On Saturday, February 26 at 2:30pm, at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater (8949 Wilshire Boulevard, Beverly Hills, CA), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presents its fifth annual symposium examining the nominees in the category of makeup and hair styles. This year’s event will be moderated by Makeup Artists and Hairstylists Branch Governor Leonard Engelman. This year’s nominees include Rick Baker and Dave Elsey for their work on THE WOLFMAN. Also nominated are Adrien Morot for BARNEY’S VERISON and Edouard F. Henriques, Gregroy Funk, and Toylanda Toussieng for THE WAY BACK.
Admission is free, but advance tickets are required. Tickets will be available starting February 1.
From the website:
For the fifth year, Oscar Week’s culminating public event celebrates the achievement of the nominees in the Makeup category. This year’s nominees (schedules permitting) will discuss their creative processes and present film clips, photographs and models of their work.
Apparently Hollywood has cast some spell that blasted open the doors to their vaults, unleashing a blood-thirsty horde of horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles that are winging their way into video stores this June 1. Not only do we get two major theatrical releases (THE WOLF MAN and ALICE IN WONDERLAND); we also get a cauldron-full of older titles back on Blu-ray and direct-to-video flicks, plus a diabolical dozen (and then some) double-disc releases. It’s more cinefantastique than you can hold at bay with all your garlic and crosses, but don’t fear – we’re here to warn you away from the worst and direct you toward the best.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND is sadly disappointing – one of director Tim Burton’s blockbuster entertainments that suffocates under its own weirdness. It’s visually interesting, to some degree, but dramatically dull and listless. It arrives on DVD, Blu-ray, and a 3-disc combo set that includes both of the previous discs, plus a third disc offering a digital copy for your computer. Bonus features include:
The Mad Hatter
The Futterwacken Dance (Blu-ray only)
The Red Queen (Blu-ray only)
Time-Lapse: Sculpting the Red Queen (Blu-ray only)
The White Queen: an interview with Anne Hathaway
Scoring Wonderland: Composer Danny Elfman and Tim Burton discuss the music (Blu-ray only)
Stunts of Wonderland (Blu-ray only)
Making the Proper Size (Blu-ray only)
Cakes of Wonderland (Blu-ray only)
Tea Party Props (Blu-ray only)
THE WOLF MAN was likewise disappointing, but at least its home video release offers the promise of an unrated director’s cut, which supposedly restores essential elements of the story. This turns out not to be the case; the longer cut is simply longer, not really much better. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray include this cut and the original theatrical version. Unfortunately, the DVD offers only a series of 5 deleted or extended scenes as a bonus feature; if you want any of the behind-the-scenes featurettes about the makeup and special effects, you have to purchase the Blu-ray.
So much for the big guns. What else is out there? Two new direct-to-video titles make their debut, CORNERED and TIME COP 2. The later stars the great Jason Scott Lee (DRAGON: THE BRUCE LEE STORY), who really deserves to be in something better. There is also something called “Jackie Chan Presents GEN-Y COPS,” a 2000 Hong Kong action flick about terrorists who abduct a “deadly lethal attack robot.” And interesting for its title if nothing else is EASTER BUNNY, KILL! KILL – a 2006 indie effort that showed up at some film festivals and made its VOD debut this April; now you can see it on DVD.
Steven Spielberg’s 2005 version of WAR OF THE WORLDS arrives in a new Blu-ray presentation, as does the Kevin Costner vehicle DRAGONFLY. Other oldies surfacing from the crypt include John Carpenter’s VILLAGE OF THE DAMNED, GHOST DAD with Bill Cosby, Clint Eastwood’s FIREFOX (a full dub Ac3 Dol Ecoa repackaging), and THE HITCHER II: I’VE BEEN WAITING, which is actually a sequel not to the recent Platinum Dunes remake but to the 1986 version of THE HITCHER, with C. Thomass Howell reprising his role, this time in opposition to Jake Busey (who may or may not be the Hitcher played by Rutger Hauer the first time around). Right about now, most of you are probably asking yourself, “They made a sequel to THE HITCHER? When?”
For some reason, Tuesday, June 1 sees a deluge of double bill DVDs. Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has created a label titled “Dreadtime Stories Double Feature,” which offers up four installments this week. The most high-profile is the pairing of HOLLOW MAN (the execrable Paul Verhoeven variation on the invisible man) with FLATLINERS (Joel Schumacher’s execrable attempt to make a sophisticated supernatural thriller about the near-death experience). Also on the Dreadtime Stories menu are double bills of CANDY with THE SHE CREATURE, THE WOODS with THE CRAFT, and RING AROUND THE ROSIE with DEATH TUNNEL.
