Starring Benicio Del Toro,
Directed by Joe Johnston
Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Based on a screenplay by Curt Siodmak
Running time 102 mins.
A visual Gothic feast on par with Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sleepy Hollow.
The filmmakers of this re-make of the 1941 original have definitely done their homework, and the payoff is the richness of Gothicism in which this film is steeped. Anytime you get a movie that looks like a character has stepped right out of Friedrich’s Wanderer Above the Sea of Fog, or big Piranesi-esque wheels that turn the machinery of torture, consider that baby steeped. Steeped real good.
The big problem with werewolves is that there’s never been a really great story. The closest iconic character in literature is probably Mr. Hyde, by virtue of wild loss of control after transformation, and the release of repressed impulses. And elements of Mr. Hyde do come through in roundabout fashion. Yet, what the filmmakers lack in literary grist, they make up for in atmosphere and cinematography.
Upshot: Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro), an actor traveling through England in 1891, visits his ancestral family estate on the news of his brother’s death, and there in the company of his father (Hopkins), learns of a ghastly legend which seems to also be a family curse.
It’s the werewolf movie horror fans have long been waiting for. The only real downside is the werewolves.
Yeah, it would kind of be better if we didn’t have to see them. That would be the bold move, of course. Limiting the special effects might seem at first like a cheap copout, but the thing with horror is primarily atmosphere. And that’s this film’s strong suit. By the time the film devolves to requisite open werewolfness, it’s already done its job anyway.
The question is, what do they keep from the Lon Chaney, Jr., original, and what do they chuck? Not to give too much away, but I think they make good choices. Main character names, the “Even a man who is pure of heart” lines, some telescopes, a discussion of Lycanthropy, a few other odd bits.
And great casting. You can’t do better than Anthony Hopkins. Benicio Del Toro’s perfect at the brooding, although it’s Lon Chaney, Sr., who he looks like.
The original does have its detractions. When Lon, Jr., first changes, he strips down to a white tank top ‘cause he feels all itchy and wants to see what’s going on, but then when we see him out in the misty woods, suddenly he’s got a dark long-sleeved shirt buttoned up. Oops.
This one, however, is, in fine, a slickly conceived Gothic package, complete with creepy crumbling estate, haunted with murder, mystery and madness. While it lacks the black humor of Sleepy Hollow, and the fullness of story in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, strong visuals commensurate to the casting do give The Wolfman real teeth.
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