Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Howling Mad

"They don't make them like that any more", film lovers of a certain age are prone to saying after watching some black and white 1940s B-movie on DVD. Well, it seems that they do make them like that - having watched The Wolfman this week, nominally a remake of 1941's Lon Chaney Jr horror flick The Wolf Man, I can confirm that the values of the old Universal chillers still live. What many people don't understand about Universal's 1930s and 1940s horror pictures is that much of the pleasure to be derived from watching them lies in their innate lunacy. At their best, they transport you into a world of nightmare where normal logic and motivation don't seem to apply. The Wolfman seems to be an attempt to recreate this classic formula with modern special effects and a big budget, and it succeeds admirably in serving up one of the most lunatic films I've seen in a long time. Coming on like the demented bastard offspring of both the Universal original and Hammer's later Curse of the Werewolf, (it uses the same exterior locations at Black Park that Hammer utilised in most of their films), by way of 1935's Werewolf of London (the movie which features a lycanthrope who puts on his hat, coat and scarf before going out to commit depravities), the new film is pure Gothic insanity, encompassing fog shrouded moors, mumbling superstitious villagers, clueless policemen, gypsies and mad scientists.

Perhaps the best thing about the film are the bizarre acting performances, most notably that of Sir Anthony Hopkins, who takes ham acting to a new level, although Benicio del Toro, in the title role, gives him a good run for his money. Indeed, every time you think you've seen the most over the top performance, lo and behold, another well known actor suddenly appears to try and prove you wrong. First of all Art Malik pops up as an Indian man servant who appears to have wandered in from a different film, then, just when you've got over that Geraldine Chaplin treats us to her weird accent as Maleeva the gypsy woman. When Hugo Weaving's Inspector Abberline turns up to conduct his inept investigation, you start thinking you can relax - surely there can't be any more bizarre performances to come? But no, halfway through the film Anthony Sher appears as a certifiable psychiatrist with an accent that wanders all over middle Europe. In the midst of all this craziness, Emily Blunt does her best to look dignified.

Enjoyably weird performances aside, the film (in its first third, at least) is surprisingly close to the 1941 original. Even most of the character names are retained. In fact, not only is Benicio del Toro's character called Lawrence Talbot, he even contrives to look a bit like Lon Chaney Jr. The main change is to give the whole thing a Hammer-style Victorian period setting. It starts radically diverting from the original when Inspector Abberline of Scotland Yard, a real life character, turns up. Now, I thought that Abberline was most famous for investigating the Ripper murders in Whitechapel, but apparently he also looked into a series of werewolf slayings in Olde Hollywood Englande. Although given the name of a real Victorian police detective, the character in the film is actually reminiscent of the Inspector Owen character played by Dennis Hoey in 1943's Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman. In fact, the whole business in the asylum in London is reminiscent of the hospital sequences in the 1943 film, where Patrick Knowles' Dr Mannering tries to convince Chaney's Talbot that his claims to be able to turn into a wolf are merely a psychiatric disorder. A subsequent flashback to India and the final conflagration recall similar sequences from The Werewolf of London. Thankfully, they don't forget to have the mob of villagers waving flaming torches pursue the monster through the woods at the end. No Universal monster picture is complete without such a sequence! All in all, a surprisingly entertaining film - probably for the wrong reasons! I'd encourage all lovers of those creaky old Universal monster rallies to catch it!



Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home