*. The twenty-first century saw a lot of horror franchise re-sets. Most of these were returns to slasher franchises that had originated in the late 1970s or 1980s, but they didn’t leave the classics alone either.
*. The Wolfman may be thought of as a belated entry into the sweepstakes, following up on Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994), I guess this should be Curt Siodmak’s The Wolf Man, as there was no other firm literary precedent. But they changed the title, and, once it gets rolling, a lot of other things too.
*. We still have the Talbots, and Larry Talbot returning home after the death of his brother. Again, father and son seem a mismatched pair. I wonder who thought Anthony Hopkins and Benicio Del Toro would go well together. At least they try to explain things this time out with a Spanish mom. In any event, Old Man Talbot still has a telescope in his parlour, though he’s not an astronomer. We still have Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), who still runs an antique shop, as Larry’s love interest. We still have the gypsy Maleva (Geraldine Chapman), who isn’t much help to anyone in the film, or the audience either. We still have that silver wolf’s head walking stick, though it doesn’t have much purpose either, except to give Max von Sydow a gratuitous cameo (in the Director’s Cut version only).
*. And, sadly, we still have that lousy werewolf poem. “Even a man who is pure in heart . . .” Ugh. I mean, that’s not even good bad poetry.
*. They also stuck with a classic werewolf look. I would describe this as the “no snout” werewolf, typical of the creature’s appearance in the early days. In the 1980s werewolf movies The Howling and An American Werewolf in London werewolves got nastier looking just by giving them protruding snouts. They looked like real wolves, and had scarier teeth.
*. I prefer those long-snout werewolves, but the wolves here won an Academy Award for Best Achievement in Makeup. I’m not sure why. Rick Baker deliberately chose to make the design for the werewolf as close to Jack Pierce’s original conception as possible. Mission accomplished, but so? I thought Baker did more impressive work thirty years earlier. As he puts it, “when I did An American Werewolf in London, we went from this naked man to a four-legged hound from Hell, and we had a lot of room to go from the transformation and do a lot of really extreme things. Here we have Benicio del Toro, who’s practically the Wolf Man already, to Benicio del Toro with more hair and bigger teeth.”
*. Alas, poor Singh. He seemed like an interesting character. Couldn’t they have found something for him to do? As it is, he has no part to play in the story at all, and doesn’t even get to go down fighting but just appears as a corpse almost as an afterthought.
*. Of the big three classic remakes, only Bram Stoker’s Dracula was any good. Where they all seem to go wrong is in their inflation of what were B-movies into big-budget epics. I mentioned in my notes on The Wolf Man how some of the success of the first round of Universal horrors could be attributed to their short running times. Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Wolf Man all clocked in at around 70 minutes. This movie, in the Director’s Cut version, goes a full two hours. And all that extra time is not well spent.
*. A lot of it is taken up with a twisted family back story that tells us more than we really need or want to know. Del Toro always look like bad news and I think he could have been left on his own. As Baker remarked, he might not have even needed makeup.
*. The transformations are mostly CGI, and I don’t think it’s great CGI. The action sequences emphasize being fast and shocking, with no attempt made at suspense. As a result, there’s nothing really scary about this movie at all.
*. The art direction and production design are nice, but nothing new. And yet the story seems mainly designed to show them off. As far as character is concerned, the script is as shaggy as the lycanthropes, and even the love interest fizzles (as, I should say, it also did in the original).
*. Critics and audiences seem to have disliked it equally. It’s harshest critic, however, may have been Universal Pictures head Ron Meyers: “‘One of the worst movies we ever made. The moment I saw it I thought, ‘What have we all done here?’ That movie was crappy. We all went wrong. That’s one we should have smelled out a long time ago. The script never got right . . . The director was wrong. Benicio [del Toro] stunk. It all stunk.” Why should I say anything more?