An American Werewolf in London was the first “horror” -or should I say horror comedy- film among Philip DeFranco Movie Club. Over the years, it has gathered a large cult following. I’m sure people have viewing sessions just like Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Two young American men, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) embark on a backpacking journey in England, only to be interrupted by an odd encounter at a small town pub, “The Slaughtered Lamb.” After feeling not welcome here, they leave the town at night to go elsewhere. However, the men get attacked by a werewolf, which kills Jack and leaves David wounded. Thanks to apparitions of Jack, David, while being treated at a hospital in London, learns that he is a werewolf. No matter what, he is going to turn into one in the next full moon. Or an alternative synopsis would be “Stupid American men who do not stick to the road get to face death or become a werewolf and submit to the dire consequences.”
In this movie, John Landis, famously known for directing National Lampoon’s Animal House, Blues Brothers, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, tries really hard to combine horror and comedy. At times, it’s comical but other times, there is total violence on screen. Most of the movie has a slow pace, until the end, where it gains momentum and ends very abruptly. It is as if someone forced Landis to stay within a time limit. There is no breathing space given to the audience to think about the gruesome situations. Moreover, some parts of the story just doesn’t make sense. How did David transition so quickly from mourning for Jack to flirting with Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) to moving in with her? Also, the acting is very cheesy and not convincing.
One thing that is superb about An American Werewolf in London is the “Special Make Up Effects” by Rick Baker.
(Rick Baker applying make-up to Griffin Dunne)
Fun fact, the makeup was so successfully done that the Academy Awards decided to create a category specifically for the film: Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. Thanks to Baker, the wizards of make up can enjoy the attention they deserve. The first signs of this make up appear during David’s many nightmares. But the prime moment is when David slowly transforms into a werewolf. It is so believable and scary that I jumped in scenes when the werewolf appears to people. I hope I don’t see this animal in my nightmares. Some scenes are unexpectedly violent, such as at the end, when the werewolf dashes through the theatre door and bites off the inspector’s face.
However, I found undead Jack and later his undead companions to be very amusing and enjoyable to watch. Jack, with his slowly rotting body and quirky remarks made the movie a little more enjoyable. Also, the movie’s ironic soundtrack features three different versions of “Blue Moon,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising.” Wow, they all have “moