The Wolfman is a delightful remake by and for Aficionados

The-Wolfman-Poster-Benicio-del-Toro-405x600Today, 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.

*****

Rick Baker's impressive makeup for Del Toro as the Wolfman

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.
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The Wolfman in 2010 – Watch the Trailer

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

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Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – DVD Review

The third film in the UNDERWORLD franchise is a prequel that takes us back to the origins of the feud between vampires and werewolves that fueled the previous two films. UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS offers a “Romeo and Juliet” affair between Lucien (Michael Sheen), a werewolf slave, and Sonja (Rhona Mitra), daughter of the vampire elder Viktor (Bill Nighy), but the love story ignites few sparks, because it is overwhelmed by the obsessive need to stage as many bloody battles as possible. These are staged for maximum “coolness” effect, which means that the sight of sliced flesh and splattering blood outweighs any consideration for emotional impact. The result is an emotional vacuum at the core of the film, which renders UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS unengaging except to hardcore fans of the franchise, who want to see even more vampire-versus-werewolf mayhem.
Patrick Tatopoulos, production designer on the previous films, takes over the directorial reigns from Len Wiseman. Perhaps predictably, the big strength of UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is its visual look. The period setting is less an accurate representation of history than a wonderfully sinister and serious evocation of a grim fairy tale setting, including a monumentally imposing castle hewn out of a mountainside and a tremendously spooky forest that falls somewhere between Mario Bava and Tim Burton (think BLACK SUNDAY and SLEEP HOLLOW).
Unfortunately, that’s the most UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS has going for it. The scenario fails to capture the sense of a powder keg about to explode, because it offers only the most thumbnail sketch of the conflict between vampires and werewolves, instead prefering to focus on the doomed love story. At least the speeches by the lycanthropic Lucian strike a pleasantly Marxist tone as he exorts his fellow werewolves to throw off the chains of oppression and overthrow their vampiric masters.
On a conceptual level, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS falters because no one seems to have bothered to think through the implications of a society of vampires. The blood-drinkers all act pretty much like humans – nasty, blood-drinking humans, to be sure, but they’re basically not much different from any movie depiction of a decadent aristocracy exploiting the poor. You would think that immortality and near invulnerability – resulting in a static society where you see the same unchanging faces for centuries – would have some kind of impact on society.
The biggest problem the film poses for non-fans is that it barely bothers to fill the audience in on necessary exposition, such as how the collars warn by the lycan slaves prevent them from changing into wolf form. Uninitiated viewers will find themselves wondering what makes weapons effective in a battle between two races of immortals, and exactly how much damage needs to be inflicted to cause fatality.
Without this clarification, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS comes across like just another typical action movie, in which peripheral characters dies immediately while the heroes receive an exemption that allows them to recover from their wounds and live to fight another day. It’s hard to get worked up about the numerous fight scenes when the vulnerabilities are so unclear.
Mitra and Sheen strive to generate some heat, but the script doesn’t give them enough to work with. Nighy is great, reprising his role as the vampire overlord. The music by Paul Haslinger (formerly of Tangerine Dream) sets the right mood, and Ross Emery’s cinematography lends a beautiful sheen to the characters and settings.
The special effects are nice, though a bit overdone. Computer-generated imagery enhances the practical makeup work, greatly expanding the scale of the film, but the effort to impress the audience with the sheer number of monsters suffers from the law of diminishing returns, with few individual scenes standing out in memory. There is also the old problem of the cartoony look of CGI, but at least in this case it is subsumed into the overall fantasy look of the film.
The ending makes a nice effort to tie the continuity in directly with the first UNDERWORLD film. And that pretty much tells you all you need to know: this is a film for the fans who recall every detail of the preceding two films; no one else need apply.

