THE WOLFMAN (15, 102 mins) Horror. Benicio Del Toro, Emily Blunt, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik, Antony Sher, Simon Merrells. Director: Joe Johnston.
Released: February 12 (UK & Ireland)
Some of cinema’s most iconic creatures including Count Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster and The Mummy hark back to the golden age of Universal Studios in the 1930s and 1940s, when Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi and Claude Rains stalked the big screen with malicious intent.
The furry fiend known as The Wolf Man first howled at the silvery moon in 1941 with a suitably hirsute Lon Chaney Jr in the lead role.
Almost 70 years later, the eponymous beast runs free again across the blood-spattered English countryside in director Joe Johnston’s affectionate remake.
By turns gleefully gory and tongue-in-cheek camp, The Wolfman is a diverting yarn, so long as you accept the film in the spirit it is intended: As a B-Movie with expensive make-up and visual effects.
A hokey gypsy proverb – "Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night may become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright..." – sets the tone, followed by a grisly prologue establishing the existence of the voracious creature in the woods surrounding the late 19th century hamlet of Blackmoor.
At the behest of his brother’s fiancee, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), stage actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns to the sleepy community to help search for his sibling Ben (Simon Merrells), who has vanished without trace.
After a fractious reunion with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins) and manservant Singh (Art Malik), Lawrence discovers that Ben is dead, eviscerated by a creature of the night.
Scotland Yard Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving) arrives in Blackmoor to investigate the brutal slaying, and witnesses the devastation of the beast firsthand after it attacks Lawrence and leaves its mark upon the nobleman. Lawrence grows ever closer to Gwen and as the next full moon looks down upon the village, something ungodly stirs in the Talbot mansion, hungry for human flesh...
With graphic scenes of mutilation, decapitation and dismemberment, The Wolfman certainly doesn’t stint on the fake blood as the titular predator slashes through an entire supporting cast, and a few of the lead actors too.
Director Johnston orchestrates some tense set pieces, with the requisite edge-of-seat jolts and scares.
The lighting design is especially effective, concealing characters and their sins in the shadows, lit by the occasional flash from a gun barrel.
Hopkins allows his accent to run almost as wild as the creature, grinning and winking through the script’s countless cliches, while Del Toro strikes a permanently mournful air, doomed never to claim Blunt’s buxom damsel as his own.
Lawrence and Gwen’s romance is too hurried to be credible, undermining the tearful finale.
Antony Sher out-camps the lot of them with a ridiculous accent as Dr Hoenneger, the London-based medic who foolishly believes Lawrence’s lycanthropy is all in his tortured mind.
He’ll learn ... the hard way.