Is that all the double bills for this week? Not by a long shot! Several previously released single-disc DVDs have been packaged together at discount prices (two for the price of one-and-a-half), providing double bills of SILENT HILL with ULTRAVIOLET, BRAM STOKERS’ DRACULA with THE GRUDGE, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND with STARMAN, I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER with I STILL KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, THE NET with JOHNNY MNEMONIC, and several others. And if two films are not enough for you, there’s the ULTIMATE 6-MOVIE SCI-FI MARATHON featuring “Androids, Aliens & the Fountain of Youth.” Included are such memorable titles as THE ANDROID AFFAIR and IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE II.
Believe it or not, this merely scratches the surface. All told, over 35 horror, fantasy, and science fiction titles are being released on DVD or Blu-ray this week. You can find them all in the Cinefantastique Online Store.
The unrated director’s cut of THE WOLFMAN offers few improvements and creates a glaring continuity problem.
When this Gothic horror show howled into theatres this past February, it was with a certain amount of baggage, being a remake of one of Universal Pictures’ most fondly remembered monster movies from the 1940s. Over the past couple decades, Universal has shown an interest in mining their classic horror legacy (which dates back to the silent era) for new chills and/or revenue dollars, releasing restored prints of old titles to art houses in the ’90s under the “Universal Horror” banner and later packaging the titles into various DVD releases (“The Legacy Collection,” the “Classic Monsters Collection,” etc.), often loaded with lovely bonus features. Unfortunately, Universal’s previous attempts to resurrect their long dormant monsters for modern audiences, with THE MUMMY (1999), its sequels, and VAN HELSING (2000), turned out to be (financially successful) artistic disappointments that betrayed the Gothic horror legacy by opting for action-adventure heroics, hyped with lots of computer-generated effects but few real scares. THE WOLF MAN, it was devoutly to be wished, would correct this mistake, hewing closer to the source material. The remake does successfully recreate the template of the 1941 original; sadly, it does so in the wrong way. The DVD and Blu-ray release of an unrated director’s cut allows a second chance to assess the results; curious fans will want to check out the longer version, but it offers few if any improvements and creates a glaring continuity problem.
What the 2010 THE WOLFMAN has going for it is production value and atmosphere; what it lacks is a compelling, original vision. With contributions from production designer Rick Heinrichs, composer Danny Elfman, and screenwriter Andrew Kevin Walker, all of whom worked on the similarly spooky SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999), THE WOLFMAN feels like an ersatz Tim Burton production, without the director’s unique eye to fashion these contributions into macabre visual poetry. Instead, we get the competent but prosaic work of Joe Johnston (JURASSIC PARK III); he knows how to get the story in the camera, but he doesn’t know how to imbue it with the uncanny resonance that will send shudders up your spine.
In this regard, THE WOLFMAN is a too faithful recreation of what Universal Pictures was doing in the 1940s: the 1930s’ Golden Age of Horror had past, and the company was recycling old ideas, with great technical achievements still in place (sets, special effects, makeup) but without distinctive directors (such as James Whale and Tod Browning), who could add a recognizable personal touch. THE WOLFMAN (1941) was very much of this mold, competently executed by producer-director George Waggner but not necessarily inspired. What saves the black-and-white film from mediocrity is the tragic trajectory of doomed protagonist Lawrence Talbot (Lon Chaney Jr.), a likable, even ebullient man whose life goes to hell after he is bitten by a werewolf.
The WOLFMAN remake updates the atmospherics, replacing black-and-white photography with color but utilizing a muted, almost desaturated palate that captures a similar kind of almost Expressionistic atmosphere. The sets and costumes are marvelous. Rick Baker’s makeup is a worthy tribute to the Jack Pierce’s work in the old film, recognizably similar but updated and improved. The computer-generated imagery is not as out-of-place as it might have been (although the werewolves running on all fours are not particularly impressive.) For fans of old-fashioned Gothic horror, the movie looks like a dream come true – or rather, a deliciously delightful nightmare of fog-bound moors and ancestral manses, layered so thick with sinister ambiance that you can almost taste it.
