Let’s be honest: when it comes to movie monsters, Universal has the best hand in the deck. Dracula. Frankenstein. Wolfman. The Mummy. It’s the all-stars – you just can’t beat that line-up. Numerous attempts have been made over the years to revitalize this franchise into something more thrilling than a theme park attraction, and the results have ranged from awe-inspiring (1999’s “The Mummy”) to ugh-inspiring (2004’s Van Helsing – from the same director as “The Mummy” no less). The latest in a long line of attempts, “The Wolfman” falls somewhere in between.
Self-admitted Wolfman geek Bernicio Del Toro plays Laurence Talbot, a successful Victorian actor who returns to his small town roots to investigate his brother’s disappearance. He arrives too late – his brother has been chased down and mauled by a Wolfman (but not the Wolfman) in the first five minutes. Once in town, he meets his estranged father John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) whom, as we can expect of Anthony Hopkins, is very, very, very, very strange. He also meets his brother’s fiance Gwen (Emily Browning). Laurence promises Gwen he’ll discover the truth behind his brother’s murder, but unavoidably, he begins to fall for Gwen. He tracks his brother’s dealings to a Gypsy camp on the outskirts of town, where he winds up getting mauled by the same beast who killed his bro. You know the drill. Laurence is cursed to change into the Wolfman, which puts a crink in his ongoing investigation. To make matters worst, a Scotland Yard detective has arrived (played by Agent Smith himself – Hugo Weavings), and believes the recent killings may be linked to Laurence Talbot’s past history of mental illness – and as you can guess, the answers Laurence seeks are found in his deep, dark past.
When you boil it down, the movie is neither as scary nor as clever as it credits itself – but it is every bit as fun and as gory. The make-up (by Rick Baker of “American Werewolf” fame) succeeds in updating the Jack Pierce make-up to modern times without losing the Universal appeal. The homages only keep coming as the second Wolfman (you can probably guess who it is) bares a close resemblance to the 1960’s Hammer version in “Curse of the Werewolf.” Seeing the two distinct icons go at it fur, fangs and all is far too much fun and far too short. The cast further elevates the flick above the cheesy plot. Del Toro edges Lon Chaney Jr.’s old-fashioned charm with more than his fair share of mental angst, and the result is a more proactive protagonist at the heart of the mythic beast. Browning’s Gwen is equally proactive, but aside from a bold turn in the climax, there really isn’t much for her to do. Hugo Weaving is great chewing scenery, while Anthony Hopkins is just plain creepy, even when he’s just eating an apple.
I usually ignore the format wars – my only source of blu-ray is a Playstation 3 hooked up to a tiny standard TV. However, if you are a dyed-in-the-fur Wolfman fan, I have to recommend the blu-ray, which features deleted scenes, two alternate endings an extensive look on the making of the film, and even the original Lon Chaney Jr. classic. The standard DVD version is brutally mauled in comparison. All you get is the director’s cut and a handful of deleted scenes – and that’s it. So if you want to get the full Wolfman experience, be sure to seek the Blu Moon.
Howl at the Wolfman on Blu-Ray for $23.58 shipped at Wal-Mart.
Tune in next week for another terrifying Halloween treat as the B-List Bargain Bin Crew digs up another scary ripe for your collection. But if you can’t wait that long, check out our Best Halloween Deals for more moon-lit must-have’s!