Joe Johnston directs with a respect for creaky old houses, false shocks, ancient curses and other staples of vintage monster movies.
So there’s a certain old-fashioned pleasure wrapped up in The Wolfman, a no-frills remake of the 1941 semi-classic hatched by the same Universal horror factory that brought us the original Frankenstein and Dracula.
Stately and a little stiff, this Wolfman takes us back to the dark 19th-century moors where Lon Chaney Jr. created his lycanthropic mayhem. This time the unfortunate howler is played by Benicio Del Toro, not exactly a natural fit for the Victorian milieu but still capable of conjuring the proper tragic notes. Del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot has grown distant from his dad (Anthony Hopkins), but he still returns to the old family estate when his brother Ben is killed in grisly fashion. Ben’s widow, played by Emily Blunt, wants Lawrence to investigate, and who’s going to turn down Emily Blunt?
Much of the rest you know. Lawrence goes poking around the local Gypsy community, gets chomped and develops a habit of howling at the full moon. He never gets around to drinking a piña colada at Trader Vic’s, and his hair isn’t perfect, but he does make it to London when a bloody rampage lands him in an asylum. This is where The Wolfman attains a Dickensian darkness that it wears quite well, especially in a scene that finds our furry friend laying waste to a room of pompous academics. You may have published, but you’re still about to perish.
Much has been made of this movie’s constantly changing opening date, going back to November 2008. But if this isn’t a masterpiece, it’s hardly a disaster. Joe Johnston directs with a respect for creaky old houses, false shocks, ancient curses and other staples of vintage monster movies. Some of the supporting players, particularly Hugo Weaving as the requisite inspector from Scotland Yard, tear into the task with gusto. Rick Baker, who wowed us with the special-effects makeup of An American Werewolf in London, does similarly fine work here.
I could do without the extended lobo y lobo action sequence at the end; these showdowns have become so clichéd that not even a different species can make them fresh. But most of what comes first achieves a vivid combination of gloom, pathos and excitement, even if it never goes too far beneath the surface. Consider The Wolfman a pedigreed genre yarn, mindful of its precedents but nimble enough to have a good time in the here and now.