Monday, February 15, 2010

Hair of the Dog

I was mildly surprised to find myself enjoying the heck out of the remake of The Wolfman (2010, directed by Joe Johnston), given that everything about this film, from the change of directors midstream to the changing release dates, screamed "disaster." For all of that, it's a pretty good fusion of classic horror and the more sanguinary contemporary horror movie, one that respects its sources and doesn't feel the need to trample all over an icon in the name of becoming relevant to a contemporary audience. The basic story still works. So this film doesn't really go off the reservation or take any real swings at the fence, per se, but, y'know, the original item didn't do that either. It's ENORMOUSLY better than any of Universal's previous attempts to jump-start their monster franchises.

Boy, howdy! is this a good-looking movie in a gloomy/gothic sort of way. The production design is primarily done in grays and blacks and reds; it reminds me of Edward Gorey's set designs for the 1970s stage revival of Dracula. The actors are all very good, with Benicio Del Toro doing an uncanny impersonation of the Chaneys (he actually looks more like Lon senior than junior), and Anthony Hopkins doing a variation of eccentric that should be a dead giveaway as to the plot turns later in the movie. Emily Blunt is fine in the thankless role of love interest--more than fine, actually; she manages to erase any fond memories I might harbor of Evelyn Ankers. Some of that might be the work of her wardrobe, which is elegant and gothy without being stereotypical.

The set pieces are engaging and well staged. Joe Johnston is a fairly classical director who doesn't go in for the run and gun style, so the audience is clued in to what's actually happening on-screen most of the time. The filmmakers have resisted the urge to tone down the violence for the PG-13 audience, but the various dismemberments don't overwhelm things. The best scene in the movie is the asylum scene, where poor, doomed Larry Talbot is trotted out for the assembled psychiatrists to demonstrate how baseless his delusions are. I wish it had a better instinct for the jugular, but it's a fun scene. And the end of the movie is like the end of the best Paul Naschy werewolf movie ever made.

All told, a pleasant surprise.

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