Monday, February 15, 2010

The Wolfman (remake) "FANTASTIC!"

I love the Universal Classic Horror films. As a young boy, I would scour the local library for these orange hardcover books that featured photographs and stories from the movies from a bygone era. I read up on the Mole People, the Wolf Man, and on and on. The Universal characters were probably where my love of horror found its beginning. So when the studio announced a remake of their classic "Wolf Man" story, I nearly leapt out of my chair with glee and started to dance. It was to star Benicio Del Toro, a fine actor in his own right, would be stepping up to play Lawrence Talbot. Joining him would be Anthony Hopkins, stepping into the shoes of Basil Rathbones Lord John Talbot. Joe Johnston would be directing the film, his previous credits include Jurassic Park 3, Jumanji, and several other noteworthy films. They had an amazing cast, a capable director, and a writing team that included the person responsible for the Sleepy Hollow script. Finally, they had Rich Baker in charge of the make-up effects. The man who created the single most incredible Werewolf transformation scene EVER shot on film, the American Werewolf in London.

News began to filter out as the production dragged on. Re-shoots, cutting, changing the music, pushing back the release date, and rumors that the film would wind up a franken-movie... some badly edited rambling piece of tripe that Universal quickly began to lose faith in. I tried to ignore the news, but found a sense of dread building as I watched one wretched failure after another hit the screen over the past few years.

On Sunday afternoon, plans were already in stone for me to check out the film that evening when I happened upon the DVD releases for several Universal Horror Classics at Costco. $6.99 got me a DVD and a free ticket to see The Wolfman, for each film that I picked up. The original classic with Lon Chaney, Dracula, and The Creature From The Black Lagoon have now joined Frankenstein in my DVD collection and I printed out my free tickets for the two friends that joined me at the theater. Now that you have the background regarding my mindset for the film... here's my review.

THE WOLFMAN: (remake)

After the disappearance of his brother, Lawrence Talbot is summoned to his ancestral home by the brothers' fiancee. Long estranged from his family after the death of his mother, Talbots return is met with suspicion from the local villagers and with dismissal from his emotionally distant father. He learns about his brothers death upon his arrival, and Lawrence immediately sets out to discover what sort of man or beast is responsible. Hopefully this won't count as a spoiler, but Talbot's investigation eventually leads him to a confrontation with a beast that results in the man becoming bitten. Cursed to become a wolf upon the rise of the full Moon, Lawrence struggles with the beast inside himself while still attempting to learn the identity of the beast who cursed him so.

Beautifully shot, the visuals harken back to the Universal Classics with deep shadows and heavy fog on a European countryside. CGI and traditional effects are both used, and there's plenty of grue to satisfy the gorehound. The Wolfman literally rips people apart, tearing through flesh and yanking out innards with a fury that seems unmatched. Body parts lie scattered about the moors, the wolfman howls to the moon, and the world is appropriately terrorized by the presence of such a beast. But Del Toro offers a restrained performance as Talbot, a man so afraid of what he could become but unwilling to leave the world unprotected from the beast that he wants only to stay alive long enough to stop the monster from striking again.

I loved nearly every moment of the film. There were a few faults, however... some scenes were a little clumsy or sequences seemed a little out of place with regards to the narrative. I thought the chase through London could have been trimmed a little bit, one moment especially seeming to have no point and even seemed so hastily thrown together that it lost any sort of emotional resonance. And, while brilliant, Hugo Weavings' "Detective Abberline" seems awfully wasted as the investigator from Scotland Yard charged with tracking down Talbot. There's more I'd love to talk about, but I don't really want to spoil the film for anyone who might be reading. It's important, though... so I'll give you some spoiler space after my rating.

4 out of 5.






You've been warned, but this is significant for talking about my experience with The Wolfman. The cyclical nature of abuse is such that victims are often terrified of becoming the thing they most despise. At the same time, there is a constant temptation to fall into these familiar patterns and to become the abuser. The victim is also made to feel that their abuse is their own fault, and they carry a guilt with them that rips and rends their heart and mind. It's a real issue that far too many people have experienced in their lives, and the Wolfman pulls no punches in using this very theme to tell its' story. Talbot has long carried a guilt over the death of his mother, his own imprisonment in a sanitarium, and his rejection by a father who sent him to live with relatives in America. Sir John is emotionally distant and, yet, codependant on the presence of both Lawrence and his other son to feel important and dominant in some way. Hopkins portrays a villain who is both pathetic and absolutely frightening... a man who has mastered the abuse and ill treatment of his children, justified it, and ultimately wanted nothing more than to pass it on to another generation.

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