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The Wolfman

Del_Toro_Wolfman.jpg

In this image released by Universal Pictures, Benicio Del Toro stars
in The Wolfman. (AP Photo/Universal Pictures, Frank Ockenfels)

69 years after the original release of The Wolfman which starred Lon Chaney, Jr. and Claude Rains, the latest version is quite visceral, filled with more suspense and despite today’s modern technology, the period film doesn’t succumb to the pitfalls of many other similar films with outrageous new weapons and dumb one-liners or puns whenever the opportunity arises. Based off Curt Siodmak’s original screenplay, the 2010 version of The Wolfman follows some elements of the original but it’s not a true remake. Even the well-known poem repeated several times throughout the original is overlooked in the new version and a new piece of poetry is offered only once and is not as memorable.

Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is no longer a handyman with astronomical equipment and opticals as Chaney’s version. He is now a stage actor living in New York City. Like the 1941 version, he has come home to Blackmoor (a different area of Britain than the original) to attend the funeral of his dead brother. The death is different and much more gruesome.
 


Original Universal Pictures movie poster for
The Wolfman (1941)

His father, Sir John Talbot (Sir Anthony Hopkins) resides in a princely estate outside of town. He has a man servant (Art Malik) that has been with the family for 25 years and has seen the curse upon the Talbot family which saw the death of Lawrence’s mother and now his brother, Ben. Also staying as a guest is Ben’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), which is a big departure from the original in how Lawrence met Gwen in the original, giving a different dynamic to their relationship and the course of events.

In an attempt to find Ben’s murderer, Lawrence visits the gypsy camp and finds the old gypsy woman, Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin). As he attempts to get answers the camp finds themselves under siege, first by the villagers who think that the badly rendered CGI bear is the predator to blame for the attacks; then by the werewolf as he rips through the crowd and bites Lawrence.

As the full moon makes its way to becoming a new moon, Lawrence finds that he is almost completely healed. The villagers suspect him of becoming a werewolf. Meanwhile, he has been questioned by the Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) who seems to think that maybe Lawrence was the cause of the initial attacks before he had come to town or been bitten. An odd assumption.
 


"Thanksgiving Moon" (photo © 2009, Ethan Nahté)

Despite the villagers and Abberline, Sir John protects Lawrence from the mob. By the next full moon, Lawrence, along with dozens of others soon discover that he really has become a monster. Even after the local shrink that runs the psychiatric ward tries to prove to Lawrence and his esteemed medical colleagues that lycanthropy is all in the mind and not a physical transmogrification. This is one case where giving the wrong medical diagnosis is definitely fatal, but not to the person suffering from the disease.

Lawrence is on the run while Gwen is seeking a cure and he seeks revenge upon the werewolf who cursed him. Time is running out and London as well as the village of Blackmoor are running a couple of bloody pints low on population. Even the literature that Lawrence looks through are true pieces of lycanthropy cases and studies throughout the centuries, including the infamous case of Peter Stumppe.

Danny Elfman’s intense score along with the sound design help make this action-packed film a riveting piece of supernatural horror. The production, art & costume design are also excellently done and pull the viewer into the 1800’s. In addition, Joe Johnston’s (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III) directing is very well done, giving the movie room to breathe and has a great film on his hands, despite what a lot of the other critics say. He also did a superb job in utilizing Shelly Johnson for the cinematography. Some superb imagery & locations combined with CGI that is pretty good throughout with the exception of the aforementioned bear.

Blunt is very believable as someone who has lost her love yet has fallen for the condemned Lawrence. She has proven once again that her acting skills are beyond most other actresses of her generation. Hopkins also plays his part well, but what would one expect. Del Toro already looks sullen and beaten down, just as Chaney did. On top of that, when the transformation overcomes Del Toro, he pulls off the anguish and pain very convincingly.

What would The Wolfman be without awesome makeup effects? Rick Baker, a fan of the late Jack Pierce who did the original makeup for Chaney and Universal’s greatest monster movies, does an excellent job with his creatures and the death scenes of many a victim. Baker even plays the first gypsy in the camp to get attacked by the werewolf. His combination of practical effects combined with the digital effects makes for a very cool look that should garner him some nominations and awards.

The Wolfman is a thrilling ride and is much better than most of the recent werewolf movies from the past couple of decades. The ending may be a bit predictable, but some things can’t be helped even if the new plot diverges from the original. Definitely worth seeing on the big screen with the surround sound.
 

 
For more info: Interested in more history about lycanthropy?
"Even a man who is pure in heart,
And says his prayers by night
May become a Wolf when the Wolfbane blooms
And the autumn Moon is bright"

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