A 'Wolfman,' With Nary A Vampire To Fight

Benicio Del Toro atop a roof

hide captionLuna Tics: For Benicio Del Toro's Lawrence Talbot, things get hairy when the moon is full.

Universal Pictures

The Wolfman

  • Director: Joe Johnston
  • Genre: Horror
  • Running Time: 103 minutes
Rated R for bloody horror violence and gore

With: Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt and Anthony Hopkins

Think werewolves are sweet and sexy? Think again, gentle Twilight fan — The Wolfman wants to rip your throat out.

Unfortunately, brutality is about all this update of 1941's The Wolf Man can do well. Mutilations, decapitations and disembowelments are handled with aplomb in the first R-rated film from director Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Jurassic Park III). But everything that doesn't involve gore feels like an afterthought.

The story's setup hasn't changed much: Late-Victorian-age actor Lawrence Talbot (the always feral Benicio Del Toro) returns home after receiving word that his brother has vanished. His sibling's body is soon found, and its mangled condition prompts a lot of theories — all of them nutty, although one happens to be true.

Despite a long estrangement from his imperious dad, Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins), Lawrence decides to remain at the family mansion in hopes of solving the mystery. He's also drawn to Gwen Conliffe, his brother's bereaved fiancee, played by — disconcertingly — Young Victoria herself, Emily Blunt.

Lawrence tangles with a lupine creature, is bitten and survives. After that, he transforms into a burly, fuzzy killer whenever the full moon rises, which seems to happen every 15 minutes or so. So Sir John packs him off to a crackpot asylum in south London, while plucky Gwen reads up on lycanthropy.

Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt i i

hide captionAnimal Attraction: Fresh off a turn as a young monarch, Emily Blunt turns up as the object of Talbot's affections — and maybe his appetites?

Universal Pictures
Benicio Del Toro and Emily Blunt

Animal Attraction: Fresh off a turn as a young monarch, Emily Blunt turns up as the object of Talbot's affections — and maybe his appetites?

Universal Pictures

Inevitably, the wolfman escapes, pursued by Scotland Yard's Inspector Aberline (Matrix villain Hugo Weaving). Lawrence heads north for a showdown with the other hairy beast, who helpfully rips off part of his clothing so the two can be distinguished as they tussle. (It's shirt versus skin, or rather, fur.)

The 1941 Wolf Man was set in Wales, which often represented wildness in British cinema of the period, and it featured a troupe of gypsies for good measure. The new version clings to the gypsies and stages one growl-and-rip scene amid the sort of stone megaliths the Celts left standing around, but relocates Talbot Manor to northern England — land of bleak moors, swirling fog and a palette bleached of every color save blood red.

Adding to the retro exoticism are the family's Sikh servant and Sir John's tales of strange adventures in the Hindu Kush (colonial Britain's name for Afghanistan.) Lawrence's late mother was some sort of Eastern beauty, which explains Del Toro's un-Anglo looks. As for his lack of a British accent — well, he's been doing Hamlet in New York a lot.

An earnest homage to old-school horror, The Wolfman tries to conjure the fusty atmosphere of a mid-century British picture while flaunting the latest techniques in simulated carnage. But in Johnson's hands, neither seems especially fresh. Maybe flipping the formula would have worked better — more Remains of the Day, and fewer remains of the bloody night.

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