Now Showing at: most major theaters.
Review by: Larry Thomas
There are some telltale signs these days that a film, particularly a horror film, may be in trouble both critically and commercially. The three big ones are if the release date moves multiple times, if the film is subjected to re-shoots and re-editing, and if the studio does not screen it in advance for the film critics. All three happened to the remake of The Wolfman, which might make you think twice before plunking down hard currency for a ticket. But, surprise! It’s actually very good. Maybe the producers and distributor didn’t know what they were getting and had a few panic attacks.
Based on the 1941 classic Universal horror film of the same name in which Lon Chaney Jr. placed the werewolf in the pantheon of movie monsters, this update is actually retro. Although the original did not specify a time setting, it had the feel of being contemporary. The new version is set in the late 1800s, and has a grand gothic vision in its staging and art direction. The moors are foggy, there are enough shadows and darkness to suggest something may be lurking, and the once-grand Talbot mansion is a wreck of a place that hasn’t been cleaned in years.
Benecio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, the tragic son of an English nobleman who is bitten by a werewolf and begins having lunar tics when the full moon rises. He’s a good actor, and does well by the material. Instead of Claude Rains as the sympathetic, civilized elder Talbot, we now get Anthony Hopkins chewing the scenery with great gusto. He plays the father as a recluse in his decaying mansion with his own emotional burdens to bear. Emily Blunt plays the fiancé of Lawrence’s late brother, who met with an untimely demise, which prompted Lawrence’s return home after many years…and secrets. Will she be attracted to our tragic hero? Of course she will. And Hugo Weaving, from the Matrix trilogy, has a nice role as the Scotland Yard inspector assigned to unravel the mystery of the strange murders on the foggy moors.
Makeup wizard Rick Baker, who also did John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, is in fine form with transformation scenes that are quite good, and werewolf make up that is among the best ever. Director Joe Johnston seems to have a great love for the source material, as he uses visual quotes from many of the classic Universal horror films that film buffs will enjoy spotting, and playing the “name that movie” game.
That’s not to say The Wolfman is a perfect film. It’s not. Some of the CGI effects, especially when the werewolf runs through the countryside on all fours, are rather cheesy. There is some moldy dialogue of the “if anything ever happened to you I would never forgive myself” variety. And if you are the least bit squeamish, the film has its fair share of graphic gore. But overall, The Wolfman does right by its seventy year old namesake, with some terrific action scenes, good performances, a couple of jump-in-your seat scares, and a sweeping epic score by favorite genre composer Danny Elfman.