To my amazement, Benicio Del Lobo made a perfectly good Larry Talbot, and let's face it: he's a much better actor than Creighton Chaney. No Oscars on Creighton's shelf. Not even a nomination. And it's not like you have to be good-looking to play a wolfman, which is fortunate, because he isn't.
The movie has everything you could look for in a classic monster movie: a spooky, always-foggy forest, creepy moors, a village full of folks who hang out at the pub all day, just waiting for any excuse to become a torch-bearing mob (led by a rabble-rousing priest who habitually encourages mob rule!), and and a dark and sinister huge haunted castle, full of dust, cobwebs, stuffed animal heads, old secrets, a sinister Indian manservant, and clearly no maid, because the place hasn't been swept or dusted in centuries. Castle Dracula had better housekeeping, and I should know, as I not only lived there for a while, but I inherited it when Count Vlad Tepes died.
This photo does however, reveal the movie's one glaring error. (If factual errors matter in a movie about a man who sprouts hair and fangs every month on the full moon, hair and fangs which, in the morning, retreat back into his head!) A caption at the start of the movie states categorically that the story takes place in 1891. But in this picture you can plainly see Tower Bridge, which wasn't finished until 1894. In 1891, they might have started construction, but this movie shows it fully completed, three years too early. (At that, it's better than Tim Burton's unfortunate film of Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, which has Sweeney sail into London in the 1840s past Tower Bridge, up and done, 50 years before it was built. Doesn't anyone do any research on films any more?)
I must add that the decision to set this film in 1891, which is actually well before when the original movie is set (in so far as the period of the original The Wolfman can be detected. The car and the fashions suggest 1941, while the gypsy wagons, the lack of telephones, and the general air of ignorance suggests some time earlier. And if it is 1941 Wales, where's World War II?), helps with the atmosphere and the whole Universal-Hammer classic monster movie look and vibe. How boring it would have been to have updated it to the present. Talbot Castle looks so much spookier all lit with candles (None of this newfangled gaslight for weird old Sir John Talbot. Candles only!)
And what would The Wolfman be without the wizened old gypsy crone Maleva? You gotta have her, and they do, played by Geraldine Chaplin, Charlie Chaplin's formerly-beautiful daughter, now reduced to playing old crones, and having fun doing it. She may not be as camp as Maria Ouspenskaya (Who, in the original The Wolfman, was supposed to be Bela Lugosi's mother, despite being five years younger than Lugosi. To her credit, she doesn't look it.), but Geraldine's still fun.
Even the famous silver-wolf's-head cane is back, if less important to the plot this time around. It's just as scary-looking too. No pentagrams in the new film though.
Even a man who is pure in heart,
And the Wolfman still has a taste for pretty Gwen Conliffe, although as played (wonderfully I might add. If she'd played Irene Adler in the wretched new Sherlock Holmes film, it would have been better, though still lousy.) by Emily Blunt, she's no shrinking screamer.
Of course Sir Anthony Hopkins, now a seasoned veteran of horror movies, from Bram Stoker's Dracula to the Hannibal Lector movies, where he became one of the few actors ever to win an Oscar for playing a monster, steals every scene he's in, in Claude Rains's old role of Sir John Talbot. Of all the characters common to both films, Sir John is the most changed. He is nothing like the hard-headed rationalist Claude Rains played. In fact, he has more than a whiff of Dr. Lector to him.
The murders are shot with wit. Are they gory? Well yes, but the muted spooky colors they are using don't have bright reds that pop in your face, and you can enjoy the wit. There's a death in quicksand, not because of the quicksand, but occurring in it, which made me laugh twice at the wit. There's a hand still firing a gun when its arm is no longer attached to anything. Sir Anthony Sher (Not to be confused with Sir Anthony Hopkins. Lots of "Sir Anthonys" in this film), who plays an over-the-top evil insane asylum director who learned healthcare for the mentally-ill from Dr. DeSade, has a hilarious scene of pontificating pompously about Larry's "delusions" while not noticing the man turning into a wolfman behind him, nor the horror of his terrified audience. When he gets his, everyone cheers. My favorite witty shot was a close-up of dirty fingers playing the piano, and leaving bloody fingerprints on the ivory keys.
And then there is the brain-addled tween who posted the following email on Universal Picture's website. (I have left her spelling, grammar, and phrasing as is):
Of course, I shot a cameo for the new The Wolfman, playing Benicio's glamorous stage co-star, but they cut me from the finished film. Something about "too many monsters for one movie." Also, there were some complaints that I was scaring the werewolves.
I just hope the picture is enough of a success that Universal will go ahead and greenlight the inevitable sequel: a remake of Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman, though the original would be close to impossible to touch.
You can read more about the original The Wolfman and Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman in Little Dougie's silly little book: The Q Guide to Classic Monster Movies. Meanwhile, for more first-rate entertainment, Lost continues to be amazing in its final season.
And I'm still recapping Survivor over at The Huffington Post. The most recent column is titled Never Wear Feathers in Your Hair. There will be a new one next Friday, and on Monday, look for my annual review of the Oscar Awards Ceremonies there as well.