And yet, THE WOLFMAN is a curiously hollow and unmoving experience. The screenplay is muddled in its attempt to expand upon the original, throwing in bits and pieces lifted not only from the 1941 film but also Universal’s earlier THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON (1935) – which featured a conflict between two werewolves – and Hammer Films’ later CURSE OF THE WEREWOLF (1961) – which had its lycanthrope running across rooftops while pursued by a mob at street level (not to mention the fact the WOLF MAN’s star Benicio Del Toro resembles CURSE’s Oliver Reed much more than Lon Chaney Jr). Even Inspector Abberline, the real-life detective previously played by Johnny Depp in FROM HELL, shows up.
Although a successful Shakespearean actor, Del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot is dour from the beginning, a far cry from the happy-go-lucky character portrayed by Chaney. This interpretation is dictated by the script (which gives Lawrence a childhood tragedy in the form of his mother’s death, followed by bad blood between him and his father, played by Anthony Hopkins), but it robs the story of any visible arc: things looks bad from the beginning, and they pretty much stay that way, with no ray of sunshine to offer any hope. Yes, this is supposed to be a tragedy about a doomed man, but you at least want the audience to feel the sense of a potentially happy life lost to unfortunate circumstances. Instead, the manifest inevitability robs the narrative of any suspense, warning us to never fully identify with Talbot and empathize with his plight. Without that dramatic involvement, the movie is just so many pretty moving pictures.
THE UNRATED CUT
When THE WOLF MAN was in theatres, word leaked that the film had been heavily re-edited (the original 2009 release date had been pushed back, giving more time for post-production tinkering). It was hoped that a more complete version would fill in the emotional gaps needed to make the story more compelling. Unfortunately, this proves not to be the case.
Now available on DVD and Blu-ray, the extended cut (called the “unrated version” on screen and the “unrated director’s cut” on the box art) restores a few expository scenes and several moments of bloodshed, but it does little to solve the problems inherent in the theatrical version. THE WOLFMAN remains a dour downer from beginning to end, one that never invites you into its world, forcing you to watch events at arm’s length, with the ironic result that it feels more distant from us than the 1941 film does decades after its release.
The extended version begins with a modern mockup of Universal’s 1940s black-and-white logo, instead of the contemporary color one seen in theatres. The first editorial change occurs during the prologue, which is extended past the point when Ben Talbot (Simon Merrells) flees in panic after being attacked by a briefly glimpsed creature. Whereas the theatrical version faded out on a wide angle shot of Ben running away in the background while a werewolf’s clawed hand filled the right hand side of the frame in foreground, the unrated cut shows Ben collapsing before the mausoleum and looking up in horror, followed by a reverse angle shot of a werewolf lunging at the camera. It’s a little too early in the running time to reveal the monster. Also the creature’s appearance has been fudged slightly: seen later, Rick Baker’s makeup for the monsters tries to suggest the human countenance underneath; what’s seen here is a more generic werewolf, in order to main the mystery of who is hiding beneath the fur.
As before, the prologue segues to the WOLFMAN’s opening title*, followed by a scene of Lawrence Talbot on stage. In the theatrical version, this was part of a montage that quickly set the story in motion, with Ben’s fiance Gwen (Emily Blunt) writing a letter to Lawrence, seeking help in finding out what happened to his brother. In the unrated cut, Gwen actually shows up back stage after the performance to see Lawrence in person. He demurs, because he is contracted for another thirty performances, but then changes his mind without any negative consequences (guess that contract wasn’t so iron-clad).
On the way back to the ancestral home, we see another restored scene, this time of Lawrence waking up in a train car to find himself in the presence of an old man (played in an unbilled cameo by the always wonderful Max Von Sydow), who insists on making a present of a wolf’s-headed cane. As intriguing as the scene is, it raises expectations that go unfulfilled: the almost magical presence of Sydow’s character (he appears and disappears while Talbot is asleep) suggests an angel bequeathing a special gift that will play a crucial part in the later proceedings; although the cane is used in the final werewolf battle, it doesn’t tip the scales one way or the other, so it’s easy to see why the set-up scene (figuratively loading a gun to be fired in the third act) was omitted.
From this point forward, the unrated cut of THE WOLFMAN more or less follows the theatrical version, with a few additional bits of dialogue here and there (the locals have more to say in the tavern, and we see more of the awkward domestic situation at Talbot hall). In London, Lawrence buys a boy’s entire stack of newspapers to prevent anyone from seeing his wanted picture on the front page. Plus, there is more blood spatter and somewhat more lingering takes during the scenes of graphic mayhem. Although it’s hard to fault a film about a savage monster for depicting that savagery upon screen, the gore feels a bit misplaced in this old-fashioned milieu, and it has a “neither here nor there” quality about it: too graphic for fans of classic horror, too mild for the hard-core gorehounds.
