I was lucky enough to sneak my way to a bit of a shindig at the lovely Denzille Lane on Tuesday night. Universal Pictures in anticipation of the release of The Wolfman next month had lined up a screening of the original movie it was based on.
The original version, released in 1941 is a classic of the monster movie genre that made Universal Pictures a household name for horror fans. Starring Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi the plot is relatively simple (and short, I forgot how old movies don't waste time!). Lead character Larry Talbot returns to his ancestral home in Wales (his American accent seems to be an issue for no-body) in an attempt to reconnect with his father. There is also a bit of a romantic carry on with a local shop girl and soon enough while trying to save her from a wolf ends up being bitten and becoming a werewolf himself. Throw in some gypsy action and a the "only silver can kill a werewolf" moments and there you have it. It all ends rather abruptly but the film manages to sketch in a brief running time a punchy sense of a werewolf myth and manages some nice special FX (considering how old it is).
Watching an old film like this in a cinema environment is a bit strange. In some ways it has aged quite well. It is skillfully shot and has strong performances. But the horror elements are played down. This is more like a supernatural thriller than a horror film and the Wolfman himself makes very few appearances. Still, it marks an interesting reference point for horror fans and particularly the werewolf as a figure in popular culture. As I said to the people with me at the screening are we expecting werewolves to be the new vampires in 2010? The mythology may not be seeped into the popular consciousness like vampire lore but watching this film reminds you of how many key elements of werewolf myth you already know.
Having watched the film, it made me view the sneak peek footage of the re-make in a different light. I was more interested because I could make comparisons. Set in the 19th Century, the new version repositions the story to a Victorian setting with Benicio Del Toro (who pins himself as a Wolfman fan in the interview we watched) as the titular character and a supporting cast from the likes of Anthony Hopkins and Emily Blunt.
Obviously it looks vastly different to the original. The transformation to the Wolfman is suitably gruesome and the setting looks and lush and genuinely spooky. There have been rumblings about this being a troubled production because of various pre-production problems and release date changes but I was pleasantly surprised by the footage I saw. Moving the story to a Victorian setting that I think could work really well and with director Joe Johnston set to helm the Captain America feature after this I'm curious to see how he handles re-inventing an iconic character here.
The Wolfman is released on the 12th of February. Check out the trailer below. It's well worth your time checking out the original too. It might seem a little dated but the concept is strong and interesting to contrast against the new version.