To mix monsters, “The Wolfman” is one of those films that was put together like Frankenstein. It’s a patchwork mess, but it lives!
“The Wolfman” had severe problems … delays, reshoots, a change of director, new editors who recut, postponed openings, juggled music and added CGI. It should be a horror. But if you can get on its wavelength — or its bloodline — it may well entertain you.
It’s one of those movies which some audiences come to with definite expectations and rigid preconceptions. If you want “The Wolfman” to be Lon Chaney revisited, it isn’t. If you want “The Wolfman” to be a reverential retelling of the myth, it isn’t. It’s got its bloody tongue in its cheek. It asks the question, can you smile at bloodletting?
I don’t think the filmmakers would mind your laughing, they intend some campy moments. A movie that shows a disembodied hand firing a pistol isn’t to be taken with solemnity. Neither is a head bouncing across the floor. You can be horrified and amused at the same time.
We now live in a world where in our living rooms on TV we can see Starz’s original series “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” where blood outrageously spews everywhere. Throats are slit; legless torsos crawl across the sand. It’s stylized mayhem.
In “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” and “The Wolfman” you have to roll with the dismemberments. If you accept the sensibility of the film, you probably accept the acting.
Benicio Del Toro is a bull of a wolfman. He is morose and brooding as Lawrence Talbot, who returns to the family manor in Blackmoor, England, when his brother goes missing. Lawrence is estranged from his father and tormented by his past, and the manor has fallen into disrepair.
Anthony Hopkins is mostly soft spoken as the ominous, enigmatic and wretched father, Sir John Talbot. Hopkins delivers lines such as, “Terrible things, Lawrence. You’ve done terrible things.”
Emily Blunt has the role of Gwen, who has a penchant for Talbot men — or werewolves. It’s a role as foggy as the moors.
Hugo Weaving, who voiced the sheepdog Rex in “Babe” and played Agent Smith in the Matrix series, portrays Abberline, the intrepid inspector from Scotland Yard.
The original director was Mark Romanek, a music video director. He may have thought working with Nine Inch Nails prepared him for “The Wolfman.” Just before principal photography, Romanek was replaced by Texan Joe Johnston who directed “Hidalgo” and “Jurassic Park 3.” Texas meets Blackmoor, England. It’s a dicey encounter. How could Johnston survive the bad publicity and shattered hopes?
The screenplay was written by two writers well acquainted with evil: Andrew Kevin Walker, who wrote “Se7en,” and David Self, who did the screenplay for “Road to Perdition.”
Two editors were brought in late to rework “The Wolfman,” Mark Goldblatt and the inestimable Walter Murch, who won an Oscar for “The English Patient.” Could he revive Lawrence Talbot?
CGI was added. The overheated music by Danny Elfman was rejected then reinstated. It’s still overheated.
“The Wolfman” creates a spell. Director Johnston’s forte is special effects. The world of “The Wolfman” is smoky, foggy, misty, with shafts of light and artificial backgrounds far in the distance. The interior of the manor is cobwebbed and in gray deterioration. Flames on candles flicker. Outside the moon creeps through the clouds. And inside there is a blur of wolfmen.
With all the bloody musical chairs, “The Wolfman” should collapse. But “The Wolfman” has enough camp and verve to grab you by the throat. And maybe the funnybone.
Tony Macklin, a former college English and film professor, is still foraging for truth in literature and film, in Arkansas, Las Vegas and beyond.