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.)


  1. Glad to hear a decent review of this film. Most I have read have panned it as 'slow moving' and other terms. Which to me means no jerky camera crap, and thoughtfully composed instead of the more modern practice of crappy filmmaking.
    Now I am looking forward to seeing it.

  2. Hey, pal.

    In no way did Lisa and I consider this movie "slow moving." In fact, I almost felt it was over too soon. The action moved along at a very quick pace for us, and that's something we both remarked on in the restaurant after the show.

    I'm not sure why the critics seem so eager to hate this film. Of a dozen or so of my monster movie loving friends, only one didn't like it.

    Of course, I can't say for certain that you'll like it, but we certainly did.

    I'm going back for an encore sometime next week!

  3. Admittedly I'm a geek, and your review makes me want to see this even more. I had one of those Aurora kits as a youngster (rat and all :). Me and my brother collected them. We also had the Frankenstein and the Dracula one. I don't know if they ever remade these for modern monster lovers, wish they had. Mom threw ours away when we moved. I didn't know of the Wolf Man game, that's cool that your parents bought that for you as a gift.

  4. I'm also looking forward to seeing it again, Martin. Whether it's on the big screen or on my own at home, I'll be seeing it again ... and again. All respect to Chaney and the classics, I felt that this is probably the best werewolf film ever. Glad to hear you saw and enjoyed it as much as I did.

  5. El Vox--Yup, the Aurora monster models have been re-issued a number of times in recent years. In fact, the Frankenstein, Wolf Man, and Dr. Jekyll as Mr. Hyde model kits are available again right now! I saw them for sale at my comic book shop just last week.

    Robert--I think you might be right about the new film being the best werewolf movie ever. I'm looking forward to seeing it again very soon.

  6. El Vox should be prepared for sticker shock on the current reissues of the kits -- they're not 98 cents anymore....

  7. Terry--

    That's for sure. Sorry I didn't warn you, El Vox.

  8. I also consider the new Wolfman to be my favorite werewolf movie of all time. I still love the Chaney classic, but this puppy just tore my throat out. I mean, it's absolutely the coolest and scariest wolf man movie ever. I can't believe so many critics thought it wasn't frightening. Were they asleep during the werewolf attacks? I think Joe Johnston did a terrific job of showing just enough of the beast. He kept the werewolf in the shadows in the early scenes, revealing just flashes of the creature during the attack sequences, and, in my humble opinion, they were extremely effective. Bravo, Joe. I'm really glad you stuck to your guns and went for suspense. You scared the hell out of me!

  9. Oh, yeah... glad you liked it, too, Martin!

  10. Delighted you loved the new movie as much as I did, Ed.

    This Wolfman may be a very recent incarnation, but it's very much like the creature that haunted my dreams and imagination when I was a monster-loving kid (not that I've really changed much).

    This is not merely another werewolf, but is actually THE Wolfman himself, rendered all the more effectively by Rick Baker. He's taken Jack Pierce's original, brilliant design and made it even more REAL.

    I, too, think the new Wolfman is scary as hell.

    By the way, blog-readers, my old friend Ed is quite an authority on horror movies, having written, produced, and directed lots of 'em! Check out his website for more info:

  11. It's so great to find remakes done well and with a lot of care and detail. I'm a big fan of the Universal and Hammer Horror. Thanks for this blog. I'll now have to see the movie. I hope the "Clash of the Titans" remake fares as well.