David Naughton - David Kessler
Jenny Agutter - Alex Price
Griffin Dunne - Jack Goodman
John Woodvine - Dr. Hirsch
Genre - Horror/Comedy/Werewolf
Running Time - 98 Minutes
For a guy nicknamed "The Wolf", I haven't taken the time to really make my thoughts known about the werewolf sub-genre of horror. Even though I have reviewed DOG SOLDIERS, THE HOWLING, HOWLING II: YOUR SISTER IS A WEREWOLF, and HOWLING III: THE MARSUPIALS, the werewolf film reviews have been lacking at a blog where the wolf is the mascot. There are many reasons for that, with the main one being that werewolf films usually suck and there's just so much of my sanity that I have left [and I would like to keep it as long as possible, thank you!]. I mean, let's be honest. I can count the GOOD werewolf films on one hand, possibly two. It never goes further than that.
However, there seems to be one werewolf film that is pretty much considered the best werewolf film of all time. It's given more prestige than 1943's THE WOLF MAN. When it was released in 1981, it overshadowed the other two werewolf films released that year: THE HOWLING and WOLFEN. It even won an Academy Award [a rarity for the horror genre] and its success led to the first great music video of all time in Michael Jackson's "Thriller". And that film is 1981's AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON.
David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are two American students backpacking across England during Summer Break. One night, they arrive at a small town and stop at a bar called "The Slaughtered Lamb" for some much needed food and drink. However, the patrons give them a less than welcoming greeting. Things get worse when Jack asks them about the pentagram they have on their wall, causing them to quickly leave. While ignoring the advice to "stay on the road" and walking through the marsh, they realize that an animal is hunting them. The animal turns out to be a werewolf, who murders Jack and mauling David. Before David becomes food, the locals shoot and kill the werewolf.
Three weeks later, David wakes up at a London hospital. He's told that he's been attacked by a crazy person. After having weird dreams, David starts to question that story, remembering an animal attacking him and Jack. Things get weirder when his dead friend Jack appears to warn him that he's been bitten by a werewolf and must kill himself before transforming into one during the full moon and killing others. He tells Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) about this, but he pretty much considers the story something made up due to trauma. While questioning his own sanity, David develops a relationship with his nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), who lets him stay with her when he's released.
Dr. Hirsch decides to investigate David's attack, realizing that the story he's been fed was a lie. As he begins to wonder if David may have been telling the truth, David transforms into a dangerous werewolf during the full moon. Can anyone stop David, or will he follow Jake's advice and commit suicide?
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is probably my most requested film to review since I started up this blog, and I'm sorry it took me so long to review this film. I honestly haven't seen this movie since I was probably 11 years old [1992, yeesh], so I barely remembered most of it. But after finally watching it, I can honestly say that it is the best werewolf film ever made.
John Landis wrote the screenplay for AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON back in 1969 when he was 17 years old, making me feel inadequate that I'm still struggling with my current screenplay at the age of 29! Either way, the film has a very simple narrative to its benefit.
- Guy gets bit by a werewolf.
- Guy has strange dreams.- Guy's dead best friend visits him, warning him of impending doom.
- Guy falls in love.
- Guy turns into wolf and kills people.
You see, werewolf filmmakers? It doesn't have to be so damn complicated to make a great werewolf film. Sure, some of the stuff in-between these plot points takes a while to set up and build. But the end result makes it worth it. Landis doesn't follow the conventional rules of a horror script, mixing horror with humor, drama, and just weird moments like dreams about Nazis and dead friends wanting a bite of his sandwich. The dialogue is witty, the love story is actually interesting [even if it does happen a bit too quick], and the mood is somewhat creepy as well. Many people can't pull off horror-comedies, but Landis does it with ease. And I feel that the humor is why people continue to come back to this film than any other werewolf. Some people just want to laugh while being creeped out. It adds another dimension that many other werewolf flicks don't seem to have, making AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON a standout.
