The Wolfman DVD Review

Universal remakes one of its most iconic monster movies, with Benicio Del Toro in the lead role as The Wolfman. But can it generate the requisite scares? Ben finds out…

Cats. I can’t stand the creatures myself. Vain, pompous animals that stroll in, crap on the floor, expect you to clean it up, then sod off out once you’ve fed them. Like teenagers. For all you cat owners out there, you know when it’s sat on your lap purring? He’s not being cute. He actually saying, “Yeah. You’re my bitch.” Give me a dog any day. Lovable and faithful. They’re called man’s best friend for a reason.

From Gelert to Greyfriars Bobby, history is filled with stories that show the courage and loyalty of the domesticated dog. If a baby were left in the middle of a road (which could happen), the dog would tenderly scoop the infant up, return it to its mother and probably change its nappy in the meantime. The cat, on the other hand, would just sit there licking himself. Even when a dog occasionally snaps and, let’s say, eats said baby, you know he had to have a good reason. That baby was probably going to grow into the next Daily Mail columnist.

There are only two things I don’t like dogs doing. The first is when the house is quiet but the dog can sense something that you can’t see, sniffing the air. My auntie’s dogs used to do this all the time. Although I think the reason this freaks me out is because my gran would then proceed to have a conversation with my long-dead grandad. That kind of thing sticks with you.

The other thing I don’t like is when your dog starts howling at the moon. It’s not the howling that concerns me, but the realisation that dawns on you that your lovable flea-ridden old friend, who only moments earlier was scratching his arse along the floor with his feet in the air, is related to the wolf. Deep down inside him lies the instinct of his canine brethren, and in that moment could rip your throat out and feast on your corpse. Or is it just me?

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There’s a real primal fear of wolves that stories (and my intro) have been milking for years. Red Riding Hood and The Three Little Pigs are probably the most famous, but there are many more folklores in many different cultures. I guess this is where the legend of lycanthropes came in.

On celluloid, werewolves have always done pretty well in the past, and seemed to peak in the 80s with a string of modern classics –  An American Werewolf In London, The Howling, Wolfen and Neil Jordan’s bizarre but stunning The Company Of Wolves – but have suffered of late. Recent films have been poor examples, with Dog Soldiers and Ginger Snaps providing the only rays of light.

Werewolves have also fallen behind their monster rivals, zombies and vampires, in popularity stakes, even having to share the stage with their garlic-fearing rivals in drivel like the Underworld trilogy and Twilight.

Hoping to restore pride back to the werewolf genre, Universal has blown the cobwebs off its classic film with the remake of The Wolfman, now available on DVD.

Benicio Del Toro plays Lawrence Talbot, a successful Shakespearean actor who returns to his family estate after learning of the disappearance of his brother. As soon as he’s reunited with his estranged father (played with suitable relish by Anthony Hopkins) he’s told that his brother’s severely mutilated corpse has been discovered.

Whilst investigating his brother’s death and falling for his widow Gwen (not hard to see why, since she’s played by Emily Blunt), he learns of the local villagers’ fears about the gypsy camp nearby that may provide some answers for him.

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Unless you haven’t been paying attention to the film’s title, it’s not a spoiler to say that somewhere down the line Lawrence has an encounter with a wolf-like beast that leaves him with the condition of being slightly hairier when a full moon comes out. With revelations about his past and being responsible for an increasing body count at night, can Lawrence save himself?

I have to be truthful and say that I’m not too familiar with the original Wolf Man film. I’m familiar with the story, and, of course, the look of Lon Chaney, Jr. as the eponymous character, but other than that, I’m not really an expert. This leaves me in the position of having to judge the remake solely on its own merits rather than comparing the two.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that The Wolfman is one of the best looking films I’ve seen in a while. The look of Victorian Britain is stunning, and props most go to the director of photography as he really earns his wages in the film. The English countryside has never looked so beautiful, and similarly, so threatening.

The acting in The Wolfman is a bit hit and miss, with, unfortunately, Del Toro guilty of a very strange performance. He’s an actor I have a great deal of time for, and after learning that this film was a labour of love for him as he was such a fan of the original, I was, perhaps, hoping for more.

There’s no issue with accents, as his American twang is described away quickly with his character being sent away many years ago, but, although he looks every inch the 1930s matinee idol, there’s just something off about his portrayal.

Thank goodness, then, for Sir Anthony Hopkins, who just chews the scenery whenever he’s on screen. Emily Blunt also continues her rise to stardom with a fine performance in a role that, in lesser hands, could have become annoying very fast.

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The collection of ‘what have I seen him in’ and ‘I recognise his face’ British actors offer fine support as the gossiping and God-fearing villagers that offer the right mix of serious drama and camp horror clichés. And Hugo Weaving gives the kind of performance that he’s hired for in the role of a detective that fans of Ripper lore will recognise.

Just like this review, one of the issues the film suffers from is how long it takes to get to the meat of the story. I’ve no problem with films that build story and suspense, but The Wolfman tends to drag in the run up, and if it wasn’t for the paranormal topics, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’re watching a very expensive BBC costume drama. The film isn’t helped by some poor editing decisions that just suck the life out of some scenes.

Of course, any film called The Wolfman lives or dies on how it handles the main character, and, unfortunately, The Wolfman himself is a real let down. There’s no denying that the make-up job is outstanding, but with Rick Baker behind it you wouldn’t expect anything else. The look is more of an up-to-date version of the classic Wolf Man look, which is commendable, just not very scary. Yes, he has sharp teeth, but he looks more cuddly than terrifying.

It’s hard to class The Wolfman as a horror film, as I defy anyone to be even remotely scared. Even the lazy jump scares don’t hit their marks. But whilst it’s not scary, it certainly is gory. I’m not saying the film ranks on a par with Braindead, but even so, I was surprised by the level that the filmmakers went to. Expect to see guts and exposed spines.

The Wolfman also suffers from some truly terrible CGI. I was already fearing the transformation scene (knowing that the decison was to use CGI), but even so, was really underwhelmed when it finally happened.

When you’ve already got Rick Baker on board, to then not fully use his skills seems like a real waste. This may seem a strange comment when talking about a film involving werewolves, but it looks really fake. Even though it’s nearly 30 years old, An American Werewolf In London still keeps its transformation scene crown (also done by Rick Baker).

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Also keep an eye out for the worst CGI bear ever committed to film. It’s a real sight to behold.

The Wolfman is not necessarily a bad film. It has its moments, and as mentioned earlier (werewolf aside), looks stunning. I just feel it’s a film of missed opportunities.

Hopefully, this won’t have deterred Universal, and it continues to remake its classic monster movies so, fingers crossed, Guillermo del Toro’s Frankenstein will still see the light of day.


On the disc I received there were only a couple of deleted and extended scenes.

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The Wolfman is out now and available from the Den Of Geek Store.


2 out of 5