The Wolfman

“She exerts enormous power, doesn’t she, Lawrence?” Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) gazes into a telescope at “That orb’d maiden with white fire laden, whom mortals call the moon.” At his side is his estranged son (Benicio del Toro). Lawrence, of course, has no idea just how strong a pull the moon will soon have over him.

The full moon still holds sway over the imaginations, and debatably, physiological responses, of mortals. Again and again, it draws us back to werewolf mythology. Then again, if you think werewolves are only mythology, you’re probably not one of the souls who has run into the Bray Road Beast, or one of the 102 French peasants who met their end in the jaws of the Beast of Gevaudan. The Wolfman is worth watching. I will say, it isn’t very scary. But then again, scary is hard to do.

While I wouldn’t want to tangle with a werewolf in real life, they are not among Hollywood’s scariest of monsters. Their existence is limited to two or three days a month. They have none of the intellect of Dracula, the omnipresence of Pazuzu, or the reproductive speed of Aliens. This, of course left the writers with the problem of how to build suspense and terror in between full moons and, of course, fill the movie up with enough jump-scares and bloodshed to keep a 21st century audience interested. They actually did a pretty good job. While some werewolf movies act like they have the authority to summon a full moon at their whim, The Wolfman actually allows such phenomena to happen at their natural time, bothering to fill the weeks in between with plausible plot developments.

Full moon #1: Ben Talbot, walking through Stock Scary Scene #F785, strolls alone into the woods, shouting “I know you’re out there! Show yourself!” He is then fatally mauled by the Wolfman. Never walk alone into the dark shouting “show yourself,” kids, it won’t end well.

His brother, Lawrence is summoned from London for Ben’s funeral. He returns to Talbot Hall in Blackmoore, where we meet his father, Sir John, and Ben’s fiancé, Gwen Conliff (Emily Blunt). We then get a lot of back-story about their family history and hear the locals talk of two other gruesome deaths the night of Ben’s. “Whatever did it was big, had claws, and didn’t mind a load of buckshot.”

Full moon #2: Talbot goes to a nearby Gypsy camp to inquire about a medallion he found among Ben’s belongings. A group of villagers shows up armed, suspecting the Gypsies’ performing bear caused the deaths. However, during the ensuing confrontation, a strange creature, visible only as a blur and a shadow, attacks the camp, killing Brittons and Gypsyies alike. Talbot sees the creature chasing a panicked boy, intervenes, and is, you guessed it, bitten but not killed.

As Talbot lies in bed, recovering, we get more dialogue, flashbacks, a doctor who shakes his head when Talbot is up and walking around after a week, and a visit from a rational-minded inspector (Hugo Weaving), trying to get to the bottom of the murders. By now, of course, the villagers know what’s up, and everyone is making silver bullets, though we later find out that most of them can’t hit the broad side of a barn.

Make up has come a long way since 1941.

Full moon #3, of course, is Talbot’s first transformation, after which, he is arrested, believed to be a homicidal lunatic, and suffers four weeks of, well, somewhat realistic torment at the hands of a 19th century asylum. And of course, there are more flashbacks, more hallucinations, and more back-story.

Full moon #4: We see Talbot running amok in Downtown London, which is pretty cool. Then Talbot returns to Blackmoore for Full moon #5.

The Bray Road Beast

The Wolfman is a fairly faithful adaptation of the 1941 film of the same name starring Lon Chaney, Jr. (If anybody cares.) It does, however, contain some plot enhancements worthy of modern special effects, including a great monster-vs.-monster sequence toward the end. There is also a climactic scene between Lawrence as the Wolfman and Gwen that plays out beautifully.

That said, there are also some eye-roll-worthy techniques that they use, such as cramming the movie full of dream sequences and hallucinations, mainly to give themselves enough  jump-scares and severed heads to fill up the trailer. Even without the hallucinations, this is one of the goriest movies I have ever seen. If the body count of The Wolfman doesn’t break 100, it’s got to be close, especially if you count each of the pieces most of the bodies wind up in. Think When Animals Attack on steroids. Then again, I doubt lupine predation was ever a tidy affair.

