THE WOLF MAN (1941) is one of the crown jewels of the Universal monster cycle and of cinematic horror in general, having provided much of what we now consider to be generally accepted werewolf lore. With that much historical and genre gravitas to deservedly place it upon a pedestal among the short list of truly great werewolf flicks, a remake could not possibly improve on the original in any way other than the special effects regarding the titular lycanthrope. With that in mind, I consider the lush 2010 remake to be little more than a particularly stodgy, sumptuously-shot MASTERPIECE THEATER installment that happens to have werewolves and gory graphic violence (which was easily the best thing about the film). That's all you really need to know, especially if you're familiar with the basic plot of the 1941 original. I'm not going to bother with a recap of the story, except to say that it's the standard tragic werewolf yarn, tarted up with makeup effects master Rick (AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON) Baker once again bringing his A-game and no small amount of CGI embellishment, so here are the pertinent points, both good and bad:
- IT'S DULL. The film has a look and feel that simply screams "period piece" and makes you wonder when the PBS pledge break is going to interrupt the proceedings. The pacing for the first half is turgid and the movie does not come to life until the protagonist visits a gypsy camp in search of answers. The only times the film really kicks into any kind of gear is when the werewolf does his thing, which amounts to a total of less than fifteen minutes.
- IT ISN'T SCARY. When a horror film doesn't provide either suspense or scares, there's a problem.
- ANTHONY HOPKINS PHONES IT IN. The former Hannibal Lecter practically sleepwalks through his performance and even shifts to a completely different accent at one point, eliciting giggles from the matinee crowd that I saw it with during its theatrical run. He quite obviously was only there for the paycheck.
- BENICIO DEL TORO IS SYMPATHETIC, BUT KINDA OUT OF IT. As Lawrence Talbot, Del Toro affects the same hangdog demeanor as Lon Chaney Jr. did in the original and we do care about him to an extent, but what is meant to convey tragic intensity instead comes off as being whacked-out on Quaaludes.
- IT'S ALL ABOUT "DADDY ISSUES." The whole film is more about Talbot's deep and well-founded issues with his father than anything else, and once we've twigged to that the story enters allegorical "After-School Special" territory.
- RICK BAKER. Another superb werewolf from the guy whose work won an Oscar for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON 28 years earlier.
- AN ANNOYING OVER-RELIANCE ON CGI. As I feared, the CGI effects tend to overwhelm the practical effects, and they are painfully obvious to spot. The worst offenders are a digitally-rendered bear and stag that look wholly unnatural to anyone who's ever seen a nature special.
- DANNY ELFMAN MUST BE STOPPED. The former genius of Oingo Boingo returns with yet anther of his many sound-alike scores. Enough with this guy, already!
- IT'S RATED "R" FOR A REASON. In this pussified movie climate, it's good to receive a horror film that gives us monster scenes replete with shit that would never fly in a PG-13 flick. Now if only there'd been some nudity or a scene of the werewolf getting his hump on...
- THE SCENES OF WEREWOLF VIOLENCE ARE EXCELLENT. Any time there's a werewolf onscreen engaging in anti-social activity, the film is worth sitting through. The sequences in the gypsy camp and the London asylum will go down as classics, and there is plenty of gore on hand. I'd read that this was a troubled production and that Rick Baker was called in to add more "goodies" to the mix, so I can't imagine what this film would have been like without its high level of blood, guts and savage decapitations.
- THE FEMALE LEAD SERVES VIRTUALLY NO PURPOSE TO THE NARRATIVE. Emily Blunt's role is one of the most thankless in recent memory and her character would have been totally unnecessary if the plot did not require her to fall in love with the cursed protagonist.
- IT'S LEFT WIDE-OPEN FOR A SEQUEL. This was totally expected, but after the rest of the film I in no way expected a sequel to come to pass. And one didn't.
So what we have here is a pretty-to-look-at lycanthropic costume drama with some decent gore/violence and zero scares. The audience I saw it with was quite obviously not satisfied with what they got, and for the first time since I cannot remember when, over half of the audience had gotten up and walked out before the final reel. Seriously, people just got the fuck up and walked out in droves. With that in mind, I strongly advise this one mostly for die-hard werewolf groupies like me. And even as a sworn, lifelong werewolf supporter, I only re-watch the aforementioned gypsy camp and London asylum sequences. TRUST YER BUNCHE and stick with the 1941 original, and you won't go wrong.