Saturday, October 16, 2010

Bane There, Done That

“Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms and the autumn moon is bright.”

I was speaking with my aunt recently and I told her I had just rented The Wolfman, a remake of the old horror movie classic that our family had enjoyed for so many years.

“Why?” she asked me with gentle exasperation.

Struck for answer, I reverted to my standard adolescent response.

“Uh…I don’t know.”

Actually, I did know. I was hoping for an easy night at the movies where I could sit back and relax with some enjoyable junk cinema. As it turned out, the only thing I got right was the “junk” part.

This wolf was a dog and the enjoyment for me came when I dumped the DVD into the mailbox and shipped it back to Netflix.

What was I thinking? That today’s filmmakers could actually create something that would rival the old 1941 Universal creepy starring Lon Chaney, Claude Rains, Bela Lugosi, and the incredible Maria Ouspenskaya?

No one could top Ouspenskaya when she intones “the way you walked was thorny, through no fault of your own but as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so tears run to a predestined end…

Sure, it’s a load of crap, but it’s really great crap. Just like all those other old Universal horror flicks—Dracula, Frankenstein, The Mummy, The Invisible Man and God knows how many more that made my Saturday nights when I was a kid.

Cheesy dialog, flimsy sets, and plots as creaky as the hinges on Dracula’s coffin—I couldn’t get enough of them. At least these movies were fun, which is more than I can say about most of today’s gore-filled, CGI-crammed retreads.

I don’t care for remakes on principle, the notable exception being The Maltese Falcon with Humphrey Bogart, which was actually the third time around for Hammett’s novel.

For the most part, however, remakes to me come off as a low rent way to may a fast buck off of established material.

The new version stars two actors I like— Benicio Del Toro as the tortured title character and Anthony Hopkins as his father—but that didn’t help any.

In addition to being much bloodier than the original—what a surprise!—the remake puts an Oedipal/edible slant on the proceedings that leads to an embarrassing monster-on-monster showdown.

I much prefer the pairing of Lon Chaney Jr. and Claude Rains, one of the more unlikely father and son matchups in movie history. We were asked to believe that this slight, dapper English was the father of the towering, rather doofy-looking American.

I had an easier time believing that a man could turn into a wolf than accepting that these two were related. But it didn’t bother me in the least. In fact, it’s one of the reasons I enjoy the movie so much.

The original was written by Curt Siodmak, author of the novel Donovan’s Brain, and the scripts for such gems as I Walk With a Zombie, The Beast With Five Fingers, and--one of my favorites—Non-Stop New York.

Siodmak came up with the little ditty about a man turning into a wolf even though he’s “pure of heart,” which was repeated in all the other Universal werewolf movies.

And there was always a scene in these movies where Chaney, in attempt to protect the general public, would hide away in a remote inn. Just before turning in for the night, he’d whirl around with his eyes rolling and shout to the innkeeper, “Lock me in! And whatever you hear, don’t open the door!”

I used to wonder why the innkeepers didn’t boot Chaney out on his ass the moment they heard that. But no, they went along, although they often peeked into the room when the howling started. Big mistake, as any horror movie will tell you.

I guess it’s too much to ask for movie studios to leave the classics alone. No, for as the rain enters the soil, the river enters the sea, so will my tears run as directors continue to feast on the remains of old horror films.

Hey, that sounds like an idea for a movie…

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