A Review of The Wolfman

Emily Blunt breaks from the pack in THE WOLFMAN.

Finally…a horror film for old people.  Remember back in the early 1990’s when Columbia (do they even exist anymore?) tried to revive the old Universal Horror Films by using Francis Ford Coppola’s gloriously trippy Bram Stoker’s Dracula as their flagship film?  I can recall being a precocious kid and seeing the film with my parents when it opened in the theaters around Thanksgiving.  And I remember the audience being half filled with senior citizens who were all enthralled, half achy with nostalgia and half scared out of their wits.  My parents, the old folks, my friends and I…we all ate it up back then.  It was a hip, fun, scary ride totally tricked-out with every old-fashioned cinematic trick Coppola could conjure, loaded with sex and gore and over-the-top scenery chewing performances.  Dialed way down and about fifteen years late, but brimming with that same sense of fogged-covered nostalgia mixed with modern gore, Joe Johnston’s gleefully un-hip update of The Wolfman would’ve been the perfect follow-up film to Bram Stoker’s Dracula.  Heck, we even have Anthony Hopkins — Van Helsing himself — chewing more scenery than we’ve seen him chew in years as the senior member of the cursed Talbot clan. 

Contrary to popular belief and contrary to the whining of many critics, there is an audience out there for films like The Wolfman.  Here we have Oscar-winning master of tortured facial expressions Benicio Del Toro (woodenly delivering his lines while vividly expressing the horror of shape-shifting) as the legendary Lawrence Talbot.  He’s no Lon Chaney Jr., but he’s a bit of stunt casting that fits its purpose.  Hopkins is willfully onboard as his estranged father.  Emily Blunt (fresh from her Oscar-snub as The Young Victoria) is there to look sad and frightened as Talbot’s love interest, and the always reliable Hugo Weaving rounds out the quartet as Inspector Abberline.  On the set design front there are plenty of fog laden moors, creaking manors, and Victorian Era London hullabaloo.  Meanwhile, Rick Baker does a smashing job with the make-up and shape-shifting effects and Danny Elfman provides an appropriate music score (similar to the very like-minded though more Hammer-esque Sleepy Hollow).  All of this results in a howling good time for those in the right mood.

There are some issues with the pacing as things seemed rushed in the beginning while seriously dragging in the middle, but I’m not sure if that is the fault of director Joe Johnston (who has always been one of the better for-hire hack directors out there) or the somewhat stilted and paper-thin screenplay.  One doesn’t go to see a film like The Wolfman and expect Shakespeare, though there are plenty who have complained there wasn’t a meaty enough exploration of “the beast within the man” aspect of the story.  I’m not one who expects every reboot to re-invent the wheel or go uber-dark and psychologically complex ala Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight.  What I do expect from a film about werewolves is plenty of fun.  And what’s not to enjoy when about three-fourths of the way through there’s a scene in an insane asylum where Del Toro, wolf-crazed and furiously furry, shows Hannibal Lecter how to really eat a liver?  The Wolfman needs not fava beans and a nice Chianti. 

In the wake of the reincarnated vampire craze by way of Twilight and True Blood and a moribund horror scene that was hung up for years on torture-porn before going meta and jokey last year with the likes of films like Drag Me to Hell and Zombieland, The Wolfman remake arrives like a welcome breath of stale air.  Not everything needs to be so ironic or hip.  Sometimes it’s just nice to revel in the genre conventions and be reminded of one’s childhood.  But it does more than just sit there and look pretty, this Wolfman lets the fur fly.  Call me old-fashioned, but I thought it was a bloody good time.

Written by David H. Schleicher

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4 comments on “A Review of The Wolfman

  1. John Greco says:

    I have been wavering on whether to see this or not however your review convinces me that it might be worth checking out. Hell, I’m old (lol) and I love the old Universal horror films. Sounds like a good fit.
    BTW, I agree with you on the Emily Blunt snub in YOUNG VICTORIA, she was very good, made the Queen come across as a real person and not a stuffy monarch.

    John, I would say if you liked Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Sleepy Hollow, you should find this to be a bit of fun. And yes, Blunt is one of the best young actresses out there today, though she was bit by bad dialogue in this one. –DHS

  2. Prakash says:

    Hi David. A straight from the gut review. Though I am not old, I am all for nostalgia. Sometimes, on a lazy Sunday afternoon, tired of all the intellectualizing, we just want the dracula, vampire, and werewolf movies to do what they are best at – show us gore and scare us like hell. And if The Wolfman delivers just that, who’s complaining? Not me for sure.

    And yes, I was literally laughing my guts out when you said:
    “And what’s not to enjoy when about three-fourths of the way through there’s a scene in an insane asylum where Del Toro, wolf-crazed and furiously furry, shows Hannibal Lecter how to really eat a liver? The Wolfman needs not fava beans and a nice Chianti.”

    Your no-pun-intended dig at Lecter was too hilarious. It is exactly such quirks that spice-up your reviews.

    Prakash, this is classic “Creature Feature Saturday Matinee” stuff. Only gorier. –DHS

  3. Sam Juliano says:

    David, I saw this yesterday and found it one of the worst films I’ve seen in many a year. For me just about nothing worked-the story was convoluted, incoherent, the gore eventually tedius and the characters woefully underdeveloped. This one gave horror films as bad name.

    But hey, you and I have disagreed before and will still came out as friends, so to be honest it’s a great thing that this worked for you. I do like the names in the cast, I’ll tell you that much.

    Sam, you certianly are in the majority here. But really…as for the “underdeveloped characters” — is that really an issue for a horror film? I don’t think so. I watch films like this for the atmosphere and gore and thrills…not for character development. And what was incoherent about it? It was all pretty simplistic, easy to follow and straight forward to me. Or were you referring to the editing (which was a little shoddy in parts)? –DHS

  4. Sam Juliano says:

    David, I am a lifelong horror film addict, and this film just didnt engage. It was a messy series of gory set pieces, you felt not one iota for any of the characters and the film lacked visual imagination. I disagree what you say there about character development, and would only excuse it if there was some kind of expressionistic visual design on display. Horror films like any other require emotional connection with the characters, at least the better ones. This film was severely uneven and woefully derivitive (I saw AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON all over it, but that was a far better film). I honestlt think that the horrendous reviews it has received are well-earned.

    But I respect your own position here as always.

    Sam, I enjoyed the gory set pieces and although visually it wasn’t anything we haven’t seen before, I thought the film looked great. Granted, the screenplay was lacking, I just didn’t find that to be much of an issue while you clearly did. –DHS

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