DVD DETAILS

Screen Gems DVD release of UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS offers good sound and a great widescreen transfer that renders the film’s visuals in impressive detail; even if the story disappoints, it is easy to enjoy looking at the backgrounds.
These are the bonus features:

  • Audio commentary with director Patrick Tatopoulos, producer, Len Wiseman, and others.
  • Featurette: Underworld: Rise of the Lycans – From Script to Screen
  • Featurette: The Origin of the Fued (notes Romeo and Juliet parallel) – promo piece that fills in exposition not made clear in film and fills us in on the characters
  • Featurette: Re-Creating the Dark Ages – The Look of Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
  • Music Video: “Deathclub”
  • Previews (including Sky Crawlers, Quarantine, Blood: The Last Vampire, 2012)

The featurettes are mostly standare promotional pieces, shot and edited before the film’s release. “Script to Screen” doesn’t reall focus on the titular subject, instead offering generic making-of info. “The Look of Underwold” is a bit better, as it focuses on the film’s storngest element. In way, the most interesting  featurette is “Origin of the Fued.” Although it consists mostly of cast and crew describing their characters (especially recurring characters whose back story is being explained in the prequel), there is some useful exposition provided that does not appear in the film itself.
The audio commentary is a bit chatty and mostly not too informative, with the filmmakers mostly patting themselves on the back for their accomplishments. A few remarkable details do emerge, such as the fact that the surreal forest that lends such atmosphere to UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS is not a set but an actual location. We also learn that Lucian’s revolutionary speech (one of the film’s dramatic highlights) helped get more money for production when it was cut together as part of a promo film.
During a werewolf-transformation scene, Patrick Tatopoulos mentions that old-fashioned transformations (in films like 1936’s THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON) were achieved by having the actor walk behind pillars, allowing the editing to disguise cuts that allowed the camera to stop while makeup was applied. Computer-generated imagery renders this form of trickery unnecessary, yet for some reasonthe scene in UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS still has the werewolves walking behind pillars as they shape-shift.
Most interesting is a story told by producer Len Weisman, who directed the previous two UNDERWORLD films. Wiseman addresses continuity problem with first UNDERWORLD, which included a flashback depicting Viktor’s daughter Sonja as a blond – even though the script expressly stated that she was supposed to resemble Selene, the dark-haired character played by Kate Beckinsale. When it came time to make UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, the filmmakers were faced with a dilemma: maintain continuity with a scene that was compromised by budgetary restrictions (they couldn’t afford a wig or a dye job for the blond actress), or simply shoot it the way they thought it should be. Having opted for the later, Wiseman expresses a wish to replace the UNDERWORLD flashback with footage from UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, and one of the producers says he is working on it for future edition.

"Dead of Night" casts Diggs: "Skull" will pop into theatres

Taye Diggs in House on Haunted Hill (1999)Hollywood Reporter tells us that Taye Diggs (HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL) and Anita Briem have joined Brandon Routh (SUPERMAN RETURNS) in the cast of DEAD OF NIGHT, a $20-million independent horror film shooting in New Orleans. Kevin Munroe (TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES) is directing from a script by Joshua Oppenheimber and Thomas Dean Donnelly, adapted from the 1986 “Dylan Dog” Italian comic, which features vampires, werewolves, and zombies. According to H.R., “Diggs will play Vargas, the head of a vampire family, and Briem is Elizabeth, one of Dylan Dog’s (Routh’s) potential romantic conquests.”

* * *

POP SKULL – an independent psychological  horror film – has been picked up by Halo 8 Entertainment, which will provide a platform theatrical release before moving the title onto DVD July 28:

The film, starring Lane Hughes and Brandon Carroll, was written by Hughes, E.L. Katz and Wingard and produced by Wingard, Hughes, E.L. Katz and Peter Peter Katz.
It depicts the lonely and disjointed life of a young pill addict who is plagued by ghosts.
It played the Rome Film Festival, where Wild Bunch acquired foreign rights.
“Adam Wingard’s brash and gutsy film isn’t a breath of fresh air — it’s a breath of toxic, dextromethorphan-laced air that leaves audiences shocked to the core and proves horror can still be bold and inventive and smart,” Halo-8 president Matt Pizzolo said.