There is also a slightly generic quality about the mutilation. There is no particular reason for a werewolf to be knocking peoples heads off; it’s just an over-the-top monster moment. It would have been nice if someone had figured out something more specific: What does a werewolf want: the blood of its victims, or their flesh, or just carnage for its own sake? And how would a hybrid monster – half-man and half-wolf – go about achieving this? (There is a sly joke with makeup man Rick Baker appearing briefly as an armed villager killed by the werewolf; had the film resorted to gratuitously gory evisceration at this point, instead of a mere flash, the humor would have been magnified several fold.)
The the most glaring problem with the unrated cut is not carnage but continuity. The theatrical version cleverly used Gwen’s letter, delivered in voice over layered on top of a montage of Lawrence heading home, to compress the opening exposition into half a minute of screen time. The extended version adds unnecessary scenes that take over seven minutes to achieve the same results, and the inclusion of Gwen’s backstage scene with Lawrence creates an embarrassing gaffe: after Lawrence returns home, there remain at least two dialogue references to his having been summoned by Gwen’s letter, when we have clearly seen him summoned by her in person (and in fact the letter does not exist in this cut).
In the end, the unrated cut of THE WOLFMAN remains much the same as the theatrical cut: a glossy, good-looking production that never fully delivers on its promise of resurrecting one of the great movie monsters for a modern audience. Horror fans will find it worth watching, and even casual viewers may get a kick out of seeing Oscar winners Del Toro and Hopkins indulging in an old-fashioned genre piece. We just wish that the results had lived up to their potential, creating a new millennium version of an old monster that would reignite interest in the form and launch a whole new cycle of Gothic horror thrillers.
Universal’s DVD of THE WOLFMAN includes both the R-rated theatrical version (1 hour and 43 minutes) and the unrated version (1 hour and 59 minutes). Both fit on one side of a single disc, using branching technology (there is a warning that the unrated director’s cut may cause problems for older DVD players). Both versions are divided into the same 20 chapter stops with the same titles, offering no indication of where to look for restored footage.
The Anamorphic Widescreen transfer (1.85) captures THE WOLF MAN’s atmospheric beauty. The audio offers options in English for Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and 2.0 Stereo; in French DOlby Digital 5.1 Surround; and in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround. (There is also Descriptive Video Service on the Theatrical version only.) Subtitle options include Spanish, French, and English for the hearing-impaired.
In a deleted scene, Lawrence crashes a costume party
Much of THE WOLFMAN’s missing material shows up not in the unrated cut but in the Deleted and Extended Scenes section, which is the DVD’s only bonus features. This includes five sequences:
Lawrence Talks with Glen. This is a short dialogue between the two characters, which takes place before the villagers’ first (unsuccessful) attempt to seize Lawrence. Lawrence thanks Gwen for nursing him through his illness, and Gwen expresses concern that she is the cause of all that has gone wrong (which turns out to be true when we realize that Sir John killed Ben to keep him from marrying Gwen and taking her away).
Singh’s Story. Brief additional dialogue: in the scene wherein Lawrence finds Singh’s silver bullets, the servant explains his loyalty to Sir John by recounting the English’s lord’s saving his life.
Extended Mausoleaum Transformation. We get a longer look at Lawrence’s change from man to werewolf, including shots of him crawling up the stairs out of the mausoleum.
Extended London Chase. Lawrence Talbot’s escape and brief race across the rooftops of London is one of the film’s highlights. The longer version contains a silly interlude with the Wolf Man crashing a costume party; while he approaches a female singer (who is apparently blind), the guests fail to notice that he’s a real monster – until he bites one in the skull. The scene seems to be suggesting something about the Wolf Man (he is clearly interested in the singer but he does not immediately attack her) but what? That music soothes the savage breast? Perhaps this is supposed to offer a suggestion that, later in the film, Gwen may stand some chance of taming his wild impulses?
Extended Final Fight. Not much more action here; mostly, it’s more pauses between the action as the dueling werewolves catch their breath and/or size each other up.
ADDITIONAL BLU-RAY DETAILS & BONUS FEATURES
Universal’s Blu-ray disc offers a high-def transfer of the theatrical version and the unrated version, with English tracks in DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and English DVS Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, plus the French and Spanish 5.1 Surround mixes heard on the DVD. In addition to the Deleted and Extended Scenes, there are several bonus features exclusive to the Blu-ray release:
Two alternate endings
Return of the Wolf Man: a featurette on remaking the classic
The Beast Maker: a profile of Rick Baker
Transformation Secrets: a look at the visual effects
The Wolfman Unleashed: the team behind the stunts and action
Take Control: Rick Baker, effects producer Karne Murphy-Mundel, and cinematographer Shelly Johnson reveal details of the filmmaking process.
