Those that the beast is looking for, listen in awe and you’ll hear him bark at the moon!
The 2010 remake/reimagining of The Wolfman (one word) starts off strong but loses steam about half way through choosing to change up the story in an effort to shock and amaze modern audiences.
Unlike many other werewolf films, this appears to be going back to the source: Universal’s 1941 Wolf Man film. In an updated retelling, with modern special effects and sensibilities, Benicio Del Toro returns home and is infected by the werewolf curse. Some scenes appear to be in an asylum, which is nothing like the 1941 one. I am interested to see what this adds to the mythology and how it references the original.
Presented below is the trailer for the film.
In Blackmoor, England in 1891, Ben Talbot is attacked in the woods of his estate by a beast. Ben’s fiancée, Gwen (Emily Blunt), visits London to request his brother Lawrence (Benicio Del Toro) return to the estate to help find his missing brother. Unfortunately he is an actor and is about to go on tour in America. He returns sometime later having gotten word that Ben was found dead. He meets with his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), who is cold and distant to him.
Lawrence enters the local tavern where there is much talk of werewolves, and slander of the local gypsies. He picks a fight with a local man when that individual slanders Lawrence’s mom, herself a gypsy. A flashback shows young Lawrence finding his father holding his mother after her suicide. He was institutionalized after that and sent to live in America with his aunt. Continuing to investigate the death of Ben, Lawrence visits the local gypsy camp when it is attacked by a creature. Maleva the gypsy (Geraldine Chaplin) tends to Lawrence’s wounds that he receives after being bitten by the beast.
An inspector from Scotland Yard, Aberline (Hugo Weaving), arrives at Talbot Manor to question Lawrence about the attack and the recent killings, fearing that the young Talbot may have a touch of lunacy in him. Lawrence’s wound heals over the next month preternaturally quickly. On the night of the next full moon a lynching party comes to collect the boy and take him in before he kills again. Sir John chases them from his land. Lawrence then sends Gwen away, fearing the worst, and hoping that the stories are not true.
Unfortunately Lawrence begins to change when he is bathed in moonlight. Sir John seems to know what is coming and locks himself in the crypt. Lawrence roams the countryside as a werewolf killing several individuals before awakening outside the house in the morning, a bloody mess. The same party comes back for him with Inspector Aberline this time, and takes him to Lambeth Asylum in London. There Dr. Hoenneger (Antony Sher), who had previously treated Lawrence, is sad to see him return. He believes that the stories of transformation are all in his head.
Sir John visits the asylum one day and confesses to Lawrence that he was the beast that infected him. Attacked some 25 years ago by a feral boy in India, he has had his Sikh manservant Singh (Art Malik) lock him up every full moon. Lawrence realizes that his mother did not commit suicide, but was killed by his father. He screams for help, but he’s just another raving lunatic in an asylum. That night, Hoenneger assembles dozens of spectators to prove Lawrence is certifiable, but is quickly killed when the transformation is proved real.
Lawrence escapes and runs amok in London that night being hunted by Aberline. He evades capture and finds his way back home, where Gwen–now working in her father’s antique store–has been studying lycanthropy. Lawrence finds Singh dead and his father now proud to be “out” about his secret. When the full moon emerges the two battle as werewolves in the house, Lawrence killing his father. Still transformed he chases Gwen into the woods where she shoots him with a gun containing a silver bullet, but not before he has bitten Aberline.
“It is said there is no sin in killing a beast, only in killing a man. But where does one begin and the other end.” – Gwen Conliffe
The Wolfman starts off strong, adapting the 1941 Universal classic The Wolf Man (which was reviewed yesterday). As with many modern retellings of older films, it adds additional context and depth around the characters and situations. Sometimes the new version switches things up so fans familiar with the original will have a fresh spin to enjoy. In this case, Lawrence is a Shakespearian actor who must return home because his brother has been killed by a werewolf. The main plot is already wrapped up in the new context. Gwen is now a woman who was engaged to Lawrence’s brother rather than a gamekeeper on the estate. There’s additional information about Lawrence having been previously institutionalized after seeing his mother dead. This adds to the distrust the townsfolk have of the Talbots, knowing that he may in fact still be crazy.
