By all rights, “The Wolfman” should be terrible. It changed directors a few weeks before filming, from Mark Romanek, who at least views himself as an artist, to capable studio journeyman Joe Johnston. It has a script partially written by Andrew Kevin Walker, who never met any research he couldn’t avoid doing if it meant he could work an eighteen-year-old’s idea of a profound insight into a script (see “Seven” and “8mm” back to back and point out all the logical flaws put in place because Walker couldn’t let go of his ending). Really, this thing should be excruciating. I was showing up for the Rick Baker make-up and gore.
And yet, for what it is, a fairly modest remake of a beloved yet dated horror movie, it works. It’s even surprisingly effective in places.
I’m even willing to say that “The Wolfman” is a remake that works, arguably better than the original. The original has its charms, certainly, but it’s very much a movie of its time, and that time was more than sixty years ago. This remake isn’t just exploiting a name, but a sincere attempt to remake the movie for modern audiences.
Mostly that means taking the kind of unnerving unintentional Freudian subtext in Curt Siodmak’s original screenplay (remember, this is a movie where a father beats his own son to death) and making it intentional and even MORE unnerving. And then making Benicio Del Toro underplay his role while letting Anthony Hopkins play the most overt villain ever.
Seriously, it’s not a spoiler Hopkins is the bad guy. The moment you see him in his Victorian pimp coat, you realize what’s going on. But what’s great is how Hopkins plays it. This isn’t a Snidely Whiplash portrayal, in fact at first I thought Hopkins was just phoning it in. He seemed bored. It’s not until later that you realize his character is the one who’s bored, tired of pretending to be a decent person. Once he gets the ability to show what a raging prick he is, then Hopkins really goes to town.
Another upside of sixty years of changing times is now we can actually see what the Wolfman gets up to. For all the hype about the gore in this movie, how it’s done and how it’s shot is welcomely understated. This isn’t some Avid-fart riddled, overlit tossing of CGI blood at the camera; the lighting lets the movie show just how violent the Wolfman is while still being a little restrained and classy. But make no mistake, the Wolfman is coming, he’s pissed and he is going to fuck you up.
That said, the first appearance of Del Toro’s wolfman is a masterpiece of black humor as a bunch of rural hicks try to trap him and promptly get mauled. It’s the most fun I’ve had at a horror movie in a while, right down to the final nasty stinger (which my girlfriend commented as “Here, let me help you with that.”)
It’s not a perfect movie: most nerd reviews I’m reading are saying “good, not great”. But good, for a horror movie, hell, for an old-fashioned horror movie, is doing spectacularly. “The Wolfman” is probably the most fun you’ll have in a theater until the summer hits. Go check it out.