"The hour of the wolf is the time between night and dawn. It is the hour when most people die, when sleep is deepest, when nightmares are most real. It is the hour when the sleepless are haunted by their greatest dread, when ghosts and demons are most powerful. The hour of the wolf is also the hour when most children are born."
- opening lines
This surreal Gothic drama by Swedish master Ingmar Bergman stars Max von Sydow as Johan, a troubled artist who is literally haunted by demons from his past, and Liv Ullmann as his loving wife Alma, who eventually experiences the same nightmarish delusions. A local aristocrat (Erland Josephson) and his clan, who reside in a forbidding castle and appear to possess supernatural powers, might have a hand in Johan's undoing. The film is told mostly in retrospect after Johan has disappeared, leaving behind only a diary from which his mental and emotional decline (perhaps an allegory on the difficulties of the creative process, one of Bergman's favorite themes) can be reconstructed. Borrowing stylistic elements from classic Hollywood horror movies and occasionally featuring graphic material (one scene prompted a contemporary reviewer to recommend averting one's eyes from the screen), this unusual (black-and-white) film also retains the psychological astuteness and technical finesse that earned Bergman worldwide critical acclaim and his status as Sweden's premier filmmaker.
Theatrical release: February 19, 1968 (Sweden); April 9, 1968 (New York City).
Ingmar Bergman was awarded the best director award for this film (and SHAME) in 1968 by the National Society of Film Critics.
References to writer E.T.A. Hoffmann abound in this film; in fact, Bergman named several of his characters after characters from Hoffmann's writing.