Friday, February 19, 2010
The Wolfman Returns!
I was about seven years old when I first encountered Lon Chaney, Jr. as "The Wolf Man", and it was sort of a revelation to me.
Something tells me that I must have jabbered on about the movie quite a bit, because that Christmas I received not only the classic Aurora Wolf Man model kit (my first-ever monster model), but also the cool and creepy Wolf Man Mystery Game. I remember staring at the box art from both of these for hours and hours, often trying to duplicate their atmospheric images in crayon.
Last night, Lisa and I saw Universal's new film The Wolfman (transformed into only one word now), and I sat in jittery anticipation hoping that it wouldn't let us down. It didn't. I've read some perplexing mixed reviews, but Lisa and I loved it. This is a real monster movie, inspired both by the original Chaney film and the tragedies of Shakespeare. It also expressed several effective nods to Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf, which I especially appreciated. I even sensed a welcomed wisp of the ghost of the late Paul Naschy's Waldemar Daninsky, too.
The cast is excellent, from Anthony Hopkins' cryptic Sir John Talbot, to Emily Blunt's tenderly portrayed Gwen Conliffe. Simply stated, Benicio Del Toro was born to play Lawrence Talbot, a character who appeared in five Universal horror films in the 1940s, each time performed by Chaney. Del Toro, a serious Wolf Man fan and collector himself--as well as a co-producer of the new film--is a more than worthy successor, bringing a melancholy loneliness and ferocious savagery to the role.
Perhaps, though, the real star of the movie is the fearsome werewolf itself, magnificently created by make-up maestro, and multiple Oscar Award winner, Rick Baker. Although the Wolfman is still respectfully recognizable as inspired by Jack Pierce's classic design, never before has the creature been so realistically realized. I suspect it succeeds so well because we are seeing Del Toro acting in genuine monster make-up, not a computer-created effect.
Personally, I found the new Wolfman as pitiable as he was frightening, and that's what makes a classic monster movie work. This is, arguably, the most terrifying werewolf ever presented on film and I feel it is Baker's finest horrific accomplishment. Bravo, Rick.
There is some CGI featured in the film, of course, but its generally applied sparingly, and effectively, during the transformation scenes which are swift, startling, and monstrous. There are also some brief moments when the werewolf drops to running amok on all fours with furious speed, which are powerfully choreographed. The full Moon is especially ominously portrayed, practically a character in the film itself.
Late 19th Century London is moodily rendered, too, and what a thrill is it to finally see the Wolfman on the rampage through the crowded city streets!
Mind you, this film isn't for kids. It's a full-blown, fast, scary, bloody, white-knuckled, fairy tale for grown-ups. My favorite scene: the climax to the asylum sequence. You'll see what I mean.
I can hardly wait for The Wolfman to arrive on DVD. I know I'll have to see it again before then.
Highly recommended. Four out of five stars.
(Click on pictures for bigger images.)