Overall, this is a highly engaging picture with an interesting story and some good action. If you’ve got a strong stomach, rent it, make some popcorn, and enjoy. Then go outside, and see if you can fight the urge to howl at the moon!

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 4.3/5 (3 votes cast)

Bram Stoker’s Dracula

BSD posterIn one of the most important chapters in Bram Stoker’s novel “Dracula,” Lucy Westenre tells the story of how she received three marriage proposals in one day. We gain a chuckle by reading it, but we also learn how good Lucy’s heart is and how kind and humble she is, as well as see the character of her suitors.

But there is a fourth man in Lucy’s life, a certain Count we all know. He visits her at night, and she begins to be found in the morning at the brink of death, almost totally drained of blood. Her three suitors rally around her and, with the help of Dr. Van Helsing’s transfusion equipment, literally pour their life into her. So it goes for many pages; the Count steals her life away by night; the men who love her exhaust themselves by day in a desperate battle to save her life. Van Helsing trims her room with garlic. The Texan suitor, Quincy Morris, patrols the grounds around her home all night. But the Count’s craft is too great and Lucy finally succumbs. By this point the characters are sufficiently developed that the reader feels their loss almost as acutely as they do.

But of course, Lucy becomes a vampire. She preys on local children for awhile until once again confronted by her suitors and Van Helsing. Dr. Seward, narrating this part of the story, describes “the thing in the coffin” as a “mockery of Lucy’s sweet purity.” They put a stake through her heart, and watch her turn back to the woman they once knew.  There follows a beautiful paragraph about redemption, eternal life and contrasting inner beauty with the perverse eternal youth of a vampiress.

Would that I had sufficient space to fully describe the literary riches in Stoker’s masterpiece, but that will have to do. Imagine then, my disappointment at Francis Ford Coppula’s attempt to film “Dracula.” To do justice to the book would have required a long movie; probably around three hours. Coppula seems determined to cut it off at two, so that the movie, even in its best moments, is nothing more than a watered-down version of the book. To make matters worse, Coppula crams in a sub plot in which Mina Murray dates Dracula while her fiancé struggles across Europe. Taking a page from “The Mummy” Coppula seems to imply that Mina is a sort of reincarnation of a bride of the historical Dracula. The movie never explains this, however. In fact, the editing of this film is downright schizophrenic. The story I told above takes all of 10 minutes to fly by in the film, and begins with a shot of Lucy lying on a park bench, apparently being raped by a werewolf (I can only assume this is Dracula in some other form, but this too is never explained). Far from being Stoker’s figure of “sweet purity,” Coppula’s Lucy is essentially a 19th century valley girl. Seward and Quincy are barely given any screen time, and with no back-story, Arthur’s lines about how he would give the last drop of his blood to save Lucy are as flat and unbelievable as anything in Hollywood. Even her two death scenes seem insignificant.

drac, mina

Gary Oldman sucks in "Dracula."

To be sure, a proper film version of “Dracula” would get slow at times, bogged down in dialogue and character development, but it was precisely these things that made the book great. It takes the reader through the loss, the grief, the struggle and the eventual triumph of the seven main characters. If we didn’t feel their bravery, their love for each other, and their iron faith, reading the accompanying horror story would have been a waste of time. Perversely, the only genuine affection in Coppula’s film seems to be between Mina and Dracula.

In typical Hollywood fashion, Coppula tries to compensate for this lack of substance with spectacle. Disembodied shadows creep across walls, water flows uphill and blood flows out of inanimate objects for no reason. This entertains for a few minutes, but it’s a poor substitute for a story. It might even be scary, if any of it looked real, or if there was any reason to care.

Coppula’s film is to Stoker’s novel what a vampire is to the person he or she was in life: the same thing, except stripped of its soul, its passion, its humanity, and marked by lurid signs of cruelty and bloodlust.

The book

The movie

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Have you seen this movie? Rate it!
Rating: 5.0/5 (3 votes cast)