Monday, August 26, 2013

My Favorite Era: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

1981 was truly the year of the werewolf in the horror genre.  We had the intellectual pseudo-werewolf story in Wolfen, the clever Joe Dante flick The Howling and our entry today, John Landis' best film.

AWIL takes the basic story template of the original Wolf Man film (using vacationing college students instead of Lon Chaney Jr.)and gives it darkly comic 80's spin with gory f/x from Rick Baker, a nice balance of horror and humor and a cast of competent pros.  Let's take a closer look.
  • First off, I dig the use of moon related songs in the soundtrack.  It's quite amusing and they're chosen and placed quite well.  Equally amusing is the first shot of our leads, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) in the back of a truck full of sheep.  It's not subtle, but then again this is a John Landis movie.  I'm not certain he's even heard of the word.
  • Naughton and Dunne have a nice, easygoing chemistry together that makes you believe they're old friends.  Landis isn't always the best at building real characters but here he does quite well.
  • The pub scene is quite nicely done with the locals just oozing a distinct "Sod off!" vibe.
  • The first attack scene is a wonderful bit of horror as the wolf literally comes out of nowhere.  It's really well done, though I have to admit it hasn't scared me since I first saw it as a kid.  I think I was about ten at the time.
  • The middle portion of the film is full of great stuff: the hallucinatory nightmares, a small Frank Oz cameo, the welcome presence of Jenny Agutter as a nurse who ends up falling for David (complete with nude scene) and the wonderfully dark humor that comes up when Jack comes back from the dead as a truly gross walking corpse to advise David.  The bumbling detective is also amusing.
  • The only real issue the film has is one of pace as it's nearly an hour in until David turns and after that, it's a rather abrupt sprint to the finish line.  That being said, it's all quite entertaining.
  • The easy highlight of the film is, of course, Rick Baker's amazing transformation scene.  It still holds up pretty well today and stands as one of the best sequences in all of horror.  The rest of Baker's work is equally fantastic with Jack's undead makeup standing out along with the clever way they did the wolf itself.  Most of the shots are of a really nasty looking half-wolf that just looks terrifying as hell.  It still works pretty well today, even when stacked up against the stuff f/x artists can do now.
  • David's rampage is quite good with some great kills, the following scene where he walks up at the zoo is equally fun.
  • The scene in the porno theater is darkly hysterical and the ensuing finale in Piccadilly Circus is nicely chaotic (if there is one thing Landis can do well, it;s chaos).  The last bit with Jenny Agutter and the wolf is pretty good and like any good monster movie, once the monster is dead the film ends.  I like having that sort of ending every now and then.  As long as it's not a 70's style freeze frame that resolves nothing, it can work quite well.
An American Werewolf in London is one of those films you just have to see if you are a fan of horror.  It's fast paced, funny, a little scary in places (though nowhere near as scary as Landis seems to think) and the f/x still hold up well.  It's a real gem.

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About Me

I've been a huge fan of action, horror and comedy for as long as I can remember.