm not sure why the guy on the right is looking into the camera.
Wolfhound (center) doesn’t talk much, mostly stands around grimacing like that until it’s time for swords. I’m not sure why the guy on the right is looking into the camera.

And he doesn’t talk much, that’s always a plus. One of the scenes where he has alot of dialogue is the one where he’s yelling at the gods.

Most importantly he demonstrates it over and over again. It’s not one of those movies that just keeps telling you how valiant he is without him having to prove it. There’s the scene where the princess’s guards don’t take him seriously so he stands in the middle of the path and tells them to get past him. There are the scenes where he seems to almost smell an attack before it happens, like the time he throws a sword to block two throwing knives and impale their thrower, thwarting an assassination. There’s the one where he’s just passing through the Bear Clan’s bridge and ends up rescuing a stranger from execution. Or the one where he summons an army of evil spirits and defeats them with fire.

You know what, here’s how you know who’s bad. Well into the movie, like 90 minutes in, we still don’t really know how he became Wolfhound. The princess and entourage are at a campfire and a lady starts singing a song that everybody likes the tune of. She explains that it’s about this brave guy in the Crystal Mountains who was the only one to escape slavery. Wolfhound stares at the ground, embarrassed, and doesn’t tell anybody that by coincidence they’re sitting with the legendary warrior that the song is glorifying.

The only reason Wolfhound almost gets bested is because of some cold-hearted treachery by the princess’s cousin. He doesn’t mean ill-will, but he’s made a deal with Zhadoba because he’s convinced it’s the only way to save the kingdom. Zhadoba wants to sacrifice the princess for a spell or somesuch, so he makes this bargain with the cousin. He says either way she’s gonna die but if the cousin helps out he gets to become king of Galirad instead of the Man-Eater’s kid. He’s not initiating a plot, he’s just allowing himself to be convinced of the moral correctness of going along with a plan where he’ll become king. So you see, he’s not evil. He’s just Jay Leno.

Wolfhound is the best kind of hero. Never preachy, scares the shit out of everybody, not motivated by doing the right thing, and yet incapable of not doing the right thing. Especially if he sees some kid in trouble, he’s definitely gonna put his quest on pause for a second and go try to help the kid. But then he won’t try to take credit for it or anything, he’ll just move on.

Also, did I mention, he has a pet bat. That’s what makes Wolfhound iconic. Snake Plissken has an eyepatch, Wolfhound has a bat.

The movie is pretty long, as in longer than some movies are, not as in longer than it needs to be. It’s kind of epic, but I’d gladly watch another one. Apparently there’s a lower budget TV mini-series called YOUNG WOLFHOUND starring the same guy (Aleksandr Bukharov), hopefully that will make it to the land of English-subtitles at some point.

I read some complaints from people who didn’t like WOLFHOUND, they seem to think it’s too much generic fantasy stuff. Instead of generic I would say classic. It’s stuff you’ve seen before but with a more interesting hero in the middle, with a higher frequency of exciting events, and a bit of a Russian spin on it to make it fresh. Also Yakov Smirnoff plays a sidekick/narrator character similar to Mako in the CONAN movies. Just kidding. There’s nothing like that.

There have also been complaints about the action scenes, which admittedly are a little choppy in the way the shots are put together, although not real shaky or quick-cutty or nothin. They’re not the clearest but I guess they have enough style and variety that I enjoyed them, they’re not stiff Kevin Sorbo type business.

Man, I really dug this movie. I don’t know if you all will like it, but some of you will. In fact I bet at least one of you will decide to get a pet bat after seeing it. That’s my guarantee. Please send me a picture of you with your pet bat and I will post it here.

This entry was posted on Sunday, March 14th, 2010 at 11:24 pm and is filed under Fantasy/Swords, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

47 Responses to “Wolfhound”

  1. Man this sounds AWESOME. I’ve been watching a lot of Russian cinema lately I will check this out for sure. Along these lines also looking forward to VALHALLA RISING and CENTURION. Pet bat though, genius!

