The Wolf Man, the 1941 movie starring Lon Chaney, Jr., directed by George Waggner from a screenplay by Curt Siodmak was on my 31 Horror Movies. It is my favorite of the Universal Monster Movies and would, I'm sure, make a list of my Top Five horror movies instead.
So, I mean no small exuberance when I say that I may actually prefer the new remake, The Wolfman starring Benicio del Toro, directed by Joe Johnston from a screenplay by Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self.
But perhaps this is where I should step back...
Back in the day when I'd occasionally read Harry Knowles's reviews, he had a policy of always giving a rather detailed telling of the day that preceded his viewing. Generally speaking, it was a better idea than it was a policy, too often leading to long pedantic rants about the banal workings of his day that he seldom was able to draw any direct connection to his feelings about the movie he watched.
In my life, I have a rather more dramatic event that certainly had a strong affect on my experience with this movie. I will warn that this story will include graphic details of a true and disturbing event.
A week ago, Kimberly Rae and I were woken up at five in the morning by the sound of the most awful screams I've heard in my life. The kinds of gut-wrenching screams that don't even occur in my worst nightmares. They were coming from the apartment across the hall.
Kim got up and tried knocking several times on the door with increasing urgency to no avail. A neighbor down the hall eventually came out and requested we stop causing a disturbance, so we huddled up and tried to decide what to do. We waited and listened.
We pondered the possibilities. Perhaps it was night terrors or a sex act that went to a level beyond the kind of family-friendly BDSM that our relatively vanilla lives have given us contact with. Eventually she went off to work and we talked to another across the hall neighbor who said he'd be making a couple of calls.
As the week went on, we talked to our apartment manager and other neighbors. Kim would regularly knock to see if we could see how he was. We thought we heard noises emanating from the apartment, show tunes and what sounded like a BiPAP machine.
Yesterday, we heard some knocking and shouting across the hall and Kim again went to check up on it. The manager and two of our neighbor's co-workers entered the apartment and found him dead of an apparent suicide by anti-freeze. We had listened to his protracted and painful deaths together in the early morning and his body had been laying in his apartment for almost a week.
Kim ended up being the one to call 911 and, as such, the one instructed to feel for a pulse and breath, as his co-workers, despite being medical professionals, we too hysterical to do it. She had to move his already purple face out of a pool of black vomit to reach his mouth check his breath.
We had passes to an early screening of The Wolfman, and we did consider passing it up under the circumstances. But the need to do something drove us to the theater.
That feeling of guilt and genuine morbidity made me most likely too good a target for the dreamy dark fairy tale mood of the movie.
Frankly, even aside from the collusion of real life horrors, the movie was custom made to push all of my buttons, which I won't bother detailing as many involve strong spoilers, so I can't imagine that under more pleasant circumstances, I still wouldn't be sitting here writing a positive review. I'll have to have more time, however, before I can decide if the extent of my positive feelings are justified.
I certainly did note, as others will certainly do after me, that there is some lousy CGI. I've said before that CGI doesn't work with werewolves, including other movies I've enjoyed, such as Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by Alfonso Cuarón. This movie does little to nothing to disprove that.
The Rick Baker makeup and makeup effects themselves were terrific, and I suspect in places improved in places where they worked by perfectly solid, unobtrusive CGI. There were, however, plenty of examples where of less seamless CGI that were unfortunate.
The movie is owned by a beautiful, haunting and haunted performance by del Toro, who not only brings a hint of knowing understanding of Chaney's classic - and underrated - performance, but also works as a full-blown performance of its own.
Standing in line before the movie, I had to endure two guys yacking about their thoughts on all things movies. You know, the kinds of guys that make you wish you could go pull Marshall McLuhan out to lecture them. (One of them has plans to see Tetsuo, which he understands to be "a lot like Akira"). They complained that in the trailers Anthony Hopkins seemed to be walking through his performance. I can imagine how when any given line is pulled out, it could look that way, but I assure you, he is giving an incredibly disciplined and downright brilliant performance as a chillingly distant man.
Hugo Weaving likewise gives a terrific performance as a character suggested to be a fictionalized version of Frederick Abberline, who investigated the Whitechapel murders. And Geraldine Chaplin is magnificent in the seemingly impossible role of bringing something new to the role of the gypsy so iconically established by Maria Ouspenskaya in the original movie.
I've said before, such as in Psychoanalyzing my own taste, that A Clockwork Orange is the "favorite movie" I chose as an adolescent, and despite building adult favorites, such as The Treasure of the Sierra Madre and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, around it, I've never been able to displace it. In the last hours, I've found myself wondering if, flawed though it is, The Wolfman isn't capable of being my adult favorite.
It's way too early to call that. I'll need to live with it in my world and see it again. It could be that I won't feel the same at all once events of recent days fade into something less substantial.
But I do want to make the point that my rave is not intended at all idly.