Cybersurfing: Knowing the Wolfman

Zombo’s Closet of Horror has a couple of interesting, recent posts, one on KNOWING and one on the WOLFMAN remake. The former takes exception to the negative reviews that the recent Alex Proyas thriller has received; the later speculates on the possiblity that the man-to-wolf transformations will be achieved with computer generated imagery.
In Destiny in a Handbasket, Zombo writes:

As he did in Dark City, Proyas conjures another sepia-toned vision of determinism, fate, and faith, and ratchets up the tension with three carefully crafted, special effects-laden scenes of death and destruction before finishing with an outstanding fourth. Cage, as astrophysicist John Koestler, portrays an everyman, quirks and all, coiled and held tight in the moments, filled with knowledge but mostly powerless. Borrowing the science fiction staples of pending global cataclysm (seen in 1951’s When Worlds Collide, slated to be remade in 2010 by Stephen Sommers), and celestial intervention, Knowing is an emotionally charged drama meticulously combining horror, science fiction, and fantasy conventions into an absorbing story worthy of more serious, and less caustic, critique.

It is an interesting defense of the film, but the review does contradict itself a bit at the end, by referring to KNOWING as a “popcorn movie” – not the kind of film we tend to take seriously.

UPDATE: Zombo explains the apparent contradiction in terms here. I should perhaps add that the first time I ever saw the phrase “popcorn movie” was in a review in Cinefantastique magazine, which used the phrase not to signify low quality but low ambition – a popcorn movie could be fun and entertaining, but it was not mean to be taken seriously.

In “CGI or Not?” Scott Essman makes the cas for not using computers to make the transition from Benicio Del Toro’s normal appearance to that of the WOLF MAN:

The CG man-wolf transformations in VAN HELSING were empty eye candy.  In the UNDERWORLD films, the were spectacular but forgettable. In AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS they were dismissible. But who can forget the transformations in CAT PEOPLE (1982), THE HOWLING or AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON? All done practically and all groundbreaking – and, dare I say, none have been surpassed.

The irony here is that Rick Baker, who provided the make and transformation effects for AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, created the werewolf makeup for THE WOLF MAN, but apparently he was not asked to render the transformations effects. Pity.

Box Office: The Uninvited is unattended

The weekend’s one new horror release, THE UNINVITED, showed further evidence of the diminishing returns inherent in remaking Asian ghost stories for the American market. Making its debut in 2,344 North American theatres theatres, the film earned only $10.5-million, landing in third place behind newcomer TAKEN and holdover PAUL BLART: MALL COP. (By way of comparison, last year’s trio of ONE MISSED CALL, THE EYE, and SHUTTER opened with $12.5-million, $12.4-million, and $10.4-million, respectively.)
As for holdover science fiction, fantasy and horror movies at the box office…
Last week’s second place winner, UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, dropped down to #7, adding $7.2-million to its two week total of $32.78-million. With such a precipitous decline, the film’s domestic theatrical revenues seem unlike to match the $50-million-plus of UNDERWORLD, let alone the $60-million-plus of the previous sequel: UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION.
MY BLOODY VALENTINE lost its heart to $4.3-million worth of viewers in its third weekend of release, raising its box office fortunes to $44.6-million, making it the most successful horror film of 2009 (ahead of the $41.3-million earned by THE UNBORN, which has dropped out of the Top Ten).
INKHEART, the fantasy film starring Brendan Fraser, fell from seventh to tenth in its sophomore session. The $3.7-million raised the two-week total to a sketchy $12.8-million.
Just out of the Top Ten was THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON at #11. $3.6-million in ticket sales raised the six-week total to $116.5-million.
Read the complete Top Ten here.