Another thing that makes AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON stick out are the characters. The fact that they're so damn likeable and funny keeps you invested in the story. While the things they do are a bit questionable as a human being and in the narrative [where can I get a hot nurse to take me home with her for a shower shag?], but they're developed enough to the point where we can relate to them on some level. While other werewolf films like to focus on the lycanthropes and how viciously they can murder the characters, this one focuses on the human characters and how the werewolf myth effects them. Hell, the werewolf sub-plot is pretty much in the background besides the beginning and the ending of the film.
I do have an issue with the film though. Since I hadn't seen it in 18 years in full, I had forgotten how this film had ended. And so, during my rewatch, I was really disappointed by how this film concludes. I mean really...the movie just ends! No aftermath. No consequences. Things happen and it goes straight to the end credits. This film felt a bit unfinished. It doesn't hurt the film really, but it's like a cheat after all that build up and investing 90 minutes into these characters. But in a way, it makes sense.
Probably the main attraction of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON are the special effects by Rick Baker. The effects are excellently done and really make the film stand out in the horror genre. I love the evolution of Jack's physical appearance as he decays as a corprse with each passing appearance to David. And the actual transformation scene itself is incredibly impressive for 1981 standards [even though it still works today]. There was no major CGI back in the early-80s, so Baker and his crew had to do it the old fashioned way - with makeup and tricky camera techniques to create the illusion of a man turning into a wolf. And it really works, as I still believe this is the best werewolf transformation ever recorded on film. Hell, not even the shitty CGI transformations, like in AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN PARIS, can compete. A lot of people today still debate whether this film or THE HOWLING had the better transformation effects. The Academy Awards chose AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON [which I agree with], but I do feel that THE HOWLING had the better looking werewolves. The ones in this movie look like Tazmanian Devils. However, they are a step above CGI werewolves, so I'm not complaining.
The direction by John Landis is great. I love the wolf POV shots, especially during the subway sequence [one of the best scenes in the film]. The way the transformation scene is shot is very effective. Landis manages to create a mix of haunting and humorous feels in the same scene, which is hard to do. And while the film is a bit campy and hokey at times, Landis never overdoes it. And I gotta say that the soundtrack, with Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising", Bobby Vinton's "Blue Moon, and Van Morrison's "Moon Dance", works really well. It definitely gives the film a cool voice.
The acting is excellent for the most part. David Naughton does well carrying the film as David, although he does come off a bit hammy and over-the-top at times. Still, he makes the character extremely likeable and that's all we can ask for. Jenny Agutter is bloody foxy as Alex Price. She can be my nurse anytime and invite me into her shower. Great subtle performance and I loved her scene at the end. Griffin Dunne is probably my favorite as Jack, who is very funny and doesn't act like you'd expect a corpse to act. Very solid supporting role. And I liked John Woodvine as the no bullshit doctor. Can't say nothing bad about this cast.
THINGS I'VE LEARNED WHILE SHEDDING IN THIS HEAT
- When David and Jack entered "The Slaughtered Lamb", everyone in the bar stopped chatting and stared at them. With a reception like that, I now know why that horse had a long face!
- David ran away as Jack was being killed by that werewolf. These two are as best of friends as Brutus and Julius. Et tu, David?
- The hospital orderly was Hindu. Apparently, the people of India are the Mexicans of Britain.
- Nurse Alex was more than willing to feed David his lunch so he could take his medicine. I had no idea that nurses were that hands on. In that case, I want to be treated at Haddonfield Clinic or Westin Hills. Those nurses could supply me with the calcium I need in my diet. As they say, breast milk is the best milk!
- On his first night out of the hospital, David got to bang Nurse Alex. Well he's is the expert at "Makin' It"...
- A cat continued to hiss at David. When pussy gives you that kind of reaction, you're either a werewolf, or maybe it's just time to hang a rainbow banner everywhere you go.
- The undead enjoy to frequent the local porn theater. Even a corpse enjoys having rigor mortis down there every once in a while.
THE FINAL HOWL
While the ending is a bit too abrupt, there's still no denying that AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON deserves its classic status in the horror genre. It's well written, it's well directed, well acted, and it has great special effects for its time. It's one of the few horror films that manages to balance the scares and the humor in its favor. It's sad that even 29 years later, no other werewolf film has come close to topping this one.
4 Howls Outta 4