In order to provide a more interesting tone to the film, it was made as a period piece set in the late 19th Century, rather than a more contemporary piece (circa the late 1930s or 1940) as with the original version. In truth, it was probably to take better advantage of the gothic horror and forego any modern conveniences that could have made the dispatching of the werewolf, or discovery of the crimes, easier. It certainly provides a creepy atmosphere that fits in with modern retellings of classic monster films like Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) or the monster team-up film Van Helsing (2004). Director Joe Johnson is no stranger to period pieces having created The Rocketeer (1991) and Captain America: The First Avenger (2011). Unfortunately the tone doesn’t hold the story together.
Instead of following the tragic figure of Lawrence on his return home, infected by the bite of a werewolf, the film sets up a twist pinning all of Lawrence’s problems on his father–a fashionable theme of the 2000s. This is not terribly different from the original, at least in basic concept. In the 1941 Wolf Man, Claude Rains’ father figure admits to being stoic and detached from his sons. He doesn’t believe Larry when his son tells him that he is a monster that changes into a wolf, and is responsible for the killing of the villagers. But here the same setup for Hopkins father figure is met with the fact that he really is a horrible person. A character that has neither the courage to take his life or the remorse to accept his actions. Having killed his wife and his first born son, 2010’s Sir John is despicable. He tells Lawrence he’s dead inside since he killed his mother, but yet continues to avoid taking responsibility for his actions. And this has been going on for 25 years too! It’s all a bit too trite. Another modern problem of making the monster relatable and tragic–by telling the audience what a poor upbringing and role model he had.
The act two revelation that Sir John was the O.W. (original werewolf), rather than a traveling gypsy, and the big monster brawl between the two beasts in act three aside, there are still a number of things to provide sustenance between the inanities. I found the inclusion of Lawrence being put in the asylum fascinating. Since this film makes use of the full moon to transform Lawrence into the werewolf, it is a whole month between his admittance and the reveal to Dr. Hoenneger that he is a beast. Of course, it’s obvious to the audience what will happen, but there’s a sort of evil joy in seeing the nasty doctor getting his, at the hand so the patient he has mistreated.
Additionally director Johnson imbues the film with homages to many other werewolf tales. The look of Lawrence’s alter ego is based on the Jack Pierce designs from The Wolf Man, with Lawrence retaining his clothes throughout the transformation in the same fashion as Lon Chaney did in 1941. A few scenes show the werewolf with his white shirt, open to his navel, as he bays to the moon. This is a direct reference to the design of Oliver Reed’s werewolf in 1961s The Curse of the Werewolf. And finally the chase around London harkens to both the original werewolf film, Werewolf of London, and the 1981 thriller An American Werewolf in London, of which both titles accurately describe Lawrence in this situation.
It can be difficult to take such an iconic character and create a new version of his tale, especially when it’s an origin that is so well documented. Sometimes it’s better off creating a new story, even with the same characters, in order to say something new. Unfortunately by calling something The Wolfman, it draws immediate comparisons to the source. And if the remake can’t live up to that high bar, it dies with a whimper rather than a howl. Stay tuned for one more H-Origins comparison next week as I wrap up the 31 Days of Horror for 2020.
- The actress who plays Meleva, Geraldine Chaplin, has ties to the older Hollywood films as the daughter of silent film star Charlie Chaplin.
- The first gypsy that meets his demise is none other than special effects makeup artist Rick Baker. He was responsible for the werewolf effects and design here, as well as for the classic An American Werewolf in London.
- Anthony Hopkins is no stranger to horror films. He played Van Helsing in the 1992 reimagining of Dracula, had an early horror role as the ventriloquist whose dummy began committing murder in Magic, and played the most intense screen villain, Hannibal Lector, in The Silence of the Lambs.
Having grown up on comics, television and film, “Jovial” Jay feels destined to host podcasts and write blogs related to the union of these nerdy pursuits. Among his other pursuits he administrates and edits stories at the two largest Star Wars fan sites on the ‘net (Rebelscum.com, TheForce.net), and co-hosts the Jedi Journals podcast over at the ForceCast network.