My lingering feeling after emerging from the cinema was that I had just watched a remake. Which of course ‘The Wolfman’ is, a remake of the 1941 classic Universal Monster film of the same name. And that for me came with a sigh of relief. So many remakes are remakes in name alone (the current crop of 80s Slasher remakes are testament to that fact) whilst this works hard at retaining one foot in its 1941 forefather whilst still expanding, adding, and yes, altering.
Fans of the original will know the story, and the spine of this is the same. Benicio’s Del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot (an Englishman raised in the US) returns home after a long absence to be greeted by the news of his brother’s untimely and mysteriously brutal death. Welcomed by his somewhat aloof father (Anthony Hopkins) and his brother’s widow (Emily Blunt) Lawrence is determined to discover the truth behind his brother’s mauling. Lawrence isn’t alone in hunting down the culprit, Chief Inspector Abberline from Scotland Yard is also in the small Yorkshire town investigating the deaths of some its other residents. (Here’s an interesting side-note, Abberline was the real-life Chief Inspector on the ‘Jack The Ripper’ case, also portrayed by Johnny Depp in From Hell)
The movie had well documented problems with pre and post production and it is noticeable. Some scenes jar into one another, and at times you can guess the reshot scenes that were reportedly scheduled to up the gore and fright value. On the subject of which, I found the gore on the whole playful and certainly not gratuitous. After all I can’t imagine being ripped apart by a 7 foot wolf is overly pleasant or subtle. The successes are mostly apparent in the widening of the source material. The film retains a definite sense of classical Hollywood, especially in the photography, framing, and lighting. And on the subject of successes there’s the fantastic Rick Baker (look out for him in a brief cameo) makeup. Forget the CG oversized wolves of Underworld, Van Helsing, and New Moon, here you have old school ‘man wolf’, upright, gnarling, and at at times actually frightening, which werewolves should be. It’s not all practical effects, there’s plenty of CGI too, but the concerted effort to have Del Toro in makeup as much as possible is there to see, admirable, and most importantly successful. And with any werewolf movie the effectiveness can be judged on the ‘transformation’, and it was a delight to see a bone stretching and limb snapping ‘An American Werewolf in London‘ style change, contorting the body without going into the stupidness that is morphing a man into a four-legged dog.
Del Toro is very suited as Talbot, baring a similarity to Lon Chaney Jr. both in and out of Wolfman makeup, especially the latter. Perhaps the biggest character alteration is that of Hopkins’ Sir John Talbot. Hopkins is at times reminiscent of Claude Reins original portrayal, Robert Shaw’s Quint, and his very own Hannibal Lector. Hopkins is having fun with this, just wait for his asylum monologue which is a deliciously malevolent treat to watch. He chews some of the words so hard that his native Welsh accent is on display stronger than I can remember for years. Weaving is as comfortable as ever in an English accent and brings what light relief there is to be had. I get the feeling that an appreciation of ‘The Wolfman’ as a remake will make or break this for many. There’s a level of knowledge of the source material needed to garner full enjoyment from the film.., fans will take enjoyment in the different use of the famous silver wolf head cane. There is something of a sequel ending that isn’t as obvious as you may think. The question is this; is it good enough to warrant a sequel and a muted rerun of the Universal Monster series? Thankfully it is.