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{No audio this week on account of my own lycanthropic rampage.}

There was a time when movie studios didn’t mind being associated with the unusual and the macabre. For years, Universal Studios seemed rather proud of its men becoming monsters. Bela Legosi inhabited the castle and cloak of Count Dracula, Boris Karloff took a couple bolts to the neck to bring audiences the creature of Doctor Frankenstein, and Lon Cheney inspired generations of furries to come by sprouting hair in odd places as The Wolfman. Oscar-winner and character actor staple Benicio Del Toro is a huge fan of Cheney (the actor, not the Dick) and helped bring a new version of this creature feature to movie theatres in 2010. If the production behind the scenes had kept its act together, it might have gone over better.

Courtesy Universal Pictures

It’s 1890, and our hero is Lawrence Talbot, an actor who spends half his time on stage and the other half looking for the hidden treasure at the bottom of a bottle of scotch. He gets word that his brother was savagely murdered near his ancestral home outside the sleepy English country hamlet called Blackmoor. Given his emotional connection to his brother and the heartfelt pleas of his would-be sister-in-law, he sets out to uncover what happened, even if that means putting up with his eccentric and possibly violently sociopathic father. During his investigation he gets jumped and bitten by a brutal and enigmatic creature. While the wound mysteriously heals, the process takes the better part of a month, and before you know it, the moon is full again againd Lawrence is growing hair in some very odd places, to say nothing of different bone configurations, more dense muscles and claws that can tear a man’s head clean from his body.

When we see the transformation take hold of our hero, it’s a decent blend of prosthetics, CGI and del Toro giving the role his all. Good sound design makes the cracking of knuckles and sprouting of teeth wince-inducing, playing into the overarching themes of horror and monstrosity. In a similar vein, while you may go into a movie about a wolfman expecting some blood, be aware that this one is full of gore, from gruesome dismemberments to the titular Wolfman chowing down on a hapless victim without the benefit of an after-dinner mint. The movie isn’t all that interested in taking prisoners or pandering to the squeamish, which is a point in its favor.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
They have some good chemistry.

The other thing The Wolfman has going for it is some pretty fine casting. Del Toro is a force to be reckoned with on his own, but Sir Anthony Hopkins very nearly steals the show as Talbot’s father. Instead of going full-on Hannibal Lecter from the start, his growth into the affable madness for which he’s become famous is a slow one, the climax all the more satisfying for the build-up. Emily Blunt and Hugo Weaving, as the love interest and the driven Scotland Yard inspector respectively, also slowly become more interesting as the film proceeds after somewhat placid introductions. Ms Blunt’s character in particular seems to defy the ‘damsel in distress’ thing many monster movies like to invoke, and I enjoyed seeing a woman act in a brave and determined manner without it feeling forced or contrived. It made sense, which is unfortunately more than I can say for the narrative structure of the film.

Unfortunately for the actors and special effects crew, the plot and script of the movie are kind of all over the place. It never really comes entirely off the rails in a bad way, but some story points happen too soon, some elements are a little out of place or awkwardly spliced into the flow of the story or some characters are too incidental to justify their screen time. The overall effect leaves one feeling the movie was cobbled together, but as the story isn’t incoherent, it’s more disconcerting than disappointing. I never quite felt like The Wolfman let me down, but I also felt it never truly lived up to its potential. Granted, when breathing new life into a classic you don’t necessarily want to reinvent the silver bullet. But being a troubled production with changes in directors and musicians and whatnot, it certainly could have turned out a lot worse, and when it’s firing on all cylinders it works very well indeed.

Courtesy Universal Pictures
“Hello, Lawrence.”

I was immediately reminded of Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the 1992 Francis Ford Coppola movie that did for classic vampires what this one does for classic werewolves. There as well as here, we have lurid romantic drama juxtaposed with gruesome violence and shameless bloodletting, and while The Wolfman didn’t have Dracula‘s pervasive sexuality, it also wasn’t saddled with a wooden Keanu Reeves. And come to think of it, Anthony Hopkins starred in both pictures, and a venerable character actor brought the eponymous creature to life. So if you enjoyed Bram Stoker’s Dracula, The Wolfman is right up your alley. They’re both a little over the top, and both suffer from some flaws in terms of production, pacing and overall presentation, but they are both a bloody good time.

Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.