The werewolf gets no respect.
Everyone knows Bela Lugosi's Dracula and Boris Karloff's Frankenstein's monster, even if they haven't seen the movies, but hardly anyone really knows Lon Chaney Jr.'s Wolf Man. Vampires are everywhere nowadays, often in risible incarnations, but we can still take them seriously, while werewolves seem inherently semi-comic. Howling at the moon inspires smiles rather than chills.
Ever since An American Werewolf in London, werewolves have been essentially postmodern monsters, with no hint of the Victorian aura of gothic romance and tragedy that still clings to Dracula and Frankenstein's monster. (Let us not speak of Van Helsing.) Perhaps because of Dracula's and Frankenstein's actual Victorian literary cred, they each got ambitious if flawed period remakes in the early 1990s by, respectively, Francis Ford Coppola and Kenneth Branagh. Around the same time, Mike Nichols made Wolf, a modern-day werewolf story starring Jack Nicholson.
Now, more than fifteen years later, Joe Johnston and Benicio Del Toro want to redress that imbalance. Playing it basically straight, The Wolfman harks back to the werewolf's 19th-century roots, if not in Victorian horror literature, at least in the gothic Universal horror tradition it inspired. Here is a werewolf movie that still considers it worth mentioning that even a man who is pure of heart and says his prayers by night can become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.
The Wolfman considers it worth mentioning; it does not know why. There is much talk of curses and damnation and fate, of God defending his faithful and forsaking the damned to the power of Satan. There are Gypsies who talk about the saints and a Sikh manservant who calls himself ...1
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