    Not to steer the talkback off topic in the very first post but I can’t wait for your inevitable GREEN ZONE review. Loved it, personally. The camera is shakier than ever but the action geography couldn’t be clearer in my opinion. Especially in the final chase (SPOILER)

  2. Vern, I lobe it when you point overlooked movies like this that I’ve never even heard of, will definitely check this out

  3. whoops “I love it when you point out overlooked movies like this”

  4. yeah, i never even heard of this movie but sounds good. this kind of fantasy flick is one that i theoretically i should love, but only if it’s done right, and it’s done wrong so overwhelmingly often.

    great jay leno and yakov smirnoff quips/gags.

  5. Sounds good, but I was a little disappointed to discover this wasn’t some unearthed 80s gem with a young Sam Elliot as a barbarian warrior. Take another look at that picture at the top and tell me I’m wrong.

    GWAI LO: I saw VALHALLA RISING at a film festival recently. I liked it, but the trailer is pretty misleading: it’s very arty and slow after the first half-hour. More AGUIRRE than 300, is what I’m saying.

  6. Classic fantasy indeed. Great movie. Great character and bat sidekick. For me Wolfhound is to Fantasy what Yip Man is to Kung Fu. Nispel could learn a thing or two from watching this…..but I have little hope for the new Conan.

  7. I remember hearing about this maybe over at Twitch or somewhere, so nice to know it’s getting a release. I’ll have to see if it’s got Region 4 distribution. If not, I got a sister living in Russia, so maybe I’ll get her to look for it on my behalf.
    Thanks for the review Vern, it sounds pretty awesome.

  8. Sounds great! I gotta find this…can’t wait to see it.

    I gotta say, the New Conan adaptation (note: NOT a remake…Conan, like THE THING and LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, is a pre-existing work that can be adapted again and again) (this is known in legal circles as a Dave The Defendent DeFalco Loophole) looks like it’s gonna be pretty dismal. Fully aside from Nispel’s involvement, the script has issues. MAJOR issues. It’s got virtually nothing to do with Robert E. Howard, and they DO seem to rip off the Stone / Milius version at times without actually remaking it.

    I read a draft by the guys who wrote that masterpiece A SOUND OF THUNDER and it was, no exaggeration, probably one of the single worst contemporary screenplays I have ever read. It SUCKED. Dialouge like “If we had not grain we would not even be here” (???!!) and so many scenes that weren’t just derivative of other movies, they were just flat-out stolen, period point blank. Like, a dream sequence where Conan finds his father’s corpse and his father says, “Avenge me.” It was even specified that a blue light is shining down on them!! HELLO!!!??? BRAVEHEART WON BEST PICTURE!!! Then there was the villain who was a blatant Khan clone…and his invisible assasins, except you could still see their eyeballs floating around, like in a Warner Bros. cartoon where Bugs and Daffy paint themselves the same color as the wall, or run into a dark room….

    Apparently it’s been rewritten since, but man, it’d take a MAJOR overhaul to make anything halfway decent out of that disaster.

  9. This week in Reggie Watts news:


    Upcoming hour long comedy central stand-up special? Check.

  10. Jareth Cutestory

    March 15th, 2010 at 7:38 am

    CC: Here’a a way they could make it worse: Bearded Harold the Barbarian.

  11. so, its OLEG’s great x2 granddad.

  12. Who want to bet this movie is better then the Conan movie to be, directed by the same assclown who made PATHFINDER?

  13. Jam, you made me like VAHALLA RISING already. It’s like AGUIRRE, you say? What’s not to like?

  14. Considering AGUIRRE is one of my favorite movies I am tickled pink if that’s what Refn is going for. Godspeed you crazy Danes.

  15. Ooh I almost forgot that Mel Gibson is making a viking movie too, that crazy bastard.

  16. One Guy From Andromeda

    March 15th, 2010 at 9:00 am

    CC: A dead father telling his son to “Avenge me!” sounds more like a Hamlet reference than a callback to Braveheart to me…

  17. Oh, I’m a big fan of AGUIRRE and of Tarkovsky (which Refn takes a lot from for VALHALLA) but the audience I saw it with were a bit disgruntled: too mainstream and violent for the art-house crowd, too slow and arty for the mainstream crowd…

    Tch, you can’t please anyone. I liked it though, so to hell with them. Avoid the trailer, though.

  18. It’s like Tarkovsky too? Man, this Refn guy really knows where my buttons are and how to push them. I like my violence served up with baffling existential visual poetry.

