Sometimes, the world doesn’t need a hero, it needs a monster. And in 2010, Universal gave us one, perhaps for the very last time.
As you’ve surely heard by now, Universal has decided to turn all their iconic monsters into superheroes, using the money-making Marvel model as inspiration for an entire universe of reboots that are set to take those characters away from us horror fans – and give them to people with more money than us.
It’s still unclear whether or not Dracula Untold (read our review) is a part of this shared universe, but we do know that Universal is currently prepping action-packed reboots of The Mummy, The Wolf Man and all the rest – and we can be pretty certain that Drac Untold is an indication of what’s to come.
Of course, taking classic monsters and making action stars out of them is nothing new, as films like 1999’s remake of The Mummy and the recent I, Frankenstein did just that. Similarly, Van Helsing was more action than horror, and if you saw the aforementioned Dracula Untold, you know the same can be said for that hunk of junk.
Why the shift from horror to action? Well, that probably has a little something to do with the poor box office performance of Universal’s Wolfman reboot, which came out just four years ago. Made on a budget of $150 million, the film opened in 2nd place but amassed a domestic gross of less than half its budget, which needless to say makes it a flop of fairly epic proportions.
It’s a damn shame, really, because The Wolfman 2010 could’ve – and by all means SHOULD’VE – been the prototype for Universal’s monster reboots, going forward. Love it or hate it, you simply can’t deny that the Joe Johnston-directed film at least got one thing right…
It was a horror movie. It was actually a fucking horror movie.
It’s almost hard to even remember, in the wake of Dracula Untold and the recent reboot news, but there was a time when the Universal Monsters were actually… monsters. There was nothing heroic about the characters and their remarkable powers were curses that doomed them to lives of tragedy, rather than superpowers that helped them save the world.
The Wolfman, perhaps better than any modern day movie that has used those properties as a launching point, hit that particular nail squarely on the head. The tale of a tortured man (a perfectly cast Benicio del Toro) fighting for his life against the beast that resides within him, Wolfman 2010 is a horrifying, tragic and brutal MONSTER MOVIE, embodying the essence of everything that Universal once stood for.
The fact that so many fans of that Universal brand of monster movies failed to appreciate this retelling of the iconic tale is somewhat bewildering, as it very much feels cut from the same cloth as those classic films. Rich with a dread-filled, gothic atmosphere, The Wolfman favors story over action, preserving the general beats of the same-named 1941 film, while throwing some clever curve balls into the mix.
The love story at the heart of the movie, for one, is pretty ingenious, as the character of Gwen Conliffe went from a random love interest (in the original) to the wife of Lawrence Talbot’s deceased brother. And that relationship is wonderfully restrained, as it’s not so much a love affair as it is something much deeper. Lawrence reminds Gwen of her late husband and Gwen reminds Lawrence of both his brother and his deceased mother, and their relationship becomes more about protecting one another than it is about sex or romance. It’s quite beautiful, actually, and executed in a very classy way.
And then there’s Lawrence’s father John Talbot, played by Anthony Hopkins. Unlike the original, Mr. Talbot is a werewolf himself in the 2010 remake, responsible for the murders of both Lawrence’s mother and his brother. The werewolf lineage adds a whole new layer to the tragic tale, and the new story elements all serve to breathe new life into that classic story. A remake done right, is what I call that.
One of the most notable differences between The Wolf Man and The Wolfman is how phenomenally gory the latter is, as no punches are pulled in that department (particularly in the unrated version). There are several scenes where the Wolfman goes through victims like Jason Voorhees, swiping off heads, tearing out throats and ripping out guts. It’s an incredibly brutal film, as any movie bearing the title Wolfman should be.
Not only are the gore effects terrific but so too is the look of the monster, which came courtesy of makeup effects legend Rick Baker. Looking like a much more horrifying version of the original incarnation, the Wolfman in the 2010 reboot is a nice fusion of man and beast, as Baker’s makeup retains the humanity of the character and blurs those lines in the same way the overall movies does. He’s not just a werewolf, he’s a ‘Wolfman,’ and the badass design totally nails that.
As for the transformations, Baker’s effects are joined side-by-side with a whole lot of CGI, which many have criticized the film for. Personally speaking, I think they work pretty damn well together, and the CGI rarely comes across as a problem. Sure, the transformations have got nothing on the work Baker did on An American Werewolf in London, but they’re still pretty damn awesome, effectively conveying the excruciating pain that Talbot goes through in those moments.
Like all the best remakes, The Wolfman pays loving tribute to the original and brings its own style and substance to the table, managing to genuinely feel like what you’d expect a modern day Universal Monster movie to feel like. And that’s again primarily because it’s a horror movie, at the end of the day. Whereas movies like I, Frankenstein and Dracula Untold barely feel like they belong in the same world as the classics, The Wolfman celebrates that lineage, and is a much better film than the others because of it.
Several years down the road, when Universal’s master plan has been completely revealed, I firmly believe that even the biggest haters of The Wolfman 2010 are going to look back on it and realize just how good us horror fans once had it. I can’t help but wish those same realizations had been made back then, as a better box office performance likely would’ve resulted in it becoming the template for future monster reboots.
And I think you’ll agree with me, whether you’ve yet come to appreciate The Wolfman or not, that you’d much rather Universal continue down its path, than the superhero one. Am I right?