The Wolfman (15)

Slight, but it's perfectly formed

Contrary to A Single Man, in my experience an English professor is more likely to resemble The Wolfman – scary teeth, hair sprouting from his ears, and so on. Inspired by the 1941 Universal film, starring Lon Chaney ("His hideous howl a dirge of death!"), this remake stars Benicio Del Toro as estranged son Lawrence Talbot returning to his family's estate in Victorian England to investigate the disappearance of his brother. There he is uneasily reunited with his father (Anthony Hopkins) and introduced to his brother's pale and interesting fiancée Gwen (Emily Blunt).

When the unfortunate brother's corpse is discovered, viciously mauled, an alarm is raised through the local village ("Blackmoor", if you please). "The savagery of the attack would suggest an animal – or a lunatic," says Inspector Aberline (Hugo Weaving), just up from London after failing to solve the Ripper murders. With the full moon riding high and unearthly howls echoing from the moor, it's only a matter of time before Benicio discovers the horrible secret of his patrimony – and the audience discovers what a lousy job the film-makers are doing to frighten us.

I didn't mind the old Gothic stand-bys of the haunted country mansion (Chatsworth House under a cladding of decrepitude), misty woods, dank dungeons and ominous silhouettes, nor was I much bothered by Anthony Hopkins being barely conscious during his performance. (Will anyone dare to wake him?). What really killed the suspense was the sight of the Wolfman himself, in spite of legendary make-up artist Rick Baker on design duty. He it was who created Michael Jackson's werewolf in the "Thriller" video, and turned Jack Nicholson fanged and hairy in Wolf (1994), the last time lycanthropy got a major outing. The magic appears to have deserted Mr Baker, because at the appearance of the hirsute fiend what I heard in the stalls wasn't gasps of horror but giggles of mirth. The film's last-minute gesture to a sequel was surely made in hope rather than expectation.

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