Way back in film history they used to make monster/horror films that actually succeeded in scaring you. They relied less on gore and graphic violence and more on mood, atmosphere and general creepiness. The 1930s and 40s was the golden age for these types of films. Now monster/horror films are going through the exact opposite in regards to success. Maybe if they returned to the formula that worked so well in the past the success would follow along.
That was probably the thinking behind Joe Johnston’s (Captain America: The First Avenger, Jumanji) take on the classic monster/horror film, The Wolfman. When it came out in the theatres the film got slaughtered. The only positive thing that came out of it was it won an Oscar for Best Make-Up. If you were to look at it from the viewpoint of what type of film Johnston is trying to make then he has succeeded. There are plenty of tense moments due to the not really seeing the beast until the end of the film and the overall dark atmosphere. I, for one, was not at ease while watching The Wolfman.
In Blackmoor, England the year is 1891 and some kind of beast goes on a rampage in the woods killing a few men. Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt – Looper, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) writes a letter to the actor Lawrence Tolbert (Benicio Del Toro – Snatch, The Usual Suspects) to plea for his help to find his brother Ben. Gwen is Ben’s fiancée. Lawrence returns after a long absence to Tolbert Hall. As a child his father shipped Lawrence off to an asylum for a year and then off to his aunt’s in America. His estranged father, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins – Silence of the Lambs, Proof), greets him. Lawrence offers his help to find the missing Ben. Sir John informs him that he’s too late and that Ben’s body was found near the Priory road.
Ben’s body has been ravaged and looks like a wild animal has gotten to it. A man at the pub tells everyone about an animal/creature that attacked people 25 years ago on the night of a full moon. Gwen wants to know what happened to her fiancé.
Lawrence goes to the gypsies for some answers about what happened to his brother. Several are attacked while Lawrence is there. The gypsies say it is the devil. Lawrence sees some kind of beast escape into the forest. While chasing it, he is attacked and bitten. A gypsy medicine woman (Geraldine Chaplin – Doctor Zhivago, The Impossible) saves Lawrence and says he can only be released by someone who loves him. Gwen returns to Tolbert Hall to take care of Lawrence.
Inspector Francis Abberline (Hugo Weaving – The Matrix, V For Vendetta) of Scotland Yard arrives in town. He wants to speak to Lawrence as Abberline has heard of the attack on him. Based on the line of questioning it seems like he is suspicious of Lawrence. Men from the town come and want to take Lawrence as they know he was bitten by the beast and are worried about what will become of him. The full moon is coming up. Sir John shoots one of them and scares them off his property.
For her protection, Lawrence sends Gwen back to London. The villagers are not giving up at trying to get Lawrence and the beast. They believe that Tolbert Hall is cursed. Sir John warns Lawrence that his darkest days are ahead.
Benicio Del Toro is a great actor. Full stop. Originally the role was Lon Chaney’s and Del Toro is not too shabby a replacement. He brings a somber and tormented character to Lawrence. There is enough ambivalence to the character he creates that you are not completely sure of his sanity or innocence as the story is being built up.
The atmosphere is bang on. It is set largely in a large, cement, cold and in a state of disrepair old mansion in the English countryside. There is plenty of fog, forest, full moons, and darkness. Johnston does not let things drag with too much dialogue. It keeps going at a good clip. He also wisely limits it to 95 minutes. The make-up is first rate and the score by Danny Elfman (The Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride) is sufficiently spooky. There are also enough bloody limbs being thrown about and heads decapitated to make gore fans happy, but not so many as to make regular folk queasy.
A weak point of the film is the story. Due to the decision to keep it short and sweet some parts of the story that should have been elaborated are not leaving some holes. For instance, the love story between Gwen and Lawrence is really underwritten. Emily Blunt tries to do her best with the essentially window dressing character she has been given, but even this talented actress can only do so much.
To me this is the perfect film to update. It has a timeless quality to it and will always be creepy/scary. While admittedly the plot is a little weak, the production is quite opulent with the visuals, sets, costumes, and make-up being great and the acting is strong.
-Deleted and Extended Scenes
-Return of The Wolfman
-The Beast Maker
-The Wolfman Unleashed