The Wolfman – neither a howler nor a howling success

the wolfmanI’m halfway through watching The Wolfman — the new one, with Benicio Del Toro going all fur and fangs — and I’m thinking, I’m sure I’ve seen this movie before, but it was in black and white. I wonder if this new effort shouldn’t have been as well, just to make the point.

The delight (and dogged duplication) in the premiere werewolf movies of yore is clear in this effort, directed by Joe Johnson. Lots of moon shots, lots of foggy forests and silhouettes. Gypsies. Mobs with flaming brands. The village tavern that falls silent when the stranger enters. And absolutely nothing new.

But don’t let that put you off. It’s a solid, if uninspiring and strangely uncompelling, effort. The love story is such an undeveloped and fleeting thing, the tension between father and prodigal son so underplayed, the concentration on werewolfy rampaging with lots of gibbets so great, that it’s hard to get into the characters much at all.

The music, by reliable Danny Elfman, isn’t always used to best advantage, either. It’s not bad, it’s just used out of context at times, trying to make tension and jump! surprise! where there doesn’t need to be any.

But my goodness, there are other times when the suspense does kick in, and all those stereotypical Gothic scenes are portrayed in full cinematic glory: ruins, sweeping staircases, misty forests, gibbous moons through the spindly branches of trees. There’s even a decrepit, sprawling mansion in need of a serious cobwebbing and sweeping, complete with family tomb (I wouldn’t have been gobsmacked to see a headstone out the back with maybe Karstein written on it, or Usher, or Ligeia). Some not-too-shocking family secrets. Oh yum!

There are some adorable scenes set in old London town, and the whole is enlivened by Hugo Weaving as a Scotland Yard detective with a fascinating past, regrettably only mentioned in passing. I almost wish we’d seen more of his story: the echo with his previous, infamous case would have been delicious. And spare a thought for poor Art Malik, hidden in a beard as a servant with more silver bullets than he has brooms (neither of which he proves much use with).

I wouldn’t be cleaning my Universal and Hammer classics from the shelf to make way for this one, but lovers of that kind of werewolf movie will find something to appreciate in this recycled homage.