It seems that the past couple weeks I can’t quite avoid pissing people off, so I thought I might tread some pretty safe territory here, and take a break from all of this bleak Oscar-season commentary by indulging myself in one of my favorite guilty pleasure films to come around in a long time, the new update of The Wolfman.
Actually, to call it an update is to be a bit misleading—this is no modernized retelling. Wisely, the new version of the classic 1941 Universal werewolf movie has maintained a 19th century Victorian setting and many classic details. Even Benicio Del Toro’s makeup job, while certainly much scarier and more intimidating, recalls the look of Lon Chaney in the original film quite vividly.
And such a style is what is remarkably enjoyable about this movie. It has a splattery humor, subtle campiness (yes, I said “subtle campiness”), and a gaudy gothic aesthetic that defines everything that this type of movie should be about. There was really only one type of movie that I was hoping that The Wolfman would be, and it was exactly that.
And that’s really saying something, too. Normally, I don’t really go for werewolf movies. I kinda like Joe Dante’s The Howling, and I love John Landis’s An American Werewolf in London, which contains arguably the best werewolf transformation sequence ever (orchestrated by makeup master Rick Baker, who did the makeup for this film, as well). But movies like London’s cringe-worthy sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris and Wes Craven’s Cursed have left a really bad taste in my mouth, and turned me off of the genre in a big way.
I should state that I haven’t seen Ginger Snaps or Dog Soldiers, but I understand a lot of people like those movies a lot. (This article is not a review of Ginger Snaps or Dog Soldiers. As I have not seen these movies, I have no opinions on them.)
But despite my slight aversion to werewolf tales, something about the trailers for The Wolfman was striking my fancy, and I really wanted to see it. It was probably that dreary gothic look—it certainly wasn’t the dramatic heavy metal music, which is thankfully nowhere to be found in the actual movie; in its place is a spot-on Danny Elfman score that’s still stuck in my head.
The Wolfman tells a very simple and entertaining story. After news of his brother’s vicious murder, stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro) comes back home to the family mansion, where his father (Anthony Hopkins) is living with his late brother’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt). Lawrence takes it upon himself to investigate the murder, and related rumors around the town of the mysterious monster that might have committed the crime.
You can probably imagine the events that transpire thereafter. Needless to say, there’s a werewolf running amok, and he gets his fangs on poor ol’ Benicio.
And as modern werewolf movies go, it’s worth saying that The Wolfman does a terrific job of blending its CG and makeup technologies. The transformations are CG, of course (we’ll never see another like American Werewolf ever again), but they are eerily designed and played out in fun and inventive ways. Actually, the strangest use of CG in this film is in regards to all of the non-wolf animals (like bears and reindeer) that are seen in a few fleeting shots.
Performances all around are quite satisfying. Benicio Del Toro is aloof and mysterious, and Anthony Hopkins is clearly having a great time, hitting all of the right notes for his role. Hugo Weaving, as the police inspector heading up the investigation of all of the local killings, chews up a lot of the scenery in the very best of ways.
One of the most striking things about this movie, however, is its R-rating. When I heard that they were remaking the original Wolf Man, it didn’t even occur to me that it might be something a bit…edgier. And then when I heard that it was being directed by Joe Johnston, the director of such general-audience crowd-pleasers as The Rocketeer, Jumanji, October Sky, and Jurassic Park III, any slight possibility of the occurrence of that notion seemed to be thrown right out the window.
And now the film is upon us, and it’s a surprisingly gory horror flick, wall-to-wall with over-the-top werewolf violence, big bloody biting, lobbed-off limbs and heads, and trails of intestines. For weak stomachs, you might want to just check out the original. Many others ought to have a pretty good time, however.
Like I said earlier, this movie is almost exactly what you would want it to be; at the very least, it was what I wanted it to be—a fast-paced, mysterious, scary, and wildly fun piece of gothic pulp horror. I just can’t imagine that anyone buying a ticket for a horror movie called The Wolfman is going to be leaving disappointed. (I think I said something similar about Drag Me to Hell. Isn’t it nice how some movies just spell it out for you?) Personally, I had a blast with this movie from start to finish.
Amid all of the Oscar season hullabaloo and all of the trouble I’ve gotten myself into talking about Avatar and The Blind Side, it’s nice to just sit down and watch a fun movie with no real Oscar prospects (except maybe makeup?…Again, if Norbit can do it, then why not?). All in all, The Wolfman executes its intended purpose with flying colors of shadowy black, blood red, and furry brown.