‘THE WOLFMAN’ IS A TOTAL DOG

I knew it couldn’t last, but I didn’t expect it to end quite so quickly.

After having watched two excellent action thrillers (“Edge of Night” and “From Paris With Love”) on consecutive weekends,  my string abruptly ended with the absolutely abysmal experience of sitting through “The Wolfman,” a remake of the 1941 classic that starred Lon Chaney and Bela Lugosi. Anyone who pays the full price to see this horrifically horrendous “horror” movie is going to be thoroughly pissed off.

The film is set during 1891 in Blackmoor, England, and the story begins when Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns home after a prolonged absence to help search for his brother, who has gone missing. Lawrence learns about the situation in a letter from Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), his brother’s distraught fiancée, who implores Lawrence to help solve the mystery of the disappearing groom-to-be.

As the story progresses, we learn that Lawrence has not seen his father (Anthony Hopkins) for a long time and that his abrupt departure from home years ago was the result of his mother’s untimely and mysterious death. Lawrence’s reunion with his father is strained to say the least, and his subsequent search for his brother turns into a nightmare after he is bitten by a beast during a fight in a gypsy camp and ends up turning into a werewolf whenever the moon is full.

And if it’s not bad enough that the poor guy grows hair, fangs, and razor sharp nails during a full moon, he also ends up learning the truth about a horrible secret his father has been harboring for years. What a bummer!

Now werewolf movies have been around for a long time, and I am sure some of them are frightening, but this one packs all the fright power of ride on the merry-go-round. If you are familiar with werewolf lore, you know that it is supposed to take a silver bullet to kill the creatures. Midway through this movie, I was praying for the appearance of the masked man on his big white horse with his faithful Indian companion Tonto so that he could unload his twin six shooters into all the werewolves and put an end to my agonizing viewing experience. But alas, the Lone Ranger never showed up, and I was condemned to sitting there until the bitter end.

What is really puzzling about this movie is that it should have been so much better than it was. After all, the cast is a stellar one. You have two Academy Award winners in Del Toro and Hopkins, and the lovely Blunt earned a Golden Globe nomination for her stellar work in “The Young Victoria.” But for some reason this film falls completely flat despite terrific sets and outstanding costumes. It simply fails to establish even the remotest aura of terror and mystery, and some of the particularly gory scenes involving beheadings and dismemberments are actually funny instead of horrifying.

As you would expect, the incomparable Hopkins walks off with the acting honors in the film. Despite the movie’s overall cheesiness, Hopkins imbues his character with a satisfactory amount of eeriness, and in the film’s production notes, Hopkins explained what drew him to the project.

“Psychologically, people enjoy looking at the dark side of life. Transformation, resurrection, salvation, this story has it all. Sir John is ice-cold and doesn’t express any gentleness with tragedy or grief; that’s just the way he deals with his son. He also manipulates and needles him by offhand remarks, which are never overtly cruel, just something suggested.”

Hopkins also added some interesting insight into the relationship between John and his son Lawrence.

“It is one of coldness and abandonment. Lawrence has never been able to know his father, as he was sent away because of some unspeakable horror he witnessed as a child: the horror of his mother’s death. Sir John pushed him away and sent him to live in America, but he comes back to England as a world famous actor and discovers his brother is in trouble.”

If you are looking for a film that will put you on the edge of your seat, “The Wolfman” (Give a score of 3 just because Hopkins is in it.) definitely won’t do it. I admit that I never saw the original with Lon Chaney, but I’m willing to bet that it was a hell of a lot more effective than this modern version. I would most surprised if this film doesn’t leaving a lot of patrons howling for their money back.

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