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 camp--).
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.