Werewolf Legacy, Legend and Lore: a virtual tour through Universals’ Wolf Man films.
BD Live and Pocket Blu: access additional content and apps through an internet-connected player or your smartphones, including a high-def streaming version of the 1941 version of THE WOLF MAN
With a sticker emblazoned on the DVD box, touting the WOLFMAN’s availability on Blu-ray, it is clear that Universal Pictures is pushing the format. But was it necessary to release a DVD minus bonus features that would, not so long ago, have been no-brainers for inclusion? Yes, Blu-ray can do things that DVD cannot, but that is no reason to omit alternate endings and featurettes that could have been included. As in the days when Hollywood was phasing out the laserdisc, it seems that additional bonus features are being used as leverage to force consumers to adopt the new format, whether they like it or not. UPDATE: Apparently, there is an exclusive two-disc DVD available at Best Buy, which includes some (but not all) of the extra features from the Blu-ray. FOOTNOTE:
The WOLFMAN’s closing credits were clearly designed to go up front, right after the opening title: they tease us with animated imagery (such as medical-type drawings of hair growing out of folicles) that was meant to whet our appetite for the horrors to come. Seen at the end of the film, the imagery is anti-climactic.
THE WOLF MAN (February 2010 theatrical release; June 1 home video release ). Directed by Joe Johnston. Written by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self, based on the 1941 film “The Wolf Man,” written by Curt Siodmak. Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik, Geraldine Chaplin, Roger Frost, Simon Merrells, Max Von Sydow (unrated cut only).
In the sixteenth episode of Cinefantastique’s weekly Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast, Dan Persons, Lawrence French, and Steve Biodrowski sift through the Sands of Time as they search PRINCE OF PERSIA for hidden political metaphors and/or weapons of mass destruction. The big screen film version of the popular video game stars Jake Gyllenhaal, Ben Kingsley, Alfred Molina, and Gemma Arterton – but, strangely enough, no Persians. Also in this episode: a fond farewell to Dennis Hopper; a preview of the WOLF MAN unrated director’s cut DVD; and the usual news and previews.
If you are visually oriented and not inclined toward listening to an audio-only podcast, here is a video version of the debut episode of the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy and Science Fiction Podcast. This is roughly a nine-and-a-half minute excerpt from the first half of the podcast, illustrated with a slideshow of stills from the week’s topic, the remake of THE WOLFMAN starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. It also includes the newer, “heavy metal” version of the trailer (as opposed to the earlier, more representative trailer, heard in the actual podcast).
Join Cinefantastique contributors Dan Persons, Lawrence, French, and Steve Biodrowski as they hunt the wild werewolf in the debut episode of the weekly Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction Podcast. This week’s subject is THE WOLFMAN, starring Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins. The film is of course a remake of THE WOLFMAN (1941), sarring Lon Chaney Jr., which immortalized the werewolf legend on film.
Click on the player below to hear the discussion. [NOTE: There was a technical glitch with the podcast file. If you are having trouble, please try again in a few minutes.]
Today, on Lincoln’s birthday you can see the Oscar wining actor and horror film fan, Benicio Del Toro take on the iconic role of Lawrence Talbot, the tormented protagonist from Universal’s 1941 Lon Chaney, Jr. classic, The Wolf Man.
Given Universal’s sorry track record with their recent re-makes of horror film classics, I was not expecting very much from this new version of The Wolfman, especially since director Joe Johnston replaced Mark Romanek only three weeks before the start of principal photography. Which is why I was rather pleasantly surprised when I loved how this re-imaging by star Benicio Del Toro and director Johnston has turned out. However, it certainly appears that this new re-make won’t be winning much mainstream critical praise. In fact, a friend of mine who attended the press screening with me felt that the movie was “incredibly bad!”
Yet, I really can’t imagine anyone who grew up watching horror films on late night TV, or reading Famous Monsters of Filmland, as Benicio Del Toro did, won’t find something to like about this movie. For me, I found it to be a sheer delight, combining as it does, references to Universal, Hammer, AIP and many other classic horror films. It starts out with a close-up on a tombstone, with the classic werewolf poem, “Even a man who is pure in heart…” as some blood red credit titles unfold over a nearly black and white background. It ends over 100 minutes later with more beautiful end credits, again in blood red, over drawings and diagrams taken from books on lycanthropes, werewolfs and loup-garous’s. It reminded me of nothing less than the stunning satanic opening credits to the Hammer film masterpiece, The Devil Rides Out.
