BY FRITZ "DOC" FREAKENSTEIN
I had wicked high hopes for this modern remake of my second favorite classic Universal horror flick The Wolf Man. Right after Frankenstein, the Wolf Man has always been my personal favorite monster. Who couldn’t feel empathy for poor Larry Talbot, who was bitten by a werewolf trying to save the life of an innocent? The Wolfman starts off well, with a foggy forest, a tense Ben Talbot and a largely unseen werewolf. The beast strikes quickly and easily kills the elder Talbot spawn. Unfortunately, the next quarter of the film dedicates itself to introducing the “return of the prodigal son” and explaining why he has not seen his estranged father until the murder of his brother. Benicio Del Toro is a fine actor, but he is not the likable lug returned from America as played by Lon Chaney, Jr. in the original. Instead, he is quietly withdrawn, if determinately passionate, about finding the murderer of his brother. Anthony Hopkins plays Sir John Talbot as a slightly eccentric and gruff hermit, who seems outwardly pleased at his son’s return, but is mysteriously devoid of anger at the loss of his eldest son. Emily Blunt is lovely and convincing as the fiancé of the slain Ben Talbot. Yet, it is somewhat disturbing that she becomes so fond of her dead beau’s brother. At the film’s midpoint, Larry finally succumbs to the werewolf’s bite and, thanks to the quick actions of the local gypsies, is rescued before the werewolf can finish his prey. Geraldine Chaplin is fantastic and unrecognizable as the gypsy woman Maleva, who stitches Larry’s wound and keeps the other gypyies at bay, who wish to end Larry’s suffering, before it truly begins. The pivotal moment of the film, where Larry first endures his transformation into the Wolfman, is visually sumptuous, but erratically emoted. We never quite feel Larry’s inner pain at the realization that he has become the very thing that ended his brother’s life. Still, there is some interesting plotlines left to untangle and the third quarter of the film does a serviceable job at tying up loose ends. Hugo Weaving, a great character actor who has appeared in many genre films, is introduced as a Scotland Yard detective, who seems to have been on the trail of the Wolfman before. Unfortunately, he his given little to do, other than hang out at the pub and wander aimlessly in the fog. Finally, the last quarter of the film gives us the big reveal, that ties up all the loose ends, and surprises us with a climatic battle to the death. As in the original, Larry is killed by one who loves him. However, in an effort to improve on the original, the 2010 The Wolfman fails to instill the same pathos and sympathy for Larry Talbot that was so pivotal to the climax of 1941’s The Wolf Man. Taken on its own merits, The Wolfman is a visually resplendent, well-paced modern action horror film. Joe Johnston, who showed hints at being able to direct a dramatic period piece with 2004’s Hidalgo, has done as well as could be expected with what appears to be an erratic script by the duo of Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. Despite my disappointment in The Wolfman overall, I did enjoy many of its elements and will gladly view it again. I’ll continue to watch all of Universal's resurrections of any of its classic monsters, because as a fan, any monster is a good monster. I hope that the real Frankenstein monster is lurking somewhere in a theater in the near future!