Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Wolfman

 Saw The Wolfman last night and was very impressed. It's a traditional telling of the tale minus silly gimmicks and hipster deconstructionism. It's very gory, well acted by all, and was so smoothly edited (by the great Walter Murch, Dennis Vurkler, and Mark Goldblatt) it carried me like a flying carpet from scene to scene.

I come from the more traditional werewolf camp. I only liked parts of American Werewolf in London (the opening sequence on the Yorkshire Moors), but I despised the comedy and lines like "I shouldn't have called you meatball!" The Howling is an old favorite -- although, these days, the setting (a retreat for werewolves) rubs me wrong. The Werewolf of London is great, and I like the original The Wolfman for sentimental reasons (it is actually quite slow and uneventful). Wolfen? Loved the Whitley Streiber book, was half-hearted about the movie.

Other notable werwolf movies in my history have been The Company of Wolves, a werewolf flick with a potent erotic angle, and Brotherhood of the Wolf -- actually, since it's not 'Brotherhood of the Werewolf', it's not technically a werewolf flick. Still, it's meaty wolf cinema.
Also worth noting is Pedro Olea's exceptional El Bosque Del Lobo (AKA The Ancines Woods), an ultra-realistic realistic werewolf tale that has remained fairly obscure.

Universal's new lyncanthrope entry has had a checkered production history with directors replaced and werewolf designs rejected, approved, and rejected again willy nilly. Thankfully, none of the film's trial and tribulations are in director Joe Johnston's final cut.
The film has a refreshingly uncluttered narrative with just enough backstory and expositional window dressing. Would have been nice to see more of the Gypsy Woman/Talbot  "relationship", but the film is what it is, and it's not too shabby at all.

Benecio Del Toro strikes the perfect chord as Lawrence Talbot, a Shakespearean actor who returns to his family home following the death of his brother. Before you can say "The moon is full!", Talbot's life is changed by a creature painting the town red. Del Toro plays Talbot as sullen and introspective, and this choice pays hefty emotional dividends.

  Anthony Hopkins is terrific as Talbot's father, a man harboring a fascinating secret. A couple of reviews have criticized his performance as ineffective and "hardly there". I disagree. Hopkins brings great authority to his role, and sells the pulpy nonsense that is the lyncanthropic curse like a veteran snake oil salesman. Hugo Weaving, as a Scotland Yard detective, is mostly all surface because he's written that way, but I enjoyed his contribution, too.

I often complain that books and movies are rarely equal to their cover art. Well, The Wolfman is full of delicious cover art moments, and feels like a monster movie made for monster movie lovers by monster movie lovers. There is no visible effort made to appeal to those not comfortable with brutal monster violence. The romance is not forced, either. The central characters are adults, not teenagers. It was so refreshing to see grown-ups on screen with not a shitty, attitude-ridden pubescent asshole in sight. I was in heaven.

The Wolfman's creature designs, courtesy of a slew of talented make-up artists (including the great Rick Baker) are truly brilliant. In some scenes, the hero werewolf reminded me of the machine gun-toting werewolves in American Werewolf's dream sequence. A similar, cruder version of this film's make-up style can be seen in 'Werewolf Women of the SS', Rob Zombie's fake trailer in Grindhouse. In a couple of shots here I felt like I was watching a Guy. N. Smith cover bristling with life.

Once or twice, I saw the ghost of Paul Naschy's 'Waldemmar Daninsky' in the Cimmerian dark of the cinema.

The resemblance is uncanny, isn't it?

It all felt good to me.

Enjoy the company of this wolfman. I did. And I will again.


  1. Sublime film, sublime estimation.

  2. How strange you should mention Company of Wolves! It was only the other day that I was saying how much I adore this film.

  3. Saw this over the weekend. I liked it--got no qualms about it--but somehow it didn't really set off any emotions. Maybe it's just that the story is so familiar. Definitely had its moments though and it seemed more of a labor of love than the recent crop of quick cash-in remakes.

    Gotta give props to the fx though. Very reminiscent of Baker's American Werewolf pieces. Also, the CGI is very unobtrusive for the most part (maybe less so during the London rooftop run scene but still not bad). I hate it when the fakeness of a CG world detracts from an otherwise decent film.

    I'm very much interested in that El Bosque del Lobo film, btw. Sorry I didn't get back to you earlier.

  4. Phantom, dont laugh but my all time favorite werewolf movie is "THE BEAST MUST DIE" from 1973 with Calvin Lockhart and Peter Cushing, i never get tired of watching that one.

  5. mandingo-- thank you! Glad you enjoyed it, too.


    Abigail-- COMPANY OF WOLVES is a masterpiece.


    d-- yes, CGI was unobtrusive, and very reminiscent of previous Baker work.

    Will make sure you see EL BOSQUE DEL LOBO.

  6. I liked it too...I wasn't sure if I would and everyone was trashing it but the trailer caught my eye with it's lovely, Hammer film-like cinematography.

    It was very much like a big budget, modern exploitation movie. It wasn't deep or thought provoking, but goddamn it gave you it's money's worth with wonderfully lensed period imagery and scenes of Del Toro's fuzzy wolfman running around tearing people apart with an energy of wondrous grotesquery almost like an early Peter Jackson work. Unlike most of the other remakes it didn't insult your intelligence or try to be more than it is (I'm Kubrick-staring you, Robert "Zombie" Cummings) I just wish Hollywood would make more horror films like that but for less flipping money. Entertaining and gives you your money's worth of gore and thrills for little investment and without dragging its audience through the mud.

    Speaking of Peter Jackson, did you see THE LOVELY BONES? Everyone poo-pooed it, but I didn't think it was any worse than KING KONG. Another good film pulled down by overwrought excess on Jackson's part, but I still enjoyed it. Maybe the failure of this will remind him that we loved LORD OF THE RINGS not because of the CGI.

  7. JL -- yeah, Peter Jackson's earlier films had that energy.

    Saw THE LOVELY BONES. Liked the intimate stuff with the killer. Did not like the dream stuff. Too over-the-top.

  8. The stuff with Stanley Tucci, yeah, felt the most Peter Jackson, especially when he's sitting up in his bed sketching the horrible snares and traps he builds for his victims. That man (PJ) has the most wonderfully sick sense of humor.