  19. See, in BRAVEHEART, I think THAT was referencing Hamlet. When the New Conan guys write their blue-tinted dream sequence of ghostly fraternal avenging, it’s pretty clearly ripping off Braveheart.

  20. I was all excited to see this movie, put it up at the top of my Netflix queue and everything, but then I got to the part at the end of the review where it says that the action isn’t very good. Fuck.

    Now, it’s still at the top of my Netflix queue, but I’m not really looking forward to seeing it. I don’t know, maybe that’s the best way to go into a movie like this.

  21. Yeah, but Eddie, Wolfhound’s got a bat. A pet bat. A bat compadre, compadre.

    He’s got a pet bat.

    Pet _ bat.

  22. I’m not sure I understand the logistics of keeping a pet bat. They’re crepuscular, aren’t they (as in they are primarily active at dusk)? So what does Wolfhound do during the day… just stuff the dude in his coat? And it’s not like a pet bat is going to be very threatening at night, since you wouldn’t be able to actually see him.

    I don’t think I could enjoy a movie that didn’t get its bat details right!

  23. Maybe he just likes having a bat around. Who can blame him, looks like a cute little fella from the picture. There’s this guy I see in my neighborhood sometimes who walks around with a pigeon on his shoulder. It craps all over him but he doesn’t seem to mind.

  24. I’ve seen this and I wasn’t immediately convinced by the movie . Maybe it was high expectations , since I’m a big fan of barbarian-related movies , and , Vern’s right , the action scenes are not that good. But I’ve already seen this 3 times , and it grows on you , especially because the character is so fucking badass . It’s also , in tone , very similar to the old school barbarian and sword-and-sorcery movies ( like Albert Pyun’s Sword and the Sorcerer ) but with its own Russian spin , and zero Tolkien-oriented fantasy creatures ( no goblins or orks and flying dragons in this one ).I’m currently looking for 2 series of eastern European books ( after I’m finished with Dan Abnett) , this one and The Witcher , by Sapkowski , both dark fantasy. I know that there’s a TV movie of the Witcher around , so Vern , if you’re in the mood for some obscure fantasy with literary roots ( or every kind of barbarians related cinema , really , I would love to see your reviews of Deathstalker I-IV and The Barbarians ) , that’s another interesting direction to look into.

  25. Man , I almost forgot this : Solomon Kane , since we’re talking about Howard .I love the character dearly , and I sincerely think that Solomon Kane is better character than Conan , the only problem is that I don’t know what the fuck is happening with the distribution of the movie . Solomon Kane is already completed , you can see trailers on the internet and in some countries is already out , but I don’t know the Italian release date.

    On another note : the pet-bat here is called “Ala Spezzata” , translated in English as Broken Wing . I wanted a pet-bat some time ago , but they told me that it’s a very demanding animal , so now I have a little ferret , unfortunately a little wrecking ball . I always figured ferrets as ground-type animal , but this little bastard is always climbing up things and shitting everywhere.

  26. CMK,

    In my opinion, ferrets are assholes. I have never encountered a pleasant ferret. How did they ever become pets?

  27. I never ever thought of checking this out until I read the review. Thanks, Vern.

  28. M. Casey : I had the opposite reaction to them. But now I had two , and both of them are the very best pets that I’ve ever had . Shocking , I know . I’ve heard that some pople hate them because they bite or scratch , but that never happened to me one single time , not even by mastake . They’re very , VERY playful , always playing hide and seek and “attacking” you with hilarious results because they are not coordinate or elegant like a cat , and they’re absolutely fearless ( they go everywhere , they jump from dangerous places and heights , they hide and fall asleep so you have to find them or wake them) and , maybe , the single most curious creatures I have ever seen . I will give you an example , when I use an hammer , every other animal I had ( including dogs and cats ) was runnig away from the noise , my ferret doen’t care for the noise and is always around me when I do a noisy work around the house , “helping” me by dragging away tools for his collection.Curious and fearless. Yes , he’s got a collection , he likes Kleenex packs of all colors , grass leaves and rubber gloves. Yes , he’s shitting everywhere , but always in the corners where it’s “out of the way” and where we can see it , never on a bed or a couch , he never ruined anything . I love that little bastard.

