THE WOLFMAN *** USA 2010 Dir: Joe Johnston. 102 mins
A much delayed (original director Mark Romanek walked due to “creative differences”) large scale Gothic horror – written by SLEEPY HOLLOW’s Andrew Kevin Walker – this is also a rare straight contemporary Hollywood werewolf film, minus the satirical underpinnings of Mike Nichols’ WOLF or the fantasy trappings of the TWILIGHT saga. It unfolds mostly as a fairly faithful remake of the 1941 Universal classic of the same name. In late 19th century England, Shakespearean actor Benicio Del Toro predictably finds the fatal werewolf savaging of his brother played down by authorities as the work of a crazed lunatic. Returning to his Dad’s (Anthony Hopkins) ancestral home in the U.S., Del Toro is also dismissed as insane when, in lycanthropic form, he begins racking up a sizeable bodycount – while Inspector Hugo Weaving (fresh from a failed stint on the Jack the Ripper case) proves he couldn’t catch a fart in his own underpants.
This retains key elements of Curt Siodmak’s 1940’s script while forsaking subtlety at every turn in favour of wide-eyed hammy performances, in-your-face bouts of fast-cut gore every ten minutes and various loud BOO! Scares. Rick Baker’s Oscar winning, Jack Pierce-inspired make-up nods lovingly to the old movie, as does Geraldine Chaplin, channelling the great Maria Ouspenskaya in her cameo as a wise Gypsy woman. Del Toro borrows his hair – and a similarly intense, feral physical presence – from CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF’s Oliver Reed, offering a vivid alternative to Lon Chaney Jr.’s self-pitying puppy-dog Larry Talbot. The transformation scenes emphasise the body-stretching / twisting agony of the process a la AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON; in a cute touch, the pub dart player who lamented “You made me miss!” in that film, David Schofield, has a brief cameo here. Sadly, the breakneck pacing reduces characters (notably Emily Blunt’s token love interest) to bystanders, while a silly climactic wolf-on-wolf battle confirms our suspicions that a werewolf Anthony Hopkins looks like a furry, beer-bullied muppet. Among the bloodiest major Hollywood horrors of its period (with munched organs and torn-off heads galore), it’s fast moving and fun, with a refreshing emphasis on old-fashioned, two-legged, drooling werewolves…though the relatively brief CGI elements inevitably stand out like a sore wolfman thumb.
Review by Steven West