Finally! I’m talking about a movie I hadn’t seen before! Well, I hadn’t seen Nosferatu either but most of the films this week were old favorites. But not today! Today is new!
And I squee a lot as a result. Sorry about that.
An American Werewolf in London – USA, 1981. Dir. John Landis. Starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne.
As I was driving into work the other morning, listening to KCRW as I do, a promo for their Halloween Masquerade Ball came on: “It’s a full moon. Beware the moon. Stick to the road. Oops.” Then, a lonely wolf’s howl.
What movie was that from? I didn’t know!
At least, I didn’t know until last night. Then, last night, it all changed. Last night I watched An American Werewolf in London. I’m going to attempt to write something more substantive than “squee!” But seriously. Squee! Man, I really don’t know what else to do other than squee. This is hard. My brain is mostly going “THAT MOVIE WAS AWESOME.”
Also, I can’t write something as brilliant as my Bride of Frankenstein post every day. That was pretty brilliant, right? RIGHT? Ahem. Sorry. I’m done now.
In general, I like the werewolf movies I’ve seen but to be honest I haven’t seen all that many werewolf flicks. Until recently I hadn’t seen The Wolfman and until last night I hadn’t seen An American Werewolf in London. I loved them both.
So what did I like about An American Werewolf in London? I can start there.
The set-up is great. It’s a little creepy and certainly atmospheric, but mostly the beginning of this movie establishes the tone and relationship of our two buddies David and Jack. The writing between them is solid, it’s funny but it’s a dark kind of funny. We still want the mood to be one appropriate for a horror movie and that it is.
I don’t really know what I was expecting, but this movie is bloody! Oh man is it bloody. But it’s also 80’s bloody which is a kind of red paint bloody. I like this kind of bloody. It’s a fun bloody. David and Jack are attacked on the moors, the ones they’ve been repeatedly told to stay off of, and there is blood everywhere. I have to admit I was a little shocked, like I said not what I was expecting.
As much fun as blood and gore can be, it takes more than that to make a good film. This movie has more than blood and gore. It also has a good cast. David Naughton is our hero David Kessler, Griffin Dunne plays his buddy Jack. John Woodvine plays Dr. Hirsch who reluctantly begins to believe David’s bizarre version of the events that occurred on the moors. Also, Frank Oz is in this movie. There’s that (okay, that starts to verge into the ridiculous). And Jenny Agutter. We all love Jenny Agutter, right?
David. I love David. He’s a dumb American kid. He’s just trying to get laid (he is cute and he is TROUBLE. Ahem. For the ladies). He has crazy Zombie Werewolf Nazi dreams. He’s kind of hot. And he runs around naked. A lot.
David is also an interesting parallel to Lon Chaney’s Larry in the old Wolf Man film. Lon Chaney shows up, a stranger, kinda cocky. While David is maybe not quite as cocky as Larry, he’s certainly sure of himself with that nurse (Jenny Agutter). He is a total flirt. But both David and Larry have to face the same struggle: are they going mad? Is it all in their head? Or are they actually turning into a hideous, murderous beast at the full moon? With Chaney, I constantly wanted to give him a hug. I have a little less pity for David, since he seems a bit more aware of his situation but then again, that awareness makes his options harsher: kill others or kill himself.
I really enjoy the scene in the theater, towards the end, when David has this conversation with Jack and his other victims, discussing his options. It’s so weirdly, darkly funny.
The make-up and special effects are where this movie really hits its stride. Rick Baker is a genius and for anyone who is a fan of this sort of special effects make-up, you have to watch this movie. While I hadn’t seen it before, I have seen the wolf transformation scene a number of times. It is really, really good. The way the hands and feet stretch into wolf limbs is really disturbing. I like the wolf design. And I like the touches leading up to the transformation – David freaks out, starts sweating like crazy, and rips his clothes off. Oh yeah, he’s naked again. Jack’s make-up is also great. I like the detail that each time we see him, he’s decomposed more. I like Zombie Jack. Or Undead Jack. Whatever.
Question. If American Werewolf in London can pull off these make-up effects in the early 80’s, what excuse does Poltergeist have for the face melting scene? Now I’m getting depressed. Sad.
I digress. As usual.
The soundtrack here is fun. It’s so spot on it’s ridiculous but John Landis has made a movie that is so aware of the genre and itself that I think it works really well. Blue Moon, Bad Moon Rising, Moondance… Exactly how many different versions of Blue Moon are there? A few apparently.
While there’s plenty of humour throughout, Landis is the director of Animal House after all, the movie gets serious for it’s final act. It’s the same sort of thing that Shaun of the Dead does. We have jokes and comedy mixed with scares and gore up until the end. Then there’s a bloodbath. There’s a moment when Jenny Agutter tries to save the man she’s fallen in love with. Only her hope that she can reach him is in vain, because David is no longer there. In the end, David has become more monster than man. Unlike Larry’s father in Wolf Man, she doesn’t have to kill the man she loves. She just has to watch him die.
I know this isn’t much of a review, it’s more of a babbling along the lines of “I love this movie” but really, An American Werewolf in London is a lot of fun and well worth watching.