Joe Johnston’s The Wolfman is so gloriously rich in its late 19th century English atmosphere that you’ll wish a better film had been placed in it. This is a loose remake of the 1941 Lon Chaney monster affair and finds Universal back in the creature feature business. I simply love the idea of horror flicks set in this Bram Stoker’s Dracula/Sleepy Hollow/From Hell type world. Unfortunately they are all superior to this, but this iteration of The Wolfman is not without its occasional merits.
The pic casts Benicio del Toro as Lawrence Talbot, a famous Shakespearean actor who is summoned to return to his childhood English village after his brother is brutally murdered by some sort of creature that’s terrorizing the area. He gets reacquainted with his strange father (Anthony Hopkins) and meets his brother’s widow (a perpetually sullen looking Emily Blunt). The family dynamic is a focus here, especially with daddy and there’s as much father/son wolfery issues since maybe 1985’s Teen Wolf. Of course, it turns out that a werewolf is doing the damage around town and soon Lawrence finds himself the victim of a bite. Full moons become a problem for him and that means he’s the subject of attention from Hugo Weaving’s Inspector character. This sets up one of The Wolfman’s very well constructed sequences when Lawrence escapes an insane asylum in grand and bloody fashion. By the way, you know when the doctor at a loony bin speaks of the advancements of their medical treatments during a movie set in this era, you’re about to watch something old school and barbaric.
When the freaks come out at night as Whodini would say (the 1980s hip hop group, not the magician), The Wolfman follows the tenets of the genre closely and doesn’t offer up much new. There’s CG special effects that veer between acceptable and shoddy. Del Toro is surprisingly dull in his role, though props go to the filmmakers for keeping his hairy makeup design close to that of Chaney’s from the 40s. It’s really Hopkins who gets to have the fun part and there are glimpses of just how menacing he can be.
The Wolfman also takes awhile to get its motor running and I never shook the feeling that there’s a number of other examples in this genre that worked better. For a lazy night on the couch, this is fairly acceptable entertainment but not much more save for the lovely ambience.
**1/2 (out of four)