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Now on DVD: THIS “WOLFMAN” HAS FLEAS!   Leave a comment

By C. Michael Forsyth

“The Wolfman” could not possibly find a more receptive audience than yours truly. As a child I was scared out of my wits by the 1941 original. (I was even terrified by Lon Chaney Jr.’s straight-faced reprise of the role in “Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein”). The movie gave me werewolf nightmares for decades. I’ve always found the flesh-ripping, rampaging man-beasts more frightening than those urbane vampires, with whom one could conceivably reason. While I’m not a big believer in remakes, when I learned that a “Wolfman” update was in the works, I eagerly anticipated it. The prospect of what modern special effects could add to the story intrigued me. And when I saw the trailer, with its grade A set design and period costumes, along with gorgeous cinematography, I immediately put the film on the top of my must-see list.

      To boot, the picture stars two of my favorite actors. I’ve been a fan of Anthony Hopkins since his chilling performance as a crazed ventriloquist in 1978’s “Magic.” (Just watch his face contort as a psychiatrist makes him try to keep his evil dummy silent for one minute). I’ve been following Benicio del Toro’s career with interest since his riveting turn as a brooding, switchblade-wielding henchman in the 1989 James Bond movie “License to Kill.” He even made my list of the top five Bond henchman.

     Unfortunately, this man-wolf movie turns out to be a dog.

     PROBLEM NUMBER 1: THE FILM ISN’T SCARY. The monster shows up way too early and appears on screen way too long. As is usually the case with movie monsters, this diminishes its ability to menace. I must admit, though, that the werewolf makeup — an update of the classic Universal version of the ‘40s — is pretty good, and a nice change from the usual “Howling”-type lycanthrope.

      While the body count is impressive (I guarantee you’ll lose count) virtually all of the killings are of anonymous characters we’ve never seen before; monster fodder we couldn’t care less about.

     PROBLEM NUMBER 2: THE FILM’S MAJOR PLOT TWIST IS INTERESTING, BUT IT’S TELEGRAPHED EARLY ON. Actually, “telegraphed” is far too generous. After all, to understand a telegraph machine, you need to know Morse code. This twist is displayed in bright red letters so big that unless you have trouble seeing the “E” on an eye chart, you’ll spot it a mile away.

     PROBLEM NUMBER 3: THE PERFORMANCES ARE DREADFUL. Hopkins, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in “Silence of the Lambs,” phones in this performance as the title character’s dad. Perhaps Sir Anthony has become too high and mighty to give a “mere” horror movie his all. Or maybe the veteran actor’s experienced nose recognized the movie as a turkey and he decided to just take the money and run. Or perhaps he was just having a bad few weeks. Hopkins is one of those actors (like fellow Welshman Richard Burton) who is really good when he’s good, and REALLY bad when he’s bad).

     But it’s del Toro’s wooden performance as the doomed, werewolf-bitten protagonist Larry Talbot that really sinks the film. He wears only one expression throughout the 103-minute movie: brooding. Come to think if it, he was at his best as the BROODING cop in “Traffic.” Maybe as an actor the guy is just a one-trick pony.

     It’s interesting that in the remake, the screenwriters chose to make Talbot an actor. But it’s a stretch to believe del Toro’s character has the risibility to emote on stage (especially during the 19th century, an era of extreme theatrical flamboyance).

     In this story, the monster is also the hero, so if we can’t empathize with him, the drama falls flat. Lon Chaney Jr. was no Laurence Olivier (nor even a Lon Chaney Sr.). But he killed as Lenny in “Of Mice and Men” and he killed as Larry Talbot (no pun intended). We rooted for him to somehow escape his tragic predicament, just as we would later feel we were in the trenches with “that Doctor Pepper guy” in “An American Werewolf in London.” We don’t give two cents about del Toro’s lackluster Larry.

     PROBLEM NUMBER 4: THE MOVIE’S CLIMAX FEATURES  THE MOST ANNOYING  HORROR CLICHÉ: TWO MONSTERS FIGHTING. My apologies to those of you who salivated at the prospect of Jason taking on Freddy Krueger, or Alien going toe-to-toe with Predator, but I usually find such clashes more comical than gripping. And most of the time, I find myself asking, “Who are we supposed to root for?”

     SO TO RECAP, we’re talking about a horror movie that isn’t scary, a plot twist that doesn’t surprise us, a leading man who can’t act and a climax that’s laughable. Does at least the romantic SUBPLOT work? Nope.

