Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

The Wolfman

A bit belated review; between rehearsals for "Sherlock Holmes" (on
which more later) and work, I haven't had time or energy to write much.
Nevertheless, we looked forward to Benicio Del Toro's retelling of the
classic Universal pictures monster movie. I was pleased to see that
Curt Siodmak, author of the original 1941 "The Wolf Man" screenplay, as
well as those of "I Walked With A Zombie," "Beast With Five Fingers,"
"Donovan's Brain," and other iconic SF/horror films, was given prominent
screen credit.
The story is relocated and redated from Wales between the wars to
England, 1891, and the transplantation works well, allowing Del Toro to
work in some additional "horrors" such as the state of medical science
generally, and the state of mental treatment in particular.
Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, estranged son of Baronet Sir John Talbot
(Anthony Hopkins), who returns to the family home in order to
investigate the death of his brother whose mauled body was found in a
ditch between the house and a nearby gypsy camp. Unlike the 1941 film,
where Talbot is attacked, bitten, and kills his attacker (Bela the
gypsy, played by Bela Lugosi) in the first reel, the identity of the
first werewolf remains a mystery, at least for a while, and Talbot has
to deal with his own lycanthropy while also trying to put an end to the
other's depredations.
In aid of this story, Del Toro is supported by an excellent cast, lead
by Hopkins, who can do chillingly crazy better than anyone. Emily
Blunt, last seen as "Young Victoria" is very good and plays a reasonably
hard-headed and practical heroine. (It must be admitted that her
eventual plan to assist Talbot lacks a focus, but that's a script flaw
rather than an acting flaw.) Hugo Weaving does a nice job as Inspector
Abberline, the Scotland Yard detective supposedly (in)famous for having
failed to catch Jack the Ripper. At least, Abberline's experience
chasing one monster makes him capable of a flexible response when it
becomes clear what he's really dealing with. The principal roles are
rounded out by Art Malik as Sir John's loyal servant, Singh, and
Geraldine Chaplin as "Maleva," the gypsy woman role created by Maria
Ouspenskaya. And I can't quit without mentioning Michael Cronin, who
makes his doctor character as creepy as any "mad scientist" you would
care to name.
The movie looks very good, and the Victorian settings work well. Del
Toro's melancholy good looks echo those of the late Lon Chaney, Jr. The
cinematography includes scenes such as Gwen (Blunt) galloping across a
fog-shrouded landscape on a white horse that just define "Gothic", as
does the crumbling Talbot manor with its eldritch crypt, and the
prison-like Lambeth "hospital." The werewolf makeup and transformation
effects were masterminded by veteran Rick Baker who cut his teeth (so to
speak) on "American Werewolf in London." The makeups have progressed
since that time, and it is impressive how well the distinct facial
features of the actors and their expressions are retained. (Baker also
has a cameo as the first Gypsy killed when the werewolf raids the
It can't be denied that the film is gory, (and, indeed, I can't recall
having seen so many "guts" on screen before--) but it is still
relatively tasteful. The dark red stage blood used instead of the
brilliant crimson favored by so many filmmakers tones down the effect
somehow. The movie also gets the award for most effective use of blood
spurts since the 2003 "Zatoichi".
Recommended for fans of horror. Too bloody for young children.
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