Review: The Wolfman
PLOT: The gypsy legend goes, "Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers at night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright...", and so you have the legend of THE WOLFMAN. This remake of the 1941 classic remains, for the most part, true to the original. When Lawrence Talbot returns home to help search for his missing brother, it is a grim reunion. He finds his father living with few servants, and a seemingly cold heart for the return of his "prodigal son". Yet Lawrence is drawn to his missing brother's fiancee Gwen, whom he promises to help find out what happened to her soon to be husband. When they find that some sort of wolf seems to be the culprit, Lawrence is bitten and barely survives. And when the when the moon is full, he becomes the exact same monster that is terrifying all those around him.
Another remake? It must be Hollywood. But this time around, at least the original was released in 1941. Lon Chaney Jr. became a legendary horror icon as THE WOLF MAN, one of Universal Studios classic monsters that helped build the studio. The story about a man bitten by a wolf, who soon finds himself transforming into a beast, is a timeless tale. A bit of morality intermingled with horror, and it is certainly still relevant today. There is a beast within all of us, but rarely does it come with CGI. But with this modern retelling, it certainly does. And while I can actually hear the groans coming as I write this, I can tell you it isnít nearly as bad as you think. In fact, Benicio Del Toro getting all wolf-like is pretty damn impressive, thanks in part to the great Rick Baker and his return to werewolf territory.
What makes THE WOLFMAN an intriguing story is the basic nature of the beast aspect. As "the wolfman", Lon Chaney Jr. offered a very charismatic and jovial fellow. He comes to town and all is well and good with his father and that pretty little shop gal named Gwen. But in this latest incarnation, things are not so cheerful. After the disappearance of Lawrence Talbot's (Del Toro) brother, he finds his reclusive father (Sir Anthony Hopkins) lost in his great mansion of a home. This is a classic example of gothic horror with bite. Dark, foreboding and hidden in shadows, this relationship is wonderfully concocted by both actors, who give this father-son relationship a very mysterious and sad history. For me, that was one of the reasons I truly connected with THE WOLFMAN. But this may also be a flaw for some as it certainly takes its time to get to know the main players, and sufficiently offer how they fit together. Sure there is a romantic angle, thanks to the fantastic Emily Blunt as Gwen. And of course there is the horror, which you'll be happy to know, is pretty satisfying. But many classic stories of terror rely on the dark side of human nature, and that is well represented here.
Now let's talk about the transformation. When I first saw the trailer, which seems like forever ago, I was really worried about the use of CGI. I didn't want another AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, I wanted a film worthy of Rick Baker's talents. But after witnessing the finished project, I have to say that the transformation works. While it isn't flawless, you can't help but get excited with the stretching flesh and breaking bones. There was one shot (and probably quite a few others) in particular that truly felt like a homage to An American Werewolf in London... this made me happy. It was simply Benicio's feet and legs transforming into a wolf. But the difference is, this is a wolf that walks on two legs, and it is clearly sticking to the rules of the original 1941 film, with a little bit of modern day speed mixed it. When the beast is chasing his prey, or running from those looking to kill him, he gets down on all fours and moves incredibly quick. There are very few times that it didn't work. In fact, it was exciting to see him rush through the streets, on top of buildings, and all sorts of fun stuff. And yes, he is ferocious, thanks to the fact that Rick Baker is truly a master.
Okay, here is the bad news. While I found this revamped version damn entertaining, I did not love the official "howl". Apparently, it was Gene Simmons who offered his lungs, and frankly, it sounded fairly weak. Why not use an animal howl? I want to hear a wolf searching for food, or possible a mate. I want that howl to give me chills, much like it did in American Werewolf or THE HOWLING. And I also questioned the fact that he always keeps the clothes on. I get that his his body didn't change that much, so his shirt and trousers could certainly stay on, but it kind of looked a little bit like TEEN WOLF at times. But thankfully, Del Toro pulls it off and his very subtle performance keeps my belief in check. And as far as the story goes, it worked for me, but I do think sometimes the pacing suffered. While I wasn't bored, I did find that it could have been tightened up. Thankfully, this this such a beautiful film visually, that when things slow down a bit, it sure looks and feels like gothic horror. I truly enjoyed the style that was on display.
In the end, I found THE WOLFMAN to be a welcome return to the classic Universal monster movie. The performances are all quite good, including Del Toro, Blunt and Hopkins. I also really appreciated seeing Hugo Weaving in a different kind of role. Sure there are flaws, especially with a seemingly overlong post production, I'll be curious to see if there is an extended DVD release. And I'm also curious how audiences will react to a more traditional horror film in a time when we rely so heavily on quick editing and a kill every five minutes. It may not please everybody, but for those craving a bit of old fashioned genre escapism, this could very well satisfy your hunger. My rating 7.5/10 -- JimmyO