If you are a fan of the original 1941 werewolf movie The Wolf Man, then you should be very pleased with the upcoming remake from Universal Pictures, slightly renamed The Wolfman.
That's because star/producer Benicio Del Toro, a longtime Universal monster fan who helped develop the remake, wanted to honor the original in a way that appealed to modern audiences. (Spoilers ahead!)
After a series of mishandled remakes of classic Universal monster movies—Van Helsing anyone?—we think the studio may have finally got it right with this one. Here's six reasons why. (Click on the images for larger versions.)
The choice was made early on to keep the form of the werewolf close to Lon Chaney Jr.'s original: A bipedal wolfed-out guy, played by Del Toro in makeup (although he appears as a CG character in certain sequences). "We went up to the studio and proposed the idea of doing a remake of the original Wolf Man movie with the intention of really paying homage to those Universal classic horror movies like Frankenstein," Del Toro told a news conference in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Saturday. "By that, I mean by paying homage is to stay close to the story, to also have the makeup be a big component, have the actor in the makeup being a big part of the movie, and they liked the idea."
Makeup artist Rick Baker, who famously created the wolf in An American Werewolf in London, was faithful to the original makeup by Jack P. Pierce, amped up for a modern audience. "I think you really get benefit from an actor with some hair glued on his face," Baker told a news conference.
The film keeps the original character names: Lawrence Talbot (Del Toro), Sir John Talbot (Anthony Hopkins) and Gwen Conliffe (Emily Blunt), as well as the gypsy woman Maleva (Geraldine Chaplin), and the English setting, though it changes some of the particulars and especially alters the time period: From 1941 to the 1890s.
The film is designed not as a modern superhero film/monster mash/creature feature but as a classic gothic horror movie, complete with fog-shrouded forests, a creepy old house, villagers with torches, the works. "I said, 'I want you to create something that we haven't seen in a long time. I really want it to look like a classic gothic horror film. Not necessarily old-fashioned, but I want it to reference what movies like this used to look like,'" director Joe Johnston said.
The movie's story closely echoes that of the original, with some alterations: Lawrence Talbot—the estranged American-raised son of an English nobleman—returns to his family's country estate after the death of his brother. He meets a woman, Gwen Conliffe (the brother's fiancee in this version of the story), and finds himself caught up in violent events involving the curse of the werewolf.
The classic elements are there. There's the opening poem (and not the altered version from the sequels)—"Even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night/May become a wolf when the wolfsbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright"—as created by original screenwriter Curt Siodmak. (Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self wrote the remake's screenplay.) There's the full moon, the silver bullets, the silver-headed wolf cane, the gypsy camp, the transformation. There's even a scene between Lawrence and Sir John at a telescope and between Lawrence and Gwen in an antique shop. The only things missing are the pentagrams.
Of course, this being a modern movie, there's a lot more action, much more graphic violence and a more complicated and involved love story.
As for the change in the name, from Wolf Man to Wolfman?
"We wanted it to be a word, exist as a word, and we also wanted to set it off from the original, The Wolf Man," Johnston said. "Now it's a thing unto itself."
What do you think? Do you buy it?