The Wolfman: Lon Chaney would be proud
Though film remakes have a reputation in horror circles of being unmitigated disasters (my hackles rise just thinking about Nicholas Cage butchering The Wicker Man!) I’m going to go out on a limb and say I love the new version on The Wolfman. Now the 1941 original starring Lon Chaney is an undisputed classic – but I think even the wolfman himself would howl with pleasure over this one.
The opening scene sends little shivers down the spine of the true fan who will immediately recognise the poem from the original:
- 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.
The Victorian setting- replete with misty moors, eerie manor house housing ghosts of the family’s troubled past, and the usual gaggle of gypsys and superstitious locals – is new, but works well to create the right atmosphere of mystery and suspense (and of course to capitalise on the craze for all things Victorian at the moment!).
The inclusion of Hugo Weaving as Inspector Aberline (more famous for his work on the Jack the Ripper Case!) adds another element of interest into an already full dance card of celebrated character actors. Anthony Hopkins plays an eccentric and increasingly sinister patriarch (no surprises there!) and Benicio Del Toro (a collector of original Wolfman memorabilia) has just the right hangdog look to play the confused, melancholy Talbot Jnr.
The ‘look’ of the wolfman is strikingly similar to the original – with Del Toro becoming the man-wolf hybrid made famous by Lon Chaney rather than the ‘large wolf’ type werewolf favoured by modern films. Interestingly it seems the hirsuit Del Toro made make-up artist Rick Baker’s job a little harder: “Where do you go from there? He’s practically there as it is! … going from Benicio to Benicio as the Wolfman isn’t a really extreme difference” (you can read the rest of the interview here).
The attention to detail in the set is amazing – it will take a few watches to really see all the curios scattered through the house – and the clues to the real mystery of the wolfman that are hidden in plain sight. And I’m certain the cinematographers had enormous fun setting up shots that mirror those from the original film, but with a wry twist here and there.
The Wolfman is no ‘prodigal son’ but a faithful heir to the Hammer throne.
The best bits: the scene in the asylum’s lecture theatre, and the bloody fingerprints on the piano keyboard.
Rating: 4 severed thumbs