  29. Solomon Kane has already hit England and is as cool as ice. I really can’t understand why it hasn’t got a proper US release.
    It’s Outlander all over again.

    Speaking of Conan – wouldn’t it be cool if instead of casting Stephen Lang as the bad guy, they chose to cast him
    as Conan himself? Plenty of Robert E Howerd’s stories were set in his more mature years…

  30. Speaking of Conan, wouldn’t it be cool if they had cast ANYBODY but the bartender from Baywatch: Hawaii????

    They were after Tayler Lautner at one point, which isn’t great (he’s no Arnold Schwarzenegger) but at least, you gotta admit, he can act and, honestly, does actually look a bit like Howard’s vision of the character–actually a lot more then Arnold does.

    Sigh…this, ultimately, is not really gonna be a Conan film, it’s just gonna be another bad barbarian sword and sorcery movie about on the level of one of the Conan rip-offs from 1985. Beastmaster and Barbarian Brothers and Yor, Hunter from the future will all soon have company on the video shelves…..

    The great tragedy is that THIS version is what ultimately got made, whereas John Milius, The Wachowskis, and Arnold couldn’t get backing for Milius’ brilliant script KING CONAN: THE CROWN OF IRON. Which is one of the best screenplays I have ever read, hands down, no competition. Oh well — at least Milius was able to use some of it in ROME…

  31. “Sigh…this, ultimately, is not really gonna be a Conan film, it’s just gonna be another bad barbarian sword and sorcery movie about on the level of one of the Conan rip-offs from 1985.” – No No, CC, it’s going to be different this time, you’ll see – you’re forgetting the magic ingredient of…CGI! Loads and loads of lovingly rendered graphics for the cast to vaguely interact with! And maybe a couple of crunching guitar riffs anytime Conan lifts a sword…

    I’m filing this one under “meh” until I see a trailer. Who knows, it might all come together…

    I really enjoyed The Wolfhound though – especially the bit at the swamp. Very atmospheric.

  32. Oh yeah – and it’ll probably be in 3D. Yawn.

  33. Bats are nocturnal, not crepuscular. Crepuscular refers to animals like monkeys which don’t move around during the day (too hot) or at night (can’t see, jaguars will eat them) so most of their activity is at dawn and dusk. Bats fly all night.

    I took a Russian SCI-FI class last year and we watched some Tarkovsky (loved SOLARIS, thought STALKER was a lame adaptation of the story which I loved), and parts of the NIGHT WATCH / DAY WATCH films. Anybody seen these? They seemed kind of goofy to me. Also saw AELITA (god I hate silent films) and some other classics like the Russian take on Aqua Man (zzzzz).

  34. rainman — I thought NIGHTWATCH /DAYWATCH are kind of fun in a goofy sort of way. They’re classic examples of style over substance, but more in a RAZORBACK way than a TRANSFORMERS way. They’ve got a few likable actors who anchor them, and a few clever ideas to keep ’em from completely drooping. I’ll watch the third one if it ever happens (Fox bought the rights and were gonna have Timur Bekmambetov make it in America, but that has yet to get off the ground). I thought WANTED was too idiotic and morally indefensible too enjoy, but the action sequences were outstanding and I was actually surprised at the assured storytelling and focused acting. Bekmambetov looks like classic Hollywood material and I bet he’s going to go on to make some real classic sci-fi action stuff, at which point going back and watching the Russian series that put him on the map will be something lots of action fans do.

  35. Mr. S – I agree on WANTED, but at the least it is watchable (not the same as necessarily good, mind you) and well I laughed at two moments: The rat bomb, and of course that whole ludicrous (if satisfying) keyboard smackdown with those letters happen to be knocked out spelling together a naughty word.

    But yeah, Putin Russia did something good for the world after all.

  36. Yeah, Day Watch & Night Watch were fun and worth watching once, but the subtitle style was the most interesting thing about them.
    It feels weird saying that, but it’s true.

  37. hey did any one know that Rutger Hauer was in this new movie called Dead Tone and its such a good movie too i have a copy

  38. Speaking of Russian Sci Fi, anyone tried to watch Interceptor yet? The fx are by the same guys behind Night/Daywatch and its based on a novel called SMERSH.

