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The Wolfman (2010)
Curse of the American Werewolf of London
The film opens with a color-drained variation of the current Universal logo (why couldn't they have used one of the vintage logos from the 30's or 40's? It would have been so much cooler and more appropriate!) and after some more production logos, segues into a title and voice-over of Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin) reciting a variation on everyone's favorite lycanthropic poem (which is very much tacked on. More on that later.) Cut to Blackmoor England, 1891 where The stage is set for a brutal re-imagining of one of the most tragic horror stories of all time.
Long story short: Ben was torn apart, Larry gets bitten by the thing that did it, turns into a beast himself, goes on a few bloody rampages across Blackmoor and London, falls in love with Gwen, defeats his maker in a fiery showdown, and is hunted by an angry mob, ending in classic Universal style, leaving it open for possible sequels.
Now time for the actual review: The film is beautifully produced, and photographed by Shelly Johnson with desaturated colors hearkening back to the similar look of Sleepy Hollow rather than the more lush, vibrant palette found in Bram Stoker's Dracula. With the actual production designed by Sleepy Hollow veteran Rick Heinricks, and the screenplay co-written by that film's Andrew Kevin Walker, the general audience will be subconsciously reminded of that last great, Gothic chiller. The Talbot Hall and London sets are grand, and recall the darker corners of the Victorian age without being too stylized, while the slightly fantastical outdoor forest sets directly reminded me of the haunting stage visuals found in the old school Universal back lot. Think the leafless woods from Bride of Frankenstein meets the foggy environs of Llanwelly from the original Wolf Man on a larger, more epic scale.
As the title character, Del Toro goes all out. This Wolfman is brutal, scary and doesn't mess around. While not quite the fluffy-headed, neatly dressed icon we all know and love from the original, Rick Baker's masterful make-up is still faithful enough to legendary monster-maker Jack Pierce's classic design (despite making him bulkier and little more wild.) It is truly a testament to Pierce, that a character he designed almost seventy years ago can still be horrifying (with a few tweaks) to modern audiences! Even when the Wolfman was tearing up extras and shredding them up in the goriest ways possible, it was seeing that classic face doing it that nearly brought a tear of joy to this fan's eye!
As for the rest of the cast... how can you not like Anthony Hopkins in anything? The man's played Van Helsing, Hannibal Lecter and even Zorro! That being said, nobody plays a kooky, twisted old man like Hopkins, a role he plays here deliciously. If another actor was cast in the role, I don't think the film would have been as good as it turned out. Emily Blunt is attractive and plays the damsel as well as anyone, and Geraldine Chaplin is memorable, despite being grossly underused as Maleva. Of course the third great player in the story is Hugo Weaving as Inspector Aberline. While not as show-stealing as Hopkins, he certainly gives Del Toro a run for his money in the charisma department as the inquisitive detective.
I must admit the film sort of fails in the character development department, shifting the original's tragic drama of Man vs. Self, to a more dumbed-down Man vs. Beast (aka Dad) conflict. I do admit, though obvious from the trailers, it was a good twist to spice things up from the original, but I do wish more time was given to flesh out Talbot's inner-suffering ("You don't understand!") Maybe it had enough, but Del Toro just didn't embody it like Chaney. However, the climactic werewolf showdown was a bit much, and while expected from the beginning, it was the only part I found kind of cheesy or silly (especially the Bad Wolf's demise, which is still burned in my mind!) The fight scene reminded me of something out of Planet of the Apes, with the werewolves looking more like two of Disney's Beasts throwing themselves at each other. Another problem I had with the film was the lack of Maleva. While she was prominent in a few scenes, she wasn't given a strong presence throughout like she could have, and it seems like the filmmakers completely forgot about the "Pure in Heart" poem in the film's actual story, so they shamelessly tacked it on the beginning. I also have to confess that Danny Elfman's salvaged score wasn't as memorable as it could have been, often seeming like a riff on Kilar's Dracula soundtrack; but it supported the film's Gothic atmosphere nicely, when it could have been a lot worse. And though the film was filled with digitally altered skies and quick cuts, they were no where nowhere near as distracting or as poorly done as in Stephen Sommers' Mummy franchise.
Overall, despite my minor nit-picks, I genuinely loved the film! While it could have been a little better, I am still grateful for what we got, instead of what it could've been. Finally a Universal horror film remade as an actual horror film and not a dumb action/adventure with plenty of comedy and CGI! After three-years in the making, Joe Johnston's The Wolfman is filled with enough atmosphere, drama, suspense, black humor and carnage to stand it proudly on the shelf next to Coppola's Dracula, Brannagh's Frankenstein and Burton's Sleepy Hollow as a successor to its Gothic horror roots. I pray the movie does well, because the efforts of Johnston, the cast and crew and of course Baker's terrific make-up, have finally made the classic monster scary again. Thank you!