An American Werewolf in London (1981) (R)
















Possibly the movie best known for its makeup and special effects, "An American Werewolf in London" should be seen as more of a milestone in cinema for its practicality and less of a credible drama. Bizarre director John Landis certainly doesn't take himself too seriously and with this movie (which he wrote as well) it seems impossible to have a genuine horror flick.
"An American Werewolf in London" begins on the moors of the United Kingdom. Two students, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking across the country. They have hitched a ride with a sheep farmer but must part ways—they walk until it becomes dark and then they reach a curious pub in a curious down.
The Slaughtered Lamb exemplifies the motif of horror of "the town in knowledge" where outsiders aren't welcome and everybody knows some huge secret except for our main characters. This particular town seems guarded about the pentagram on the wall and the burning candles that Jack hypothesizes are there to ward off evil. Instead of doing what every other person would have done in his place, Jack becomes obsessed with the local lore; and after the natives warm up to the two Americans, he asks them what's up with the star on the wall.
Well, color all of them offended. They button their lips, put a menacing scowl on their faces, and boot the two students out into the night where they experience the shortest rainstorm ever. Warned not to walk onto the moors, the two (duh) find themselves lost on the moors after only a few minutes of walking on the road. I don't know about these two, but I've never had that much difficultly feeling the different between pavement and wet mud...but that's just me.
Now lost and alone in a dark, full moon night with a mysterious beast howling its cries, the two partake in stupid activities...but that's expected.
Eventually the beast in question jumps out and attacks both of them and we cut to black. When we reopen, David is now in a hospital in London and Jack is dead. Reeling from the loss of his friend, David balances between sanity and nightmare often.
The best parts of the movies are his dreams, in which the camera flies through the air, close to the ground (very similar to what Sam Raimi does in "The Evil Dead"). But "An American Werewolf in London" isn't trying to be scary, in fact, it would seem that this is sort of an anti-horror film if there ever was one. There are moments that could be disturbing, but on a whole, it's not that sensational.
After several weeks of recovery, David awakens only a few days before the full moon and we all know what's going down because we read the title of the movie. Jack appears to Scrooge...er...David to warn him that he has been turned into a werewolf and he is going to eat people if he doesn't kill himself.
What is fascinating about "An American Werewolf in London" is how it doesn't cheat out of any of the drama. We get actual drama, not actually acting; but hey, you gotta start somewhere. David Naughton is really not that great as the lead man and his love interest, Alex Pryce (Jenny Agutter) is not that much better than he. The scenes that excel don't involve either one of them.
Much like "Jaws" did, we really don't see the bad wolf until the last few minutes of the film and then...it's a let down. At least we got a somewhat real looking shark in "Jaws" but in "American Werewolf in London" we just get a plush toy....disappointment.
The film isn't bad...there are fairly remarkable sections in it and the transformation sequence is just as legendary as everyone says it is. It's fun and mindless, and it never claimed to be anything but that.










Score: ★★½

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