A horror film that's actually horrific, this film is uncomfortable to watch
Horror movie remakes are a dime a dozen. Great series of the 80’s are coming back twenty years later and even films like The Wicker Man and The Hills Have Eyes have been remade, even though it seems as though not even a full ten years separate the films. But you know it has been too many generations since the original film came out when you have Twilight fangirls writing the head of Universal Studios accusing Wolfman director Joe Johnson and his team of plagiarizing New Moon (yes, this actually has happened). Well ladies, it is now time to get acquainted with the original werewolf love story. This is a re-make of The Curse of the Wolfman, the 1941 addition to the Universal Studios Monsters retinue of films. And Twilight fans, if you think guys turning into dogs are hot and happen to have a fetish for gore, boy, will you ever love this film!
Set in 1891, the film focuses on sleepy-eyed American Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro), an English immigrant who has made a small name for himself as a Shakespearian actor. When he receives word that his brother has been killed, he hastily returns to his ancestral home to find that his brother’s life had violently been ended by some kind of wild animal, which has the local townspeople understandably upset, this being in the days before the Local Animal Control. After enduring the superstitious tales of the townspeople for a while, he approaches his father (Anthony Hopkins), who is an accomplished hunter, and proposes that they track down the beast. When Dad is apathetic on the subject, he decides to hunt the beast himself, which turns out to be a really bad idea. Who is the hunter and who is the hunted? And what happens when a man becomes the very thing he loathes?
If any of you Twilight fans are still reading this, I suggest you stop here, because this film does not involve naked hunks frolicking in the wilderness. Perhaps you know someone (or have known someone) at one point in your life who was all like “Hey, check this out!,” and then proceeded to do something physically strange, like bend his fingers backwards against his hand, pop his arm out of its socket, or unhinge his jaw as if it were no problem. You probably said “Eew, gross!” or had some similar reaction and pretended that you did not actually know this person on future outings. This werewolf is like that guy, only to the Nth degree. Actually, I would not be totally incorrect in suggesting that the entire film is like that guy. This movie pulls no punches, and the werewolf scenes are guaranteed to make you squirm, even if you are a chain smoking hardass that plays the God Of War series of games 12 out of 24 hours each day. Watching this guy’s bones violently rearrange themselves as his flesh strains and writhes like a bag full of live cats will do that to you. The transformation scenes are horrific and bloody enough to be believable; if you think casual body mods are scary/icky, this film will make you puke.
Lots of blood and guts, but used to effect and not overdone
And then there is the violence. It doesn’t take much to kill an insect. You brush one aside and it kind of falls apart. In this movie, people are like that kind of insect, and when the Wolfman goes crowd surfing, you’d better believe that people are going to die. He’s stronger, faster, has ultra sharp claws and wicked flesh-rending teeth. He’s also totally out of control, beyond all capacity for rational thought, and tends to see frightened people as warm, squishy prey. Mmmmm. Lots of folks like to throw out the phrase “rend you limb from limb”; here you actually get to see it. With an almost casual abandon, the Wolfman rips off people’s arms, knocks off their heads, tears them in two and munches on their livers. I suppose it doesn’t help that most people tend to get on his bad side by trying to kill him, but this werewolf is not one of the fuzzy forest variety. One gets the immediate impression that he is Dangerous to a‘t’, which is as it should be, because in order for this film to work no one can be totally safe from this creature’s wrath. He is the kind of beast that can totally kill you by accident and not even notice (though, most of the time he wants to eat you).
Violence aside, the wolf has a man side to him as well (otherwise, they’d just call him The Wolf), and Mister Del Toro pulls this off well. He is a man with a dirty little secret; a common man, a gentleman, a pious man, a man who knows there is a side to himself that he cannot control; that goes against everything he represents, yet he cannot suppress it. Personally, I think he could have put a little more emotion into his role, but the subtleties of the character are there. The other actors are great in their capacity as well, acting convincingly frightened or smug when they need to be, or otherwise. The sets are fantastic, and all look creepy in their own way…Especially the nature, which looks natural but seems at the same time to be a little ‘off’…much like our wolfman here. Costuming and makeup effects are well done. I was expecting the werewolf to be mostly CGI’d into the film, but in homage to the original they used a little Hollywood style makeup and costuming to achieve the werewolf effect. The period clothes are fantastic and all suit the characters well.
There are some things that I disliked about the film though. Benicio is a great actor, don’t get me wrong; but it was a little hard to swallow his being of noble English ancestry, even though the directors of the film went out of their way to show that the character’s mother was of Spanish descent. It does not help that the guy they got playing his father does not look like him at all. Also, some of the more casual animals in the film are very obviously CGI constructs, and look painfully fake. I find it hard to fault the film for this though; since they used real horses in all the required scenes, but the gypsies’ dancing bear (originally accused by the townsfolk for the murders) and the elk later used as live bait just don’t look real at all. Also, some scenes appear very contrived, such as all the montage shots leading up to the climax of the film, with the lady love (Emily Blunt) trying to follow the beleaguered Lawrence home from London while Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving) prepares to kill the werewolf at all costs, also in pursuit.
I suppose I should say here that I have never seen the original 1960’s Wolfman, though I have read about it. In any case, I’d say that the 2010 film is a fantastic remake and an adequate film when considered on its own merits. There are scenes that will make you jump but the film’s real goal is to remove some color from your complexion with scenes of intense wanton violence. And then we must chew on the fact that the creature depicted in the film represents the darkness that lurks in all of us, which is a truly horrible thought.