Wolfman walks the line between B-movie and modern horror
In 1941 Lon Chaney Jr. took on the iconic roll of the Wolf Man. In 2010 The Wolfman got a CG update with Benicio del Toro starring as Lawrence Talbot, an already troubled man who transforms into the beast at the sight of a full moon. While the new film pays homage to the classic with a similar look and storyline, it sometimes struggles to navigate the territory between B-movie fun and truly scary horror.
Set in the 1880s The Wolfman tells the story of Talbot as he returns to his father (Anthony Hopkins) at the family estate to help look for his missing brother. Soon, he discovers that his brother has been killed by the same savage creature that has been menacing the local town. The villagers hunt down the creature and Lawrence is attacked in a local gypsy settlement. As he is stitched up by an old gypsy woman, he is warned of the werewolf curse. His brother’s fiancée Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt) stays on to take care of him as the two discover that his wounds are healing at an unnatural speed. Soon, a detective from Scotland Yard (Hugo Weaving) arrives to investigate and Lawrence comes to realize the brutal nature of the beast first hand. As the story rolls on, Lawrence and Gwen start to realize what must be done to end the curse.
Riffing on the plot of the original film, The Wolfman ups the ante with more blood, more action, and more CG transformation scenes. Shots of del Toro becoming the wolf are like a digital version of American Werewolf in London and the full wolf makeup is almost exactly like the 1941 version. The movie also packs lots of quick scares with loud noises or flashes of the wolfman growling menacingly. Still, the spooky estate home covered in cobwebs and characters in the gypsy settlement instantly draw comparison to horror parodies like Mel Brook’s Dracula: Dead and Loving It. A scene of man getting his head ripped off will make you laugh, even if you’re not sure you’re supposed to.
The film struggles with trying to be both a throwback to the original classic and an action-packed modern horror movie at the same time. Is it a funny and amusing B-movie or a big budget re-imagining with a cast of well-known stars? It feels hard to determine how seriously to take the performances when you’re not sure of the real tone of a scene. The common locations (an English pub, the misty moors, a spooky mansion) and archetypal characters (an old gypsy woman, hostile townsfolk, a disbelieving detective) seem like tongue-in-cheek tributes to classic horror films of the past, but are played with sincerity, leading to some confusion with interpretation. If you’re looking for sound effects and action, you’ll get them, and if you’re looking for shout-outs to the original, you’ll get those, but navigating the scenes in between can be tough. The true tone of the film will most likely be determined by each individual depending on experience with the genre and the original film.