     PROBLEM NUMBER 5: THE ROMANCE BETWEEN TALBOT AND HIS SISTER-IN-LAW GWEN (EMILY BLUNT) IS UNCONVINCING. The love angle is called for by the movie’s structure, but it comes out of nowhere and feels forced. Plus del Toro and Blunt have little onscreen chemistry.

     This hurts because the film’s denouement hinges on our belief that Gwen would risk her life for Larry. When Gwen vows to rescue Larry from the curse and seeks the counsel of the old Gypsy woman, the screenwriters had an opportunity to inject an interesting new element into the “Wolfman” mythology: a possible cure. Instead, the meeting is a bust. So Gwen rushes to the dangerous Talbot estate with no plan – except to run like hell. And, as we recall from the cult classic “Tremors,” “Running isn’t a plan. Running is what you do when a plan fails.”

     However, in this case, I would say that if you happen to come across “The Wolfman” on the shelf in your local Blockbuster, that SHOULD be your plan: run like hell!

     Speaking of werewolves, check out this story I wrote for Weekly World News, under one of my many pseudonyms: “Moon Rays Turned Apollo Astronauts into Werewolves!” http://books.google.com/books?id=0_MDAAAAMBAJ&lpg=PA51&ots=ltMYwUPq_S&dq=weekly%20world%20news%20astronauts%20werewolves&pg=PA51#v=onepage&q&f=false

Not all werewolf flick suck. Check out this video promoting the book Hour of the Beast.

To see the Hour of the Beast book trailer and hear Chapter One of the shocking, controversial horror, CLICK HERE.

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Surprise, Surprise, Surprise! AUDIENCE GETS THE SHAFT IN M. NIGHT SHALYMAN’S ELEVATOR-TO-HELL FLICK.   2 comments

Fans of M. Night Shalyman are accustomed to being disappointed in the “Sixth Sense” director’s work. He has, sadly, emerged as a cinematic one-hit wonder. Nevertheless, up until now his sin has primarily been intriguing premises, squandered. Thus he makes the best trailers in the business, though not the best films. But with “Devil,” even the trailer forewarns us that the movie is a stinker.

The underlying premise – five strangers stuck in an elevator, one of whom is Satan, killing the others one by one – is, frankly, dumb. Still, as always, I rushed to the latest Shalyman offering, holding out hope that he will bring back the magic. Kind of like that perpetual sucker Charlie Brown believing that THIS time, Lucy will hold the football in place when he tries to kick it.

We know we’re in trouble right off the bat when Shalyman relies on voice over – the weapon of the weak narrative film maker – to explain the supernatural element. (Just as he did to even poorer effect in his worst movie, “Lady in the Water.”) The proposition that the Devil torments and then personally kills sinners before they go to Hell anyway really doesn’t make much sense. Annoyingly, the narration returns to serve up lame explanations for other, even more illogical aspects of the film’s mythology. For instance, that Lucifer ALSO bumps off completely innocent non-sinners along the way. This seems to be an excuse to beef up the movie’s body count, beyond the doomed passengers.
To make matters worse, these innocents are killed doing incredibly stupid things (Remember kids, water and high-voltage cables don’t mix).

The disparate-strangers-trapped-under-bizarre-circumstances theme has a stale feeling to it, perhaps because it was recycled in so many “Twilight Zone” episodes. (You know, are we all in Hell’s waiting room this week, or are we really toys in a child’s toy chest?) In this case, it’s not helpful that the passengers are all quite unlikable. They’re damned sinners, you’ll recall, so how sympathetic could they be? We don’t root for anyone in particular – we just sit there waiting to see who dies next. Even the mystery angle to this five-little-Indians melodrama fails miserably. Shalyman doesn’t give us a chance to figure out who the demonic culprit is. Instead, he solves the mystery for us with a steady process of elimination, with the choices quickly dwindling before our eyes.

Dramatically, the movie never gets above the ground floor, because the five trapped passengers do almost nothing to try to facilitate their own survival. That role is left to a police detective (ably played by Chris Messina) who follows every logical step as he valiantly tries to save the passengers from their rapidly deteriorating dilemma.

For a change, in this Shalyman movie, his trademark twist ending is actually satisfying, for the first time since “Signs.” But by then, it’s way too late. You wish you’d never stepped aboard this instantly forgettable elevator to mediocrity. My recommendation: when you hear that there’s “room for one more” audience member in this movie, wait for the next one to come along.

ROOM FOR ONE MORE? Just before all Hell breaks loose.

Posted October 8, 2010 by C. Michael Forsyth in horror

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