The Wolfman (2010)

Starring: Benicio Del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Hugo Weaving, Emily Blunt, Art Malik, Asa Butterfield

Directed by: Joe Johnston

Rating: 1 2 3

Bark at the moon: Benicio Del Toro as The Wolfman

What do you get if you throw every cheap horror movie cliché into a cauldron and stir it with a big wooden spoon? Damp, misty forest + spooky gothic mansion + creepy foreign servant + lonely mausoleum + cryptic gypsy warnings + torch-wielding villagers with baying dogs + well, a werewolf = The Wolfman.

When Shakespearean actor Lawrence Talbot (Benicio Del Toro) returns from exile in the States to his crumbling family pile (aka Chatsworth House coloured in with a black crayon and inexplicably filled with autumn leaves) to investigate the mysterious disappearance of his brother, Ben, we're all set for An American Werewolf in London. But instead what we get is more like An American Werewolf in Paris

Benicio Del Toro transformed into The Wolfman

Poor Benicio Del Toro. Usually an actor I love, here, with his waxy complexion, mop-like wig and blackened lips, he looks more like Frankenstein's monster than the Wolfman – and that's before he's been bitten. Course, next thing we know, he's barking at the moon like Ozzy on steroids, and, true to the 1940s roots of the film, he's transformed (in a fairly spectacular fashion, admittedly) into an old school, mutton chops, loping Simian creature, far removed from the lean, lupine creatures we've seen in the movies of late.

In some ways, director Joe Johnston's refusal to add a postmodern or tongue-in-cheek parodic twist to his source material is laudable: nobody wanted to see Van Helsing again. But what would have seemed highly entertaining in a 1940s monster movie or 1950s Hammer horror is less exciting in a multi-million dollar Hollywood flick with a stellar A- list cast and top draw special effects.

Hugo Weaving as Inspector Abberline in The Wolfman

True, Sir Anthony Hopkins (on cruise control as Talbot's crazy father) and Hugo Weaving (injecting a much needed note of humour to the po-faced proceedings as the copper – Inspector Abberline, no less – on Talbot's trail) are always good value for money, and the Jack the Ripper-style scenes in Lambeth Asylum are pretty cool. But on the whole, the film is unremittingly gloomy – even the daylight scenes are shot in the pouring rain – and not nearly as much fun as I'd hoped, or as gory and scary as a 15 certificate would seem to merit these days. While Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes breathed new life into a legend, this film seems content simply to rehash it, with better hair and make-up.

A few months ago I predicted that the werewolf would rise to knock the vampire from his velvet-draped pedestal. But I fear that The Wolfman may have just shot a silver bullet through that theory…

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