Now before I start rolling down that same-old cynical, green-loathing cracked-pavement road, let me assure you that we can all point out an exception or three out there, from the surprisingly adequate to the rare film actually made with (gulp) artistry in mind.
Then you've got the 2010 remake of The Wolf Man! That's quite a title to grant a Mulligan, wouldn't you say? The original was one of the big three Horror Icons of Universal Studios Horror Classics. Unlike the usual gang of Horror Remake idiots, The [new] Wolfman wasn't released by some cash-in studio, but the actual Universal. It wasn't directed by some Music Video or Commercial director, but by Joe Johnston (director of Jumanji and October Sky). It stars not thespians recently out of a job due to the demise of the UPN network, but heavy hitters and critically acclaimed actors like Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving. And who adapted Curt Siodmak's original screenplay? Se7en writer Andrew Kevin Walker, followed by Road To Perdition-adapter David Self!
What's more, the mediocre and gratuitous special effects of most bad horror remakes don't make much of an appearance here. In their place we've got no less than makeup legend Rick Baker, aided by some very cool visual effects studios.
So, naturally, the ingredients are there to make a hell of a good horror movie... and maybe a high quality film in its own right. Well, the film isn't bad, but this is, after all, a Horror Remake of a true classic and it falls into many of the trips and traps thereof, causing it to fall just short of the original, especially when it becomes clear that marketability took the front seat to its artistic passenger. Speed is more important than pacing in this film and the standard checklist of recognizable items from the source film are rolled into the remake dough just enough so that Universal can grin at Horror Purists and say "Bet you bite a chip!"
The plot kicks off not unlike the original with the Prodigal son and travelling actor Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro, a life-long Wolf Man fan) is summoned to his family home with news that his brother Ben (Simon Merrells) has gone missing. While the prospect of meeting his brother's fiancée Gwen Conliffe (Blunt) is a silver lining on one dark-ass cloud, the idea of having to hang out with Dear Old Dad (Hopkins' Sir John Talbot) just plain bites!
Speaking of Dark Clouds and Bites, out in the misty moors surrounding the Talbot Estate, where the gypsies and the misanthropes play, Ben's own ravaged body has been found, partially eaten, but easy to identify. While the Gypsies and their pet Bear are early suspects, it soon becomes clear-as-mud that the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor is being stalked by another Ripper! Now just who can Victorian-Era Scotland Yard send to help out when a Ripper rears his ugly head? Could it be... Inspector Frederick Abberline, real life investigator of the Jack the Ripper murders? Of course... who would you call, man? Luckily they got Hugo Weaving to play the guy, because Agent Smith always gets his man... or... dog, as the case may be!
The problem with this hairy investigation is that Wolf-a-Rine's second coming leaves more than just a few dead Gypsies and Blackmoor denizens... it also leaves Larry with one of those infectious Lupine-Hickeys that we in Movie-Watcher land know all-too-well will soon lead to more spontaneous hair-growth than a Rogaine Bath! And that's just about the nicest side-effect he can expect.
Writers Walker and Self do more than show Larry's horrific evolution from Man to Wolfman, which the Original did superbly. They also give us a glimpse into Larry's psyche, centering around his nightmarish memories of his late mother (Cristina Contes' Solana Talbot) and the very reasons why he went from his family's provincial English hamlet to living in America and touring the world as Hamlet in a traveling Shakespeare company. While this does lead a good bit of atmosphere to the film, it also tends to slow things down, as do the proceedings that surround Larry's hunted/hunter relationship with Dog-Catcher Abberline. Oh it's well-acted and the scenes between Hopkins and Del Toro tend to be even better, but the substance isn't quite there and the masterful Hopkins occasionally looks like he simply can't believe what he's saying... especially when things get creepier and creepier.
Part of this might have to do with the fact that Johnston was a last-minute replacement as director. Another part of it could have to do with the fact that Walker and Self haven't hit a homer every time either. Walker's resume gives us 8MM, while Self himself was responsible for that 1999 remake called The Haunting. Still, it's hard to call the screenplay or the directing "Bad" at all. Both script and helm seemed a bit too tied up with the requirements from the 8 Producers and the needs for marketable product over classic work of art.
Still, one of those producers was Benicio Del Toro himself, who has had a vested interest in making a good Wolf Man film for more years than he's been acting professionally. This goes for Rick Baker as well, who credits 1941's The Wolf Man as one of his main reasons for becoming a Makeup artist. Del Toro and Baker both insisted on keeping the makeup design as close to the Jack Pierce original canis lupis designs. Quite a lot of the time the Werewolves in this film look great and like modernized updates of Pierce's work. Other times things are so dark that the look of the beasts is kept almost secret. Further, unlike Baker's work on An American Werewolf in London, the transformation scenes from hairy Del Toro into hairier Del Lobo are done with CGI instead of practical effects. Still, the film does overall look great and highly above the next standard Bad Hollywood Remake.
Add on an interestingly creepy score by Danny Elfman, dark cinematography by Shelly Johnson and a rich attention to period detail and you've got enough reasons to see this above-average remake (that still doesn't approach the original).
In short, it could be worse, but with a little more artistic freedom over cash-demands, The Wolfman might have gotten more than Three Stars out of Five. Still, one has to respect that the film had the right pedigree and was an honest attempt at a good and good-looking remake. The Wolf Man may howl at the moon... but it's no Dog! See you Lycanthropic Misanthropes in the next Gypsy-Spun Reel!
Hey, nice THONG!
Oops! Well, hey, it could be worse... it could've been Del Toro in that Thong.
Now that would be a Horror Flick! Click here for for more reviews and smile at the Lon!
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