Wednesday, February 10, 2010


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.


bill r. said...

Well. That's quite something. I do sometimes feel like I should temper my ravening love for certain movies because of personal connections, or because they push my buttons, but I've never had an experience like that. I don't really know what to say about the true story portion of this review, other than that I doubt I'd have had any better idea of what to do than you or Kim did.

As for the movie...well, you've sold me. I was probably going to see it anyway, but you've sold me.

Greg said...

Sorry but all I can focus on is the suicide. Why didn't the apartment manager go into the apartment then and there? At the very latest the next morning. I mean... why? Why did the manager wait a full week? Why did the neighbor ask you and Kim to stop? Did she not hear the screams herself? Did you ask the manager why he/she didn't go in that day and if so what did he/she say?

Wow, what an experience. My praise and admiration for Kim for coming through when she needed to. You got a keeper there.

bill r. said...

I thought all that, too, Greg. I doubt Neil has the answers, but the neighbor asking them to hold it down...hey, fuck you, buddy!

Neil Sarver said...


Aside from, well, asides, such as "I'm a sucker for werewolf movies", I usually avoid such reviews as well.

I remember a review I read once in The Rocket of the Body Count album that said, in essence, "I hate heavy metal. I hate rap in general and I hate Ice-T in particular. I really hate this album."

Well, duh!

There are some things I sit down to write about and find what I have to say, positive or negative, doesn't amount to anything other than that, and I try at those points to skip it.

In this case I didn't know another review to write. I could have just said I thought the movie was great, but that feels so incomplete with all of the emotions it brought up in me... many of which aren't directly related to this specific real life issue. And not saying anything at all about a movie I was in the midst of feeling so strongly about seemed almost as dishonest.

I hope you enjoy the movie. I hope someday I also enjoy the movie and this whole exuberant isn't entirely a fever dream built on a very strange and disturbing experience.

As to what we could have or should have done, I appreciate knowing that I'm not alone a lot. For what it's worth, I've been assured that there's nothing that can be done after a person ingests anti-freeze, so whatever we may have done wouldn't likely have made a significant effect. Kind of cold comfort, but not for nothing either.


I completely understand.

I'm not sure I know why more action wasn't taken earlier. I know that the manager and us were both trying to stay aware, and, like I said, there seemed to be things a person could imagine as signs of life, whatever may have been the actual cause, alarms set to go automatically or wishful thinking or some combination of them. I can't say I fully understand why it took so long... except maybe to say that for me personally it felt surprising it had been that long... time has a tricky way of just moving along.

As to the neighbor down the hall... I have no answer. I like to imagine she didn't hear the screams.

And Kim, yes, I really think she is. She's amazing.

It's been quite an experience all around. Not to sound overly unmanly but I find myself randomly tearing up today without even being consciously aware of a thought to that experience.

Neil Sarver said...


I'm not updating the original post as I believe it best accurately reflecting my experience yesterday.

However, I'm now told that my neighbor did speak to his family on Sunday at some point, leaving the time he lay dead in his apartment at less than 48 hours.

I'm still left haunted by that sound, now completely unexplained. It wasn't mere sounds of agitated depression. Perhaps there was a painful terminal illness that his family wasn't aware of.

I don't know...

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