Werewolves Rising: Underworld launches a new wave of Lycans

Underworld: Rise of the Lycans
Underworld: Rise of the Lycans

The film franchise that successfully combines vampires and werewolves and which also involves a romantic element hit the theaters once again last weekend and did fairly well in box office returns. I’m not talking about the second installment in the TWILIGHT series, but rather, UNDERWORLD: THE RISE OF THE LYCANS. This latest and perhaps last chapter in the UNDERWORLD narrative is something of a prequel, taking the viewer to a time before the first film’s narrative in order to provide an exploration of how the lycans (short for lycanthropes – i.e., werewolves) broke from partnership and service to the vampires, lauching an ongoing warfare between the two monstrous species.
Benicio Del Toro as the Wolf Man
Benicio Del Toro as the Wolf Man

This film will not be the only one to explore werewolves in 2009 with November representing a furry month that will include a fresh remake of THE WOLF MAN starring Benicio del Toro and featuring makeup by Rick Baker, and NEW MOON, the next film in the TWILIGHT series set to explore the conflict between vampires and werewolves only hinted at in the first film. But while many of the classic monsters immortalized in film have been the focus of popular and academic exploration, especially the vampire and Dr. Frankenstein’s creature, like the mummy, the werewolf has received comparatively little exploration.
Gordon Melton’s encyclopedic Vampire Book discusses the ancient origins of the werewolf in the folklore of various peoples around the world. The werewolf myth is part of a broad collection of myths in cultures with stories of human transformations into various types of animals. One of the oldest comes from ancient Greek mythology, with the word Lycaon from which we derive the term “lycanthropy.” Europe has been the source of some of the most influential folklore in Hollywood horror’s depictions of the werewolf, which reached a peak in the Middle Ages when lycanthropy was attributed to satanic influence along with witchcraft and sorcery. Melton also notes that in the mythic and literary history of various creatures in mythology that werewolves and vampires crossed paths in the past long before Hollywood cinema thrust the creatures together.
In terms of literary development, the werewolf appeared in three novels in the nineteenth century, with George W. M. Reynold’s Wagner the Wehrwolf recognized as one of the most significant. However, it was Guy Endore’s 1934 novel The Werewolf of Paris that would attract the most attention and become influential in the cinematic development of werewolf mythology. Endore’s book (or at least its title) was the inspiration for Universal Pictures’ first exploration of the lycanthrope in THE WEREWOLF OF LONDON.
Lon Chaney Jr. as the Wolf Man

However, it was Universal’s next film, THE WOLF MAN with Lon Chaney, Jr., that would cement the werewolf in popular culture so that the creature would become an iconic figure. This film would become something of a template for Western audiences in their understanding of werewolf mythology, with subsequent films providing deviations and modifications from this basic narrative core. As David Skal describes the impact of THE WOLF MAN and the subsequent werewolf films derived from this classic in the development of the mythology, “The Wolf Man’s saga was the most consistent and sustained monster myth of [World War II], beginning with the first year of America’s direct involvement, and finishing up just in time for Hiroshima.”
We might also remember that, UNDERWORLD’s pairing of vampires and werewolves is not the first time this has taken place in film. 1943’s THE RETURN OF THE VAMPIRE by Columbia Pictures did so, as did three films by Universal through the mid to late 1940s.
2009’s two films exploring the werewolf is significant for this horror creature, but it still falls slightly short in comparison with 1981, a year that Marco Lanzagorta calls “The Year of the Wolf” due to the release of three werewolf pictures that year including THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON, and WOLFEN. The werewolf may not be as popular as the vampire or the zombie in popular culture, but perhaps this year’s exploration of the transforming beast from within indicates that we still find the creature fascinating as it provides us with yet another facet of exploring the submersed dark side of human nature that surfaces all too frequently without the need for a full moon or gypsy curses.

The Wolfman howls on Feburary 10, 2010

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

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Wolfman will not howl till after Halloween

In a brief post about some reshuffling of Universal Studio’s release schedule for 2009, TheMoviePicture.net reports that the remake of THE WOLF MAN, starring Benicio Del Toro, has been pushed back from April 3 to November 6 to make room for the new FAST AND THE FURIOUS sequel, which is finished and ready to go.

The studio said the reshuffling was the sensible thing to do, considering that Fast and Furious is complete, while the Brian Grazer-produced Nottingham won’t start filming until February or March. The Wolf Man move gives the film more of a high-profile release, as well as more time for post-production.