‘The Wolfman’ and the secrets of torture tech

Feb. 18, 2010 | 7:01 p.m.

SCENE STEALER

Patrick Kevin Day talked to production designer Rick Heinrichs about the creepy-cool look of the Victorian-era werewolf movie, “The Wolfman,” and the bizarre “mental health” devices of the time. You can read his previous Scene Stealer interviews and Liesl Bradner’s Wizards of Hollywood series right here.

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Lawrence Talbot’s (Benicio Del Toro) stay in a mental asylum in “The Wolfman” is short, but quite memorable, thanks to the ghoulish therapy devices created by production designer Rick Heinrichs. One of the most notable is the dunking chair that functions like a Victorian-era waterboarding torture. The hand-cranked chair (actually controlled by a motor) is tipped backward into a pool of freezing water using gears Heinrichs and crew salvaged from the controls of a sluice gate.

“They were experimenting at the time with mental illness and trying almost medieval treatment methods using people as guinea pigs,” Heinrichs says.

Heinrichs wasn’t nearly as masochistic toward the actors. The water was quite warm and the “ice” floating in it was a silicon-like material cut so as not to appear as soft as it really was. And though the leather straps look impressive on-screen, it was just Velcro — hidden from view — that held Del Toro in the chair. The whole thing reminded Heinrichs of a circus dunk tank. “The first time I drew it for [director Joe Johnston], I put a clown in the chair.”

–Patrick Kevin Day

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Photos: Universal Pictures

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