Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Wolfman" delivers spooks, blood, and fog

It's a full moon -- cue the howl

The Wolfman (2010)
102 min., rated R
Grade: B

Despite a deferred release and troubled production, and still-uncharted news of Werewolf Women of the S.S. in the works, The Wolfman (now one word rather than two) is the right hokey-fun kind of B-movie popcorn picture.

It's a “nice” surprise in the name of bonecrunching werewolf transformations and blood-spurting beheadings. This reasonably entertaining reboot to the 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. classic, more nostalgic of the vintage Universal monster movies than Van Helsing, redates the story back to 1891 in Blackmoor, England.

Benicio Del Toro plays American stage actor Lawrence Talbot, the prodigal son who returns to the manor of his father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins), when his brother disappears for weeks and his body later found mauled. Then during a gypsy camp attack, Lawrence is in fact bit by a werewolf and in return becomes one too when the moon is full. The beast is on, cue the howl!

Del Toro looks to be in a state of tupor, unlike an all-smiles Chaney, but is pretty solid as the hairy guy (he's brooding and damaged with daddy issues!), and a phoned-in Hopkins gets to be a Sir and enjoyably chews the scenery. Emily Blunt looks lovely as Gwen, Lawrence's brother's fiancee, giving sultry gazes, and Hugo Weaving is a more-lively presence as a Scotland Yard constable with mutton chops.

Lavishly produced and great-looking, this Wolfman has a classy, spooky Victorian look drenched in fog and full moons, matched well with an incessant Gothic score by Tim Burton's go-to guy, Danny Elfman. Atmospheric with some good scares but also gory, a lot of blood is gleefully shed and heads will roll.

Director Joe Johnston ably directs, some dull stretches aside, but keeps the pacing tight during the action. Writers Andrew Kevin Walker (Sleepy Hollow, go figure) and David Self keep the silver bullets, lycanthropy, and gypsy lore but leave the jokey gags to John Landis' An American Werewolf in London and goes for a more somber, coldly humorless tone.

Although some gallows humor would've been appreciated, it mostly works as a horror-period piece. Leave it to Rick Baker to do the make-up and effects of the transformation scenes, featuring twisting fingers and limbs; he did this well almost 30 years ago in London and it still holds up, without looking overly campy or CGI-laden.

We'll take a Chewbacca double over a springing computerized cartoon any day.

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