When I was a kid, I didn’t get to watch horror movies. It wasn’t because my parents were strict or uber-religious or anything; it was because my imagination was too wild. For example, I loved E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. I saw it in the theater a few times, I loved E.T. the character, and I had all kinds of E.T. stuff. And yet, more than once I would wake my parents in the middle of the night because I was scared that E.T. was in my closet. So even this thing I loved, I was still scared of. So, it wasn’t so much that my parents didn’t want me seeing anything too violent or scary, it was that they were already being woken up because of my love/hate relationship with E.T. Can you imagine if I’d seen Friday the 13th or The Exorcist before I had matured enough to not let my imagination run away with me?
Long story short, one of the first horror movies I ever saw was Wolfen from 1981. I was at my friend Jeremy’s house and his parents were a lot more lenient, so I was introduced to a lot of horror movies during sleepovers. By the age of ten, when I saw Wolfen while spending the night at Jeremy’s, I was starting to get over my childhood fears of movies. I’d seen enough of the “making of” specials for Star Wars, Dark Crystal, and Raiders of the Lost Ark, that I knew it was all movie magic and there wasn’t really a weird little alien hiding in my closet. Besides, Wolfen isn’t really all that scary or graphically violent, but it’s still a fun, taut little thriller.
The story occurs mostly in The Bronx, one of the most desolate of the Five Boroughs in 1970s-1980s New York City. When the manufacturing boom of post-World War II American finally started to slow down, New York was hit pretty hard and unemployment skyrocketed. People couldn’t pay their rents or mortgages, buildings became abandoned, and many of them were burned down by the local street gangs that ruled the neighborhoods. Of course the gangs were setting these fires because they were getting paid by building’s owner, just so the owner could collect the insurance payout. Soon, entire blocks of buildings were literally burned to the ground and/or falling apart due to being abandoned.
In this atmosphere, a new predator has emerged, killing and eating the poor, the sick, the drug addicted, the weakest in society. These deaths and disappearances mostly go unnoticed, until a rich land developer and his wife are killed in Battery Park. Detective Wilson, played by a grumpy, but sincere, Albert Finney, is assigned the case and, working with a County Coroner, Gregory Hines, discovers the attacker isn’t human, but a wolf. This doesn’t make any sense – a wolf in New York City? – until some witnesses speculate that the “wolf” isn’t just an animal, but some kind of shapeshifting human who is prowling the streets.
Believe it or not, but this post isn’t actually a review of Wolfen. However, it’s a great flick and I highly recommend checking it out. Instead, this post is all about geography.
I was watching the film again for the first time in probably 20 years, and I noticed a scene in The Bronx where you could see a street sign. It occurred to me that I could probably find that exact location on Google Maps. The next thing I knew, I was scouring the film and doing comparisons between The Bronx locations from 1980 to today. And I have to say, the results are pretty amazing.
First we have the opening panoramic of the Bronx. The marker is the church built and burned specifically for the film, located at the corner of Seabury Pl & E 172nd St.
This shot is looking down E 172nd St to the intersection with Seabury Pl where the church was located.
Here’s the corner of Charlotte St & E 170th St. The angle on Streetview wasn’t quite the same, but you get the idea. (This is the shot in the film that made me realize I could find all of these locations on Google Maps.)
And finally, here’s Albert Finney & Dianne Venora walking down Seabury Pl towards the church. The Streetview shot is from directly in front of where the church would have been, looking back towards where they were walking.
Today, a 1 bedroom, 1 bathroom, 720 square foot apartment in this neighborhood is going for $150,000. A house with about 2,000 square feet is $700,000 and up. It’s far cry from where it was when shapeshifting men roamed the street, feeding on the destitute.
I really enjoyed doing this little virtual tour of the locations in Wolfen and have a few other movies in mind that I wouldn’t mind doing the same. So, stay tuned!