In a remake of the Universal Studios classic, and with nods to the 1960s remakes, Universal Studios resurrects an old favourite – the Wolfman – up to date. They bring back the Victorian era setting, where an actor, Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) is told of the brutal death of his brother and returns to the sprawling, rotting family mansion nestled in the English countryside. His bear-like father (Anthony Hopkins) is covering something up, and Lawrence is soon (but not soon enough) coming face to face with his family demons and a rotten bloodline. It should be a fast paced, breathless ride that manages to be enthralling, gothic and scary – or at least impressive. Except, it really isn’t.
Maybe it was partly the XBOX’s fault. We legally downloaded this, were very happy when it turned up on our TV, and we didn’t go for the HD format, just regular. We ended up getting picture quality similar to overused VHS (the kind you get on inflight on aeroplanes). The Wolfman is a very darkly lit movie that relies on specific illumination at the right parts. Seeing nothing but grainy granules and blurry background faces did not improve our feelings towards it.
That said, there were still plenty of 1980s genre movies that didn‘t stink despite similar limitations.
Wolfman has no excuse, then, to be a total reeker. It’s just not good. It isn’t even fun, which even Van-bloody-Helsing managed at first (mainly due to the nebbish monk sidekick but still…). Wolfman entirely fails to draw you in.
Firstly, everyone talks in very low, meaningful voices, but you can’t hear them, because the music mix is so bad you’ve turned it down, and you also soon figured out the characters had nothing interesting to say anyway.
Secondly, the plot sprawls everywhere, and it’s mostly people standing still and talking quietly in dark rooms about the moon’s power, or having meaningless flashbacks, or pondering very slowly about, like, werewolves or their dinner plans, or somthing.
Thirdly, I like to think that even those born in 1990 will have seen American Werewolf in London by now. Wolfman even has the same effects guy (mighty Rick Baker) as American Werewolf, for crying out loud. This puts it up against some pretty knowing viewers who just can’t phsycially take po-faced exposition anymore. We’ve seen the Howling, Wolfen, Wolf, and, er, Underworld. Ok, Underworld was crap too, but the point is, this takes itself far too seriously to be enjoyable, and it’s not scary enough, and certainly not smart enough, to get away with being an actual horror film.
Instead it’s an empty-headed, turgid mess, which makes the Werewolf episode in season one of New Who seem incredibly grown up. It doesn’t have to be bursting with gags or witty nine year-olds spouting obnoxious one-liners or anything, but the recent version of Sherlock Holmes proved that period drama can’t use that stifled setting as an excuse to be boring. Pacing is important – and here most scenes meandered with no real purpose, and the dialogue wobbled flaccidly and the characters felt no deeper than their stuck-on Victorian moustaches.
Even so, there are a few decent sequences, something that make fans of fresher minds who have, not patience, but the ability to only remember the best parts of this mess. Funnily enough, this only happens when we get to Victorian era London, where the hapless Wolfman is first tortured to ‘restore’ his sanity by the sinister asylum boss, and then escapes and runs rampant through the filthy city streets. This and a freaky dream sequence triggered by the torture was actually savagely effective. No zombie Nazis turned up, sadly, but you can’t have everything…
It was also a lot gorier than I was expecting, with very little nudity to balance it out. Yes, I’m comparing it to American Werewolf again. But even I won’t begrudge Wolf Man its top quality decapitation scenes!
It’s just a shame the rest of it is so tepid, and a waste of should-be greater story and its cast. As the ‘Puerto Rican werewolf in London’ (yep, he is Puerto Rican, checked), Benicio Del Toro manages to look shockingly like the young and pretty Oliver Reed from the old Hammer Horror movies, but we learn far too little about his character to ever warm to him. He’s very passive, too. Being one of the main culprits of talking very quietly and standing still syndrome didn’t help. Anthony Hopkins also mumbles his way through his mental, yet deathly dull lines, and I think he’s only here so he can challenge Malcolm MacDowell in an off-screen ‘who has the whitest matching hair and beard’ competition.(Anthony’s winning, btw). Emily Blunt mainly gets to look sad, and worried, and has a tiny scene where she plays skimming stones with Talbot, and gets to do some running away near the end.
So, right after this, I had to watch American Werewolf in London again. Forget remaking the classics, studios, and do something semi-original again! Send in John Landis!
Or I’m sending in the zombie Nazis…..