GENRE: Old-school monster mash
THE PITCH: Prodigal son Lawrence Talbott (Benicio Del Toro) returns from America to visit his spooky English manor and his spooky English dad (Anthony Hopkins). A bite from a shaggy monster brings out the beast in Lawrence, despite the attentions of pretty Gwen (Emily Blunt) and the authority of Inspector Abberline (Hugo Weaving).
MONEY SHOTS: An attack on a gypsy camp nearly equals the bloodshed of Saving Private Ryan's Omaha Beach scene. One of those Elephant Man-era medical demonstrations goes hilariously wrong. The silver bullet trade booms in a freaked-out village. Fur really flies in the final lupine smackdown. Makeup maestro Rick Baker doesn't outdo the transformation scene from An American Werewolf in London, but still crafts creepy images of sprouting snouts and splayed fingers.
BEST LINE: "Unfortunately, a 'curse' does not give me warrant to wander Sir John's estate," intones Abberline, like a Scotland Yard version of Weaving's Agent Smith from the Matrix.
BEST BAD LINE: "You moron!" Lawrence snaps at a foolhardy unbeliever.
BODY COUNT: A London newspaper announces "Dozens Killed By Monster," so at least three dozen, I guess. Body parts fly so freely it's hard to keep track of the actual fatalities. Be prepared for headless bodies, bodiless heads, severed hands still holding pistols and the like. Perhaps the squirmiest moment is the close-up of the gypsy woman (Geraldine Chaplin) sewing up a wound with what looks like a fishhook.
FLESH FACTOR: A fever dream includes a glimpse of Blunt's unclad back, but otherwise the eroticism goes no further than a rock-skipping lesson: "Wrist up and whip it. Make sure you swing your hips."
FASHION STATEMENT: PETA will be outraged at the acres of fur on display, with Hopkins alternating between tiger and leopard-pattern collars and cuffs. Hopkins' Sikh manservant (Art Malik) wears a traditional head wrap, which comes as a surprise in rural England in 1891. As per tradition, Wolfman wears torn shirts and pants. A stint in a mental asylum leaves Talbott gagged and in a straitjacket. Del Toro's one of those actors who just shouldn't wear a top hat.
BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL? No. Universal Pictures' 1941 Wolf Man does more with a dry ice machine and yak fur makeup than the new one accomplishes with cutting-edge makeup, CGI and editing techniques. Nevertheless, director Joe Johnston's Wolfman simplifies some storylines and intriguingly expands on some of the original's ideas, particularly with Hopkins' role.
HEY, WAIT A MINUTE: Talbott's supposed to be a 19th-century stage actor? Come on, audiences wouldn't be able to hear Del Toro's mumbly method-actor delivery past the second row.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Johnston ash-cans the wheezy humor of Stephen Sommers' previous revival of Universal monsters, Van Helsing and The Mummy, and thank God for that. The Wolfman's overheated, fever-dream approach more closely resembles Bram Stoker's Dracula with Gary Oldman, but at best appreciates the fun of taking a ravenous werewolf off the leash.
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