    The funny thing about it is that it is completely opposite to the usual movie adaptation, in that it’s more of a visual reference for those who have actually read the book. It has an air of “what, you haven’t read the book? No wonder you don’t know what’s going on!”

  39. Great movie! I picked this up at my local Wal-Mart for $7 bucks! I had heard about it awhile back on Ain’t it cool, but kinda forgot about it. Wolfhound is a certified badass (the song about him was such a cool scene!) Thanks for the review Vern. Another sci-fi movie that I saw was Outlander which starred Jesus himself, Jim Caviezel. I appreciated it for what it was, but felt like it would have been better with a bigger budget.

  40. Whoops! Meant to say, “sci-fi/fantasy movie that I saw…”

  41. Great film, saw it last night and I never would have if it wasn’t for this wonderful site.

    People above were wondering about the reason he keeps a bat. I won’t spoil it, but it is explained in a sequence which totally defines Wolfhound’s character, I actually cheered at my tv during it.

  42. I saw SOLOMON KANE. I like dit, but i suspect many will not. At least not as much as i did. I mean, not that i oved it, or think it’s one of the best made this year, i don’t, but i can’t help liking it, even defend it. I think it’s a movie made with something that’s rare today: honesty, in that it’s clear that the filmmaker is making the movie he wants to make, and not some souless hackjob.

  43. It was between WOLFHOUND and the latest UNIVERSAL SOLDIER last night and I chose this. I am sorry but I was bored to death. The movie was just long and boring stretches while you waited for some poorly edited and extremely choppy action scenes. There was a scene early on where a girl falls from one burning rope bridge to another, about ten feet, and they cut FIVE TIMES during her fall. I understand the need for cuts to cover up low budget special effects and poor / nonexistent fight choreography, but this was overkill. Especially because they obviously spent some good money on some of the sets, like the medieval town which is very large and realistic ( or maybe they just filmed on location in downtown Minsk). Every scene is drawn out twice as long as it should be, even the ‘action’ scenes, which are dull. Wolfhound is an untouchable juggernaut who can throw ten guys off a bridge singlehandedly so most of the tension is leeched.

    The bat was cute as hell though. I want one.

  44. The movie was awesome! The tv series describes his quest (at least I’m pretty sure it does) but does not come with english subtitles. It’s very Hercules/Xenaesque so for the most part, the stories are easy to follow. It’s a bit darker than Legend of the Seeker, but I don’t want to ruin your viewing experience with spoilers so I won’t get into details. However, I’d recommend watching them with a buddy who speaks Russian because there were a few times (especially during the last few episodes) I was seriously confused. If you enjoy cheesy adventure shows chock full of magick, action and the mightiest fake beards on almost every guy in the series, try to get your hands on this show.

  45. Just watched this, the dubbed version for some reason (I almost always prefer original language + subs, of course.), and all I can say is Vern’s review is spot fucking on. I wholly enjoyed it, though I won’t plan to rewatch it for many moons. That’s not a disparagement; lots of stuff is great without demanding extra attention. I read GREAT EXPECTATIONS once, loved it, & will never revisit it, Oprah’s recko be damned.

    Yes, the cuts in the action scenes were too many, but it somehow did not look/feel/taste like post-action. I still felt the sword thrusts, flame engulfments, etc..

    Wolfhound is a true BADASS.

    And again:



  46. I’ve loved Wolfhound for several years, and it’s great to see such a wonderful review! You capture all the important elments of the movie and the character perfectly!

  47. I,too,love this film.Because of the lead character.The rest is fine,..but he and his portrayal of Wolfhound just makes the film. I only know a few actors who can say nothing and yet let you know that he is deep in thought.One is Mads Mikkelsen(Valhalla Rising),and this actor,Aleksandr Bukharov. I cant think of the other two I wanted to add,but they are Americans.Mads is Danish,and Aleksandr(of course) is Russian.Personally,I find that its the Europeans who can take you further into their Characters minds than with the Americans.It’s like we have to shove everything in your face to make sure you got it,while in European films,they let you think and let it all surround you like fine wine.Not all of their films,but many of them.I’m American and I am soo tired of our movies,(even aged Generals are under 35)and now my friends and I check out the Foreign films sections t o get our movie fixes.

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