Benicio and Joe put the "Goth" back in Gothic with their old-school-meets-the new-ultra-violence remake of the horror classic The Wolfman.
Director Joe "Jumanji" Johnston and his screenwriters have stripped much of the mystery out of this tale of an English actor (Benicio Del Toro) who is once bitten, twice ravenous. Many of the beheadings and dismemberments (and don't forget disembowelings) happen in front of an entire moonstruck encampment, village or asylum. But it's well cast, well acted and, in its own gory way, fun.
Del Toro is Lawrence Talbot, an Americanized matinee idol, circa 1891, who drops Poor Yorick's skull (we see him as Hamlet) to dash home to Talbot Hall, where his brother has disappeared. His brother's fetching fiancée (lovely Emily Blunt) summoned him. But he is, alas, too late. Brother's dead. And Dad, Sir John (Anthony Hopkins, spot on), isn't grieving. He's moving on, pretending not to buy into the Blackmoor villagers' theory — that this is but the latest gruesome slaughter at the hands of a werewolf. They know the poem.
Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers at night
May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
Lawrence snoops around, questions the Gypsies, who are everyone's second-favorite suspect (dancing bears bite, right?), and tangles with a beast who chews up the Gypsy camp and many of the folks in it. He's been bitten. We know what's coming.
The Wolfman is one of those films with bad buzz — delays, reshoots, re-edits — but it shows little evidence of this, as the tone, look and level of violence appear to have long been fixed. The period-piece setting and genteel playing of the flirtations and confrontations (Hugo Weaving is the Scotland Yard detective) suggest that this would have been better in a PG-13 form.
Stupidest move? Trying to kill off Danny Elfman's instant-classic retro strings score.
Del Toro gives his least mumbly performance in years, Blunt provides the film with a little heart, and Hopkins delivers the laughs.
"Terrible things, Lawrence," Sir John scolds. "You've done terrible things."
Decades past An American Werewolf in London's depiction of the man-to-wolf transformation, it was probably wise to turn this into a modern "Let's treat this illness" parable. But the matter-of-fact way that everybody involved faces this supernatural horror drains most of the chills right out of it.
The original Lon Chaney Jr. version of this tale is almost 70 years old. But the writers and director should have heeded old Mr. Talbot's admonition — "The past is a wilderness of horrors" — and paid more attention to what really worked in that Wolf Man before inventing their own Wolfman.