The Wolfman Dir. Joe Johnston

[Universal; 2010]

Styles: horror, thriller
Others: Jumanji, October Sky

Judging from Twilight’s overwhelming popularity, America is definitely in the mood for supernatural gothic romance — totes and light on the carnal, please. You get about an ounce of that, as well as a hearty helping of Stephenie Meyer’s familiar hands-off romantic jeopardy, in this bodice-heaving, entrails-devouring remake of the Lon Chaney Jr.-starring Wolf Man (1941). Under the watchful gaze (and worshipful attentions) of Benicio Del Toro, a big fan of the original, the movie gets the single-word treatment, The Wolfman, as if aspiring to become a superhero franchise and a respectful yet amplified quantity of OTT horror camp. This Wolfman sports much Oedipal angst, plenty of baleful looks from an extremely cadaverous-looking Benicio Del Toro, a near-B&W palette leached of warmth and color, and a liberal scattering of dismembered limbs hither and yon.

America-based, English manor-born actor Lawrence Talbot has been called back to his father Sir John’s forbidding castle on the occasion of his brother Ben’s gruesome, mysterious death. Despite his father’s warnings and his sibling’s nasty wounds, Lawrence promises Ben’s big-eyed fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt) that he’ll track down his killer. Signs lead to a camp of newly arrived gypsies, where Lawrence goes for answers (in the dead of night under a full moon, foolish man). Incoming: a deadly tussle with a toothy monster breaking speed records in its quest to gut both gypsies and villagers.

Director Joe Johnston and writers Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self tease out the Freudian horror embedded in the source material in a way that will elicit knowing chuckles — as well as outright guffaws at a certain acting elder’s fuzzy milk-chocolate-brown, teddy-bear-like monster getup. Everything seems to be heading to a climatic father-and-son showdown — one I’m sure few suspected would refer directly back to Alan Bates and Oliver Reed’s fireside nude wrestling scene in Ken Russell’s Women in Love (1969). Besides the positively psychedelic glee of the hallucination scenes and the bloody wit of the moment when quackish Victorian-era psychologists attempt to diagnose away a wolfman’s supposed delusions, the pleasure here is watching Del Toro — and Hopkins — sink the incisors into the genre classic’s plummy transformations. The former, in particular, mainlines the watchful, doomed intensity of Marlon Brando in Apocalypse Now (1979).

Is it a pro or a con that The Wolfman’s borderline-offensive positioning of lycanthropy as a South Asian import almost gets lost amid the ripping gore and artfully cartoonish violence?

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