By the early 1940’s, the Universal Monsters and their respective franchises were losing steam. Dracula, Frankenstein, and The Invisble Man were all into multiple sequel territory. Thus, in December 1941, Universal Studios opted to step outside classic literature, delivering a new monster movie classic – The Wolf Man. The move proved to be a success, extending the original Universal Monster cycle for another several years.
Given their longstanding influence and popularity, you can’t really blame Universal Studios for trying to reboot their classic monster lineup. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), their ‘Dark Universe’ imploded after 2017’s The Mummy. But The Mummy wasn’t the first time Universal tried to kickstart a monster revival. In 2010, Universal released the Joe Johnston-helmed The Wolfman remake. To celebrate the anniversary of The Wolf Man, this edition of Re-Animated compares the 1941 original to its 2010 remake
The Wolf Man (1941) Still Has Bite
One of the last of the original Universal Monsters to get the big screen treatment, The Wolf Man stands as one of the best from their original cycle. Curt Siodmak’s screenplay understood what made Frankenstein and The Mummy work. Lon Chaney, Jr.’s, Lawrence Talbot is a tragic figure rather than a pure monster. Chaney was well cast, channeling a desperate sadness needed for the role. His death at the hands of someone he loved, his own father, would be re-visited years later by An American Werewolf in London.
…Waggner crafted an atmospheric monster movie swirling in studio-made mist.
Director George Waggner lacked some of the cinematic grandeur of James Whale or Todd Browning As a result, The Wolf Man falls a little short of the best of the Universal Monsters films like Bride of Frankenstein. Nonetheless, Waggner crafts an atmospheric monster movie swirling in studio-made mist. The Wolf Man probably won’t scare many young horror fans, but it remains a fun movie to watch at night with the lights out.
Dracula, Frankentein, The Mummy, The Wolf Man – legendary make-up artist Jack P. Pierce gave birth to our collective images of monster royalty. Yes, Rick Baker’s work in An American Werewolf in London remains the definintive standard for werewolf special effects. But for several decades, Pierce’s work on The Wolf Man was unprecedented. Even in today’s CGI-heavy movie-verse, there’s something impressive about Pierce’s ‘Wolf Man’. From dollar-store Halloween masks to Adam Sandler’s Hotel Transylvania series, Pierce’s work is undeniably influential.
The Wolfman (2010) Was All Bark, No Bite
Poor Universal Studios. The had all their ducks in a row for their Wolf Man remake. On paper, the remake could not have looked more promising. The 2010 The Wolfman boasted a stellar cast that included Sir Anthony Hopkins, Benico Del Toro, Emily Blunt, and Hugo Weaving. Makeup and special effects wizard Rick Baker created the werewolf effects. Even director Joe Johnston had a pretty good creature-feature background with Jumanji and Jurassic Park III under his belt. So where did it all go wrong?
First, The Wolf Man adopted contemporary sensibilities and, as a result, is far more graphic than the original. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, Johnston and Baker’s inclusion of visceral gore is fitting for a modern take on the werewolf. No longer restrained by limited effects and the Hayes Code, The Wolf Man should have had some bite. Not surprisingly, Baker’s practical effects are as eye-popping as you could imagine. Occasional use of CGI blood and guts disappoints, but it’s the special effects that stand out in this version.
The Wolfman Remake Lacks Scares
Not much else will linger with you after the final credits Though Johnston adapted The Wolf Man with more explicit and frequent tooth-gnashing violence, he forgot to make his version scary. That’s right, The Wolf Man almost completely lacks any scares. Not even cheap jolts and jump scares. For a movie set on the English moors with Gothic castles, The Wolf Man also surprisingly lacks any atmosphere. In fact, The Wolf Man is a surprinsgly dull affair.
Much of the blame can be laid at the feet of Andrew Kevin Walker and David Self’s screenplay. Curt Siodmak’s original The Wolf Man script was lean and focused. Comparatively, Walker and Self weigh down the remake with needless backstory. Too much time is spent on melodramatic family history than Gothic monster suspense. The writers must have felt some pressure to give their remake some ’emotional weight’. Unfortunately, the more complex story only serves to make the remake a good 40 minutes longer than its predecessor.
The Original Wolf Man Still Leads the Pack
Ater over 70 years, The Wolf Man remains more than just a nostalgic trip down memory lane. It’s an utterly watchable movie that taps into just about everything that makes horror movies fun. Any ‘best of’ list about werewolf movies would be suspect in its absence. In contrast, the 2010 remake is a technically proficient but soulless endeavour. It’s a cautionary tale that sometimes simple is better.