Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Art Malik. Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self. Directed by Joe Johnston.
FILM SYNOPSIS: Benicio Del Toro stars as Lawrence Talbot, a haunted nobleman lured back to his family when his brother’s fiancée, Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), tracks him down to help find her missing love. Talbot is reunited with his estranged father (Anthony Hopkins), and quickly learns that something with brute strength and insatiable bloodlust has been killing the villagers. Then he gets bit.
PREVIEW REVIEW: The 1941 version of The Wolf Man was one of the ultimate good vs. evil parables. Its screenwriter, Curt Siodmak, a German Jew of Polish descent fled Europe in the 1930s having seen the transformation of good people into monsters. His The Wolf Man cemented forever in the psyche of horror film buffs the symbols of werewolf lore: the tale-tell pentagram, wolfbane to ward off evil, silver bullets to kill those suffering from lycanthrope, the emblem that signaled a warning that wolfmen might be on the prowl - a full moon, and, of course, one of the greatest rhymes ever dedicated to a curse:
“Even a man who is pure in heart
And says his prayers by night
May become a wolf when
The wolfbane blooms
And the autumn moon is bright.”
Siodmak’s theme had to do with evil overcoming the unaware, his story a metaphor for being on the alert against rising evil. Though somewhat tame by today’s horror standards, his version’s moodiness and sincere performances by a cast that included Maria Osupenskaya as a wise gypsy crone, Bela Lugosi as a haunted gypsy werewolf and Lon Chaney Jr. as Larry Talbot, an innocent good guy who’s bitten by fate and a growling four-legged beast, remains fun late night viewing. Enter the remake starring the brooding, intense, and very hairy Benicio Del Toro (Che, Traffic, 21 Grams).
Is the new version still an allegory, a good vs. evil parable? Faintly. Can you guess what overshadows any symbolic significance? You got it – gore galore.
The above poem indicates that even a man pure of heart, a believer in God, can still become blinded by evil. To me that clearly states that we must be on our guard against Satan, the father of lies. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12 NIV).
While all that may sound a little heady for a 1940s horror flick about werewolfism, a film doesn’t usually stay within the memory bank unless there is some substance to be found within its story or theme.
The update contains, as I said, gore galore, with hands, arms and heads ripped off victims and oozing and splattering vivid red blood reminiscent of those old 1970s Hammer horrors. There are plenty of jolts to the system and makeup artist Rick Baker (An American Werewolf in London, Harry and the Hendersons) contributes his finest creations. There’s story, there’s even emotion, but the filmmaker knows why the genre’s fans are there and he supplies what they crave. They’ll especially love the walk through the forest as one poor fellow follows a trail of intestines until he finds…well, you know what he finds.
Because of the premise, the pathos and the performances, I enjoyed the first three-quarters. Then, despite its fury, the “duel of the titans” aspect (there are two leading werewolves in this one) one is left embarrassed that he’s watching two actors wrestling around dressed as brawny wolves.
Sadly, religion is marginalized. We have the pious priest stirring up the torch-bearing mob. (I know there are religion-by-the-law church leaders in the world, but they always seem to be the ones spotlighted by Hollywood, rather than those governed by Christ’s favorite Commandments.) And at one point, a lead character says that prayer won’t do any good. So much for faith aspects. Even a reference to the prodigal son parable is misused and minimalized.
The film contains no profanity, no graphic sexuality and no real religion bashing (other than the marginalizing), but beware, you’re going to see lots of intestines and dismembered body parts. I know, some adolescent just said, “Cool.”
DVD Alternative: It’s difficult to suggest a film from the horror genre, as some feel strongly that we shouldn’t view such films. Please allow me to offer my old standby – Signs. Farmer Mel Gibson discovers crop circles on his land. Soon the world is crawling with hostile aliens. Like Hitchcock, director M. Night Shyamalan builds tension through restraint. It’s not what we see, but what we imagine that scares the Jujubes out of us. Besides being an arm-grabbing suspenseful thriller, Signs is an equally touching family drama. We get to know this broken family as they cope with the traumatic loss of a wife and mother. There is an intimacy in both script and presentation that causes us to care for these people.
Mr. Shyamalan uses invading space aliens as a metaphor for our fears of the unknown and our struggles with life’s injustices. Rather than merely using the supernatural to scare us, he incorporates emotion and humanity into the thriller to give us a drama that suggests the importance of faith and spirituality in our journey through life.
Added to the drama and suspense is the story’s subtext about a man losing, then regaining his faith. The film also has an intriguing take concerning coincidence in our daily lives. Do things happen by chance or do they serve to develop our nature? Shyamalan’s film is about finding our way – or finding our way back.
Along with 21 chapters that guide you safely through the maze of Hollywood mediocrity and the spiritually unrewarding, MOVIES: THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE REALLY, REALLY BAD by Phil Boatwright offers countless references to films, plus spotlights on classics and soon to be classics. It’s a useful tool for parents and concerned moviegoers, one you’ll find yourself coming back to over and over.
“Thoughtful and thought-provoking, his work could very well become the standard for historical reference.” - Will Hall, Vice President for News Services, Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and Executive Editor Baptist Press.
To purchase a copy, click on the home page’s promo.