Today was a very special day in my life. Today I saw Joe Johnston’s remake of The Wolfman. I firmly believe I have probably been waiting most of my conscious life to see this film, I now feel like the magic horror trifecta is complete (Dracula 1931, 1992, Frankenstein 1931, 1994 and The Wolfman 1941, 2010) and I will sleep better at night because of it.
The film is, in every sense a remake of Waggner’s original (though being made in 1941, it didn’t feel like a cop out). It was a speedy 102 minutes and not one of them was wasted. The story follows the homecoming of Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) to his family estate in England, after receiving a letter from his younger brother’s (now) widow informing him of her husband, Ben’s disappearance. He returns home to find his eccentric father, Sir John (Sir Anthony Hopkins) and the widow – Gwen (Emily Blunt) dealing with the discovery of his brother’s terribly mangled body in a ditch. All through the area people spectulate about Ben’s death, trying to work out if the local gypsy dancing bear, an animal or lunatic are to blame.
Lawrence takes it upon himself to uncover the mystery and while investigating at the local gypsy encampment is mauled during a wild attack by the beast. The film is frenetic, often scenes are accompanied by Lawrence’s disturbing childhood memories in the wake of his loss. He is stitched up by the gypsy medicine woman (who looked creepily like my Mother…) and despite mixed feelings from the community is sent home. His epic wounds heal surprisingly and almost unnaturally and soon the people of Blackmoor are gathering their pitchforks and making their way over to dispatch him. However, Sir John nips that situation in the bud rather quickly.
Lawrence goes on to discover his now lycanthropic identity and implications are drawn that is father is aware of this. He then proceeds to endure a horrifying and painful transformation and go on an entrail busting, dismembering, flesh-nomming orgy, it’s all very graphic. When he comes too, sleeping in a tree (?) his Pa is waiting, and in graceful style informs him he needs to “free the beast”. Lawrence (in man form) is carted away to the asylum (where he spent time as a child after having witnessed his mother’s supposed suicide). He endures from awful, Victorian psycho-therapies, which actually formed the most frightening and disturbing scenes of the film. Finally being set up in a lecture room (very much like Van Helsing’s classroom in Bram Stoker’s Dracula) to demonstrate that when the light of the full moon hits him he will not turn into a werewolf and the reality of his delusions will be proven. You can guess what happens next, it turns into a rolicking frenzy of blood.
He then goes on a epic jog through London with Scotland Yard in hot pursuit. It’s in this scene that Johnston does some of the best and most beautiful work, capturing the emotion and action of the scene as well as stunning recreations of the orginal’s best known shots.
Needless to say, I think we know how this ends…but he also finds time to woo the girl, be victor in an interesting, albeit campy werewolf a werewolf battle, and dismember some more people.
The film is beautifully gothic, shot in a real locations in England, and making use of well designed sets and make up effects which pay glorious tribute to the appearance of the original wolfman. I really like seeing horror movies as period pieces and appreciate how hard it is to make them good without being ridiculous. The costumes are stunning, and the countryside is evocative and charming – it reads like Wuthering Heights meets Underworld.
Also, it’s fair to mention that I have a serious crush on Sir Anthony Hopkins and he really makes the film. He wicked beady eyes and surreal calm are disarming and painfully charming. Who knew a 72 year old man could be so hot. I did.
This is not a film however everyone will love. It’s a horror film for horror fans, for people who adore the myths of werewolves and the genre of supernatural monster horror, it’s for people who loved the original, who appreciate atmosphere and want to see some heads, arms and other assorted bits be gracefully hewn from their owners. Not everyone will enjoy this, but for horror fans, and classic horror fans with an eye for reinvention and honoring our beautiful roots it is a powerful, sexy ride.
Just like Robert De Niro will never be Boris Karloff, and Gary Oldman will never be Bela Lugosi, Benicio Del Toro will never be Lon Chaney Jr. but these are the monsters that have defined our imaginations and scared generation after generation and I see nothing wrong with resurrecting them and carrying them with us in whatever form into the future.
It’s nice to see them all updated, Drac, Creature and now dear Wolfie.