In short, for aficionados of classic horror films, there is very much to admire in this exquisitely crafted re-make. All others, I’m sure, will be much happier watching the DVD of Universal’s re-make of The Mummy, or one of it’s insipid sequels. I thought they were all awful, but awful films can also make an awful lot of money, can’t they!
In any case, just looking at the artistic talent that worked on this film, one can only be very impressed. It’s also rather marvelous to see how many key players of the film are actually real genre aficionados, including make-up artist Rick Baker, composer Danny Elfman, production designer Rick Heinricks, screenwriter Andrew David Walker and even producer Rick Yorn. Now, add on top of that, these top artisans: Film editor Walter Murch, costume designer Milena Canonero, Cinematographer Shelly Johnson, and many others far too numerous to mention. The end result is the combined talents of over ten Academy Award winners. Which is even before we add the stellar cast into the equation!
At any rate, it appears that by co-producing the film, Mr. Del Toro and Rick Yorn were able to assume enough control to make the movie into a serious homage to the original picture, rather than the kind of the absurd and totally over the top mis-mash of monster lore that Universal unleashed with their truly awful Van Helsing movie.
Benicio Del Toro recalled that one of his earliest recollections of the art of acting was while watching Lon Chaney, Jr. playing The Wolf Man when he was growing up in Puerto Rico. ” We wanted to honor that classic movie,” explains Del Toro, “and also the Henry Hull movie The Werewolf of London. We knew it would be exciting to make it in the classic, handcrafted way. ”
Producer Rick Yorn adds, “Growing up, these monster films really had an effect on my brothers (including Pete Yorn) and me. When I first came out to Hollywood, I wanted to remake one of them. Then, a few years ago, when Benicio and I were walking out of his house, I saw the framed one-sheet for The Wolf Man. It shows a close-up of Lon Chaney, Jr. as the monster. I looked at the poster, then back at Benicio—who had a full beard at the time—and said, ‘How would you feel about remaking The Wolf Man?’ ”
The result of that interaction between a star and his agent is this stylish horror film, which beautifully captures the Gothic atmosphere of the Universal horror classics, as well as much of the pathos the audience feels for a hero who is beset upon by fate.
As Curt Siodmak noted, he based Lawrence Talbot on Aristotle’s Greek notion of Hamartia. “It means that a person must suffer by the whim of the gods, though he has not committed a crime,” as Mr. Siodmak explained in his 1993 introduction to his original script for The Wolf Man. “We all have Hamartia in us, and suffer in life’s mishaps and pain, without having been guilty of any misdeed. That was the pivot of my idea for The Wolf Man.”
Scriptwriters Andrew David Walker (Sleepy Hollow) and David Self have embraced that concept and brought even more psychological depth to the movie by making Del Toro’s character a successful actor, like Edwin Booth, who has specialized in playing Hamlet on stage in America. When he is called back home to investigate the death of his brother, Ben, Larry Talbot is faced with an Opedial crisis in his real-life, and Anthony Hopkins as his distant father, even gets to utter the famous line from Hamlet, “To be or not to be.”
It turns out that Larry Talbot’s mother died early in his childhood, and that tragedy has turned his father, Sir John Talbot, into a morose and moody man, who can no longer face reality. So he sends the young Larry off to America, and in his sorrow, he lets the family estate drift into a kind of beautiful decay.
But Sir John also has a few skeletons in his closet, that he has never revealed to his children. Like Claude Rains in the original movie, Sir John is superbly played by Anthony Hopkins, (who ironically is Welsh), which suggests nothing so much as the tragic figure Vincent Price played as Locke in Roger Corman’s Poe story, Morella.
Of course, although Vincent Price’s work in horror films remains beyond reproach, I really can’t say that Mr. Price was a better actor than Anthony Hopkins. Nor is Lon Chaney a better actor than Mr. Del Toro. But that brings up my biggest objection to the re-make of The Wolfman.
Namely, why couldn’t some name “horror” stars be included in the cast. Couldn’t Elena Verdugo be included in a cameo role? And while Geraldine Chaplin is quite a fine actress, her two major scenes as Maleva are quite a disappointment. Since Maleva’s scenes are very much underwritten, what was needed to give them more power was was to have a great genre actress play the part. In this regard, Barbara Steele would have been rather perfect, but then again, when you compare the Moscow Art Theatre’s great Maria Ouspenskaya against any actress living today, you are going to be a little bit disappointed. Even Katherine Hepburn couldn’t better Maria Ouspenskaya when Warren Beatty persuaded Hepburn to take Ouspneskaya’s old role in his re-make of Love Affair.
In another aside, I find it quite strange that I watched Orson Welles perform King Lear in his 1953 debut on TV last night on the just released DVD of King Lear. Which made me think of how high-brow this version of The Wolfman actually is. Which is why I think the two writers of the script have to be given special note: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. I found it rather astonishing that the two writers of this movie get only two short paragraphs in the press notes, while there are ridiculously long credit bio’s for some executive producers who probably had next to nothing to do with the movie.
No doubt, Orson Welles would not have approved.
And here is what Orson Welles himself had to say about death, which is ultimately what most horror films are really about:
ORSON WELLES: King Lear is Shakespeare’s masterpiece and, stripped of its classical or stage trappings, it’s as strong now and as simple and as timeless as any story ever told. And what is simple for the story of King Lear—what is truly important—is not that the tragic hero is an old king, but that he’s an old man. Just such an amiable, egocentric family tyrant as holds sway in the domestic scene even nowadays. Of course, we’ve been so famously liberated from the spice of the forbidden that nothing can be counted as truly obscene. But there is one exception: death.
“Death” is our only dirty word. And King Lear is about death and the approach of death, and about power and the loss of power, and about love. In our consumer society we are encouraged to forget that we will ever die, and old age can be postponed by the right face cream. And when it finally does come, we’re encouraged to look forward to a long and lovely sunset.
“Old age,” said Charles de Gaulle, “old age is a ship wreck”—and he knew whereof he spoke. The elderly are even more self-regarding than the young. To their dependents the elderly call out for love, for more love than they can possibly receive, and for more than they are likely—or capable—of giving back. When old age tempts or forces a man to give away the very source of his ascendancy over the young—his power—it’s they, the young, who are the tyrants, and he, who was all-powerful, becomes a pensioner.
Now, after that digression, let us return to The Wolfman. I must say I found it quite wonderful that the writers decided to set the story in the Victorian age of Bram Stoker, Jack the Ripper, and of course, Queen Victoria. I also found it rather strange that, just by chance, I had watched the Hughes brothers film about Jack the Ripper From Hell , last week, and was rather astonished to find that in The Wolfman, Inspector Aberline was lifted from the real-life story of Jack the Ripper. Now, just imagine if Johnny Depp had agreed to reprise his role as Inspector Aberline in The Wolfman?
Of course, that could never happen, given that Depp makes over $15 million a movie these days, but it’s still sort of fun to think about. But it’s also a sad commentary on stars and their agents. Johnny Depp couldn’t possibly be expected to play a supporting role in a movie, could he?
No, of course not, but thankfully, who cares, because I found it was a masterstroke of writer’s acumen, making The Wolfman all the more exciting by having an actor like Hugo Weaving brilliantly handling the role of Aberline. And speaking of Queen Victoria, Emily Blunt, who plays the old Evelyn Ankers role of Gwen Conliffe, certainly knows something about the Victorian era, after playing The Young Victoria herself. Before I saw The Young Victoria, I went in not unlike how I approached The Wolfman. I had thoughts of the original Broadway cast in my mind, in this case, Helen Hayes and Vincent Price playing Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, although I had never actually seen them perform in the play.
However, after I saw The Young Victoria, those images had been completely erased from my mind. So it was for The Wolfman. Ms. Blunt certainly has proved her worth as a period actress, and gives a marvelous performance as Gwen, evoking the kind of pathos Elena Verdugo did with Lon Chaney as Larry Talbot in her gypsy role as Ilonka in House of Frankenstein.
Hopefully, I will have more to report on the wonderful make-up effects done for The Wolfman by Rick Baker in the future. But as Rick Baker himself told me when he was asked to work on Wolf, with Jack Nicholson, the studio handler’s would not even let him get near Mr. Nicholson, which almost ended Baker’s participation on that film.
Likewise, while I’d love nothing more than to present a long and detailed interview with Rick Baker here at CFQ, I doubt it will actually happen, as the handlers at Universal probably won’t be interested in such a story.
2009 Winners include Rob Zombie, Tobin Bell, and Rick Baker
Every October, on the night they launch their theme park’s Halloween Horror Nights, Universal Studios conducts the Eyegore Awards, honoring filmmakers in the horror genre. For 2009, the awards presentation was re-named “Chiller-Eyegore Awards,” a bit of corporate synergy between the movie studio and NBC (both owned by GE) – the network’s new “Chiller” channel will air the awards sometime in October.
2009’s winners included director Rob Zombie (filmmaker of the year for HALLOWEEN II), Tobin Bell (for starring as Jigsaw in the SAW franchise), Noah Segan (Best Villain), and Drew Daywalt, who took home a statutte for his short film “Bedfellows,” which won Chiller’s Scary Good Film Competition.
Rick Baker (a six-time Oscar winner for his makeup work) received a Jack Pierce Lifetime Achievement for his contribution to the horror genre; the award is named after the artist who created Universal’s classic movies monsters: Frankenstein, the Mummy, and the Wolf Man. Appropriately enough, Baker’s latest work is on a remake of THE WOLF MAN, starring Benicio Del Toro in the role made famous by Lon Chaney in the 1941 original.
The Chiller-Eyegores are a pretty much a press event – designed to get coverage for the opening of Halloween Horror Nights, which took place on October 2 this year. During weekends in October, Universal’s theme park features walk-through mazes based on SAW and HALLOWEEN, so it makes sense to have Tobin Bell and Rob Zombie appear in person, drawing representatives from websites like Bloody Disgusting and Dread Central who are likely to write favorable notices of the Halloween attraction.
Lest we sound cynical, we will point out that we were pleased with several of the awards this year. Young Noah Segan was excellent in the wonderful cult horror film DEAD GIRL, and deserves recognition. And it was wonderful to see Rick Baker receive an award named after a man whose work inspired him to get into the movie makeup profession.
Before the awards presentation, winners and other guests paraded down the red carpet, answering question from the press. Cinefantastique Online was there to grab video interviews with Baker, Daywalt, Tenedra Howard (on hand to present an award to her SAW VI co-star Tobin Bell), and Gadi Harel and Marcel Sarmiento, who co-directed DEAD GIRL.
Originally scheduled for release in November of this year, THE WOLFMAN has been pushed back to February 10, 2010. This remake of the 1941 classic – which turned Lon Chaney Jr into a horror star, features Benicio Del Toro in the title role, with Anthony Hopkins as his father (a father-son relationship almost as unlikely as the one between the towering Chaney and the diminutive Claude Rains in the old film). Rick Baker’s werewolf design looks spectacular, and juding from the trialer there will be lots more wolfman action in the new film. It also seems that the psychological angle of the old screenplay has been abandoned; whereas the classic film offered up lots of psycho-babble from characters who believed that Lawrence Talbot’s transformation occured only in his own mind, the characters in the remake come across as obsessed with the family Talbot family’s curse of lycanthropy, and the extensive werewolf footage leaves no doubt that that transformation from man to wolf is genuine. Watch a larger version of the trailer below… THE WOLFMAN
Universal Pictures will release their remake of THE WOLFMAN, starring Oscar-winner Benicio Del Toro and Oscar-winner Anthony Hopkins, on November 6. UPDATE: The release date has been pushed back to February 10, 2010. There had been previous werewolf movies before the 1941 original (which starred Lon Chaney as Lawrence Talbot who returns to the family estate in Britain after a stint in America, only to suffer the curse of lycanthropy after being bitten by a wolf), but THE WOLFMAN established the character in the public consciousness in a way that has persisted for decades, making him one of the most famous movie monsters ever.
From the press kit:
Lawrence Talbot’s childhood ended the night his mother died. After he left the sleepy Victorian hamlet of Blackmoor, he spent decades recovering and trying to forget. But when his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), tracks him down to help find her missing love, Talbot returns home to join the search. He learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers, and that a suspicious Scotland Yard inspector named Aberline (Hugo Weaving) has come to investigate.
As he pieces together the gory puzzle, he hears of an ancient curse that turns the afflicted into werewolves when the moon is full. Now, if he has any chance at ending the slaughter and protecting the woman he has grown to love, Talbot must destroy the vicious creature in the woods surrounding Blackmoor. But as he hunts for the nightmarish beast, a simple man with a tortured past will uncover a primal side to himself…one he never imagined existed.
Cast: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Screenplay by: Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self
Based on the Motion Picture Screenplay by: Curt Siodmak
Produced by: Scott Stuber, Benicio Del Toro, Rick Yorn, Sean Daniel
Executive Producers: Bill Carraro, Andrew Z. Davis