Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bite Me!

Lawrence Talbot: "In half an hour the full moon will rise, and I'll turn into a wolf."

Lou Costello: "You and twenty million other guys."

Thus spake Lou Costello in Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein, 62 years ago, the last movie with the character of Lawrence Talbot, aka, The Wolfman, in it, until now that is, because Universal has given us a brand new remake of Curt Siodmak's beloved original 1941 horror fantasy classic, The Wolfman. I saw it this afternoon, and ...

I ...


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.

I'd been wondering how Del Lobo could play a Welshman, but Universal fixed that problem. They moved the setting for the movie out of Wales and into England. Yes, Benicio Del Lobo is far more believable as an Englishman than as a Welshman. Actually, they did just what Curt Siodmak did when faced with the task of figuring out how Creighton Chaney, born in Oklahoma, could play a Welsh lord. They had him playing a prodigal son who left home young and had been living in America, where, in the new version, he's become a star-level Shakespearean actor. (Siodmak did not have Creighton play Larry Talbot as a star-level Shakespearean actor because, well, he'd have been laughed off the screen.) As it is, we see Del Lobo playing Hamlet, but wisely don't hear him. Che Hamlet would seem a tad odd on the London stage.

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.

But before Universal ever made The Wolfman, they made a first attempt at a werewolf movie in 1935, with Werewolf of London. This new movie plays homage to that picture as well, by bringing Larry Talbot to London briefly, so he can run riot, going on a marvelous, funny-scary rampage in the very heart of the British capital itself.

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?)

And I have to give them credit. In this movie, the moon is only full one night a month. In the old wolfman movies the moon was usually full for an average of three nights a month, which would require the moon to halt in its orbit for three days, which would result in it crashing into the earth, which would be a catastrophe next to which, a little thing like a wolfman would be small pickings.

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!)

The make up devised for The Wolfman by Rick Baker honors Jack Pierce's original make-up design. Baker won an Oscar 30 years ago for making David Naughton into a werewolf for John Landis's An American Werewolf in London, and this is a much better movie. (It also turned David into an instant has-been. Can you name even one other movie he starred in, before or since?) Baker took his medicine too. He plays a small cameo role as the Wolfman's first victim.

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.

And yes, Siodmak's famous spot of doggerel is in the movie too. After all, you have to have:

Even a man who is pure in heart,

And says his prayers by night,

May become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms,

And the Autumn moon is bright.

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.

Of course, not everyone loves the new film. The attention-span deprived critic who reviewed it for Entertainment Weekly found the first half of the film slow-moving. What an idiot, who doesn't understand building mood and suspense. I loved every second of the movie.

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):

"This movie was a complete waste and I feel that it offends ALL Twilight Fans around the world, that including myself. For one, it was a COMPLETE remaking of the Wolf Pack from the Twilight Saga: New Moon. It gives the werewolves a bad name and makes them look like some deformed mutation of a rabid dog. I actually started to like werewolves after seeing Jacob Black and all his awesomeness on the big screen at the movies. That was until I saw your crappy remake of what you call to be a 'were wolf'. I don't see how you live with yourself for making it the way you did. If I made this movie, I would be ashamed to even admit that I owned it. How can a werewolf be killed with a silver bullet? Better yet, have you saw the transformation of the man that is 'supposed' to be the wolf? He sits in some chair and his entire body turns in to some mutated freak. If you would watch the transformation of Jacob Black, (Taylor Lautner) he doesn't come close to looking as fake, cheap and or mutated as the wolf man. You tell me, who looks to be the better werewolf. Your stupid Wolf Movie didn't even make the top Movie for the charts; Valentines Day WITH TAYLOR FREAKIN' LAUTNER DID! Get that this is MY oppinion and I felt I wanted to express it because I saw that your email was on your site. I wanted to let you know this is what i thought of the wolf man that sucks. - Kayla"

There is something awesome and magnificent about stupidity and ignorance on that gigantic a level, not to mention Kayla's appalling taste. She must think that Mormon moron who wrote the atrocious Twilight books invented werewolves. She is clearly unaware that the new movie is a remake of an old movie. But to me, the gem is "It gives the werewolves a bad name." This stupid little fool is giving morons a bad name. Why am I convinced that Kayla is fat, and not a day over 13?

I was hanging out with werewolves long before Kayla was born. Is it my fault that my mere presence makes wolves out of any straight man?

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.

Until then, cheers darlings.