When it was announced that Universal was delving into its vast catalogue of monster movies to remake The Wolfman, I met the news with great trepidation. Even if you haven’t seen the 1941 original, you will be familiar with the story of the cursed man who transforms into a werewolf under a full moon – such was the strength of the story.
But I’m pleased to say my apprehension was unfounded as Johnston and writers Walker and Self have brought the werewolf back with a bang. Rick Baker nails the look of the wolfman by updating, yet staying faithful to the 1941 approach. And there is plenty of classic iconography to boot.
It is 1891 and Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is lured back to his family home and estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) to join the search for his missing brother, at the request of his sibling’s fiancée Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt). Talbot vows not to leave sleepy Blackmoor until he knows what happened to his brother.
When he witnesses a savage and brutal attack on a gypsy camp he realizes that the murder was not at the hands of a human. Talbot confronts the beast and is bitten, and forever cursed to mutate under a full moon.
Detective Aberline, of Jack the Ripper fame, (Hugo Weaving) arrives from Scotland Yard to investigate the animalistic murders, with a suspicious attitude to Lawrence’s past.
The Wolfman reignites the traditions of the classic monster movies by having you on the edge of the seat right from the outset. The strong use of sound, the slow reveal of the werewolf and Danny Elfman’s creepy gothic score serve up moments of pure adrenaline fuelled suspense.
An attack on a gypsy site is both brilliant and exhilarating as the travelers disappear one at a time, in a flurry of growls and maulings, with a shocked Talbot catching his first horrified glimpse of the beast. While not being excessively graphic there are plenty of severed limbs and extracted organs to keep gore fans happy.
Del Toro is sympathetic as Lawrence Talbot and ferocious as the werewolf, and Anthony Hopkins clearly revels in playing the reclusive Sir John Talbot.
The acting is good, yet never outstanding.
I do however feel sorry for the criminally underused Emily Blunt, Gwen Conliffe is a principal component to the narrative but the inevitable romance between her and Lawrence isn’t given time to develop and feels rushed. Subsequently her importance to Lawrence’s destiny feels forced and could have been handled with a little more care.
The film is visually rewarding with great set and costume design, but specifically it is the lighting that enhances the visual treat. Shelly Johnson has done an absolutely sumptuous job in lighting the picture – the backlit forest, with swathes of moonlight casting gothic trees and figures into silhouette are majestic.
It is pleasing to see the moon, essentially a character in the film, being given a stage to fuel the onscreen action.
As mentioned before Rick Baker’s take on the werewolf is visually arresting and gratifying for those familiar with Lon Chaney Jnr’s 1941 monster. Yet while the visual effects of Del Toro’s mutation are good they don’t quite measure up to the practical effects employed in An American Werewolf in London, though it doesn’t make the transformation any less tragic.
A minor gripe about Emily Blunt’s character aside, The Wolfman is a tremendously enjoyable watch with plenty of thrills, scares and a huge respect for the original.
Dare I say, I hope the honesty and reverence given to this iconic movie monster can lead the way for the return of some of Universal’s other great creatures of the night.
Additional film information: The Wolfman (2010)