During the 1930s and 40s Universal studios was known for their monster films with such characters as Dracula and Frankenstein, and feeling the urge to pull from their repertoire, Universal chose to remake the 1941 film The Wolf Man. Unfortunately the excitement of these films during their time has worn off with the newer version, and instead we are left with a film that seems more restricted than inspired by the original, with a little added gore, special effects and relevant actors to snaz things up a bit.
The story for The Wolfman takes a different spin on this creature than the predecessor. This time around Lawrence returns home after receiving a letter from his brother’s fiancé Gwen, informing him that his brother has gone missing. When he finally arrives at the family estate his brother’s body has already been discovered in an extremely gruesome condition, comparable to many murders that have recently been occurring. While looking for who or what is responsible for these deaths, Lawrence is bitten by a fast, burly, and very violent creature (let’s face it, you know what it is). Insert full moon here (I am doing you a favor by skipping ahead because there is way too much empty film to fill in the time between major events). Now Lawrence must deal with what he has become and the suspicions being lobbed on him by the townspeople and law enforcement.
The story may be different than the original film, but don’t let this initiative fool you, The Wolfman is horribly uninspired and uses the same techniques and images over and over again. Let’s start with the most obvious: the moon. We get it, the movie is called The Wolfman and he changes into a beast when the full moon is out. It doesn’t take much for this idea to sink in, yet every other shot in this film seems to be of the full moon to drive it into our heads that some chaos is about to go down. Let’s just say I am glad that it was overcast when I left the theater because I did not want to look up into that stupid ball in the sky. But then I noticed the fog… If the moon wasn’t obnoxious enough, it was then decided that the best way to create an eerie environment for the film was to break out the fog machines and flood the set with as much as possible. The only set design choice that was more obnoxious than this fog was to litter the mansion with dead animal heads and carcasses. These people sure do lack subtlety…
The cheesy inspiration from the horror films of the past did not stop with the overuse of images such as these. The movie is drained of pretty much all color, instead, drawing its dynamic from light and excessive use of shadow. This may set the mood nicely, but it might as well have been shot in black and white because few colors are thrown in to take advantage of this muted color palate. Even the blood seems dull, avoiding the bright reds that usually stand out in films that use this same concept of muted colors. However, the gore was enough of a shocker of its own with limbs and organs being thrown about that a color boost to these moments may have seemed excessive.
Though the design fails horribly, the effects and makeup of this creature feature are one of the better elements. The transitions between man and beast may not be the best I have seen, but are still pretty strong and show the pain that goes with this transition, including little details like blood and teeth shifting (now that I think about it, I think I remember a tooth falling out. How does he get his teeth back when he becomes human again? Maybe I just imagined that part though…). Plus, the movement of the beast is an interesting thing to watch. At times it is slightly awkward, but it was an interesting idea to have him move between standing on his hind legs like a man to lopping around on all fours like an animal, emphasizing the question this film tries to deeply present about the duality of the man and beast in one body. However, in concern to the wolfman, the computer generated images actually pale in comparison to the practical makeup put on the actor.
Between the more exciting moments of the full moon the movie stretches out and becomes quite boring. This is not helped by the fact that the characters aren’t that great. For the most part the actors do what the script asks of them, but at times it even seems that they have lost interest in the piece. Anthony Hopkins pulls off the creepy father figure to Benicio Del Toro’s Lawrence with little depth, while Del Toro seems to rely on his sickly appearance and general hairiness. Well, in all fairness his portrayal of the beast is pretty good, but his character during his time as a man leaves much to be desired. But this is nothing in comparison to Emily Blunt. As much as I love her there is little to be done to give this role any substance. Other than being there to fulfill her side of a horrible romantic element to the movie, in all honesty there is no point to her character and time on screen other than to prove that women existed back then and are great at swabbing at hurt men with wet cloths.
On the whole The Wolfman is a poorly made film that seems to lack a clear understanding of what it is trying to be or who these characters are. The story is horrible and drawn out, with only a few moments of gore and cheap scares to add a little momentum to the progression. These moments may add some excitement, but their randomness is just frustrating because there seems to be no clear reasoning for who the wolfman kills other than just the fact that another spurt of blood is called for. Because of this (and pretty much everything else about this film), The Wolfman is an incredibly disappointing entry into the creature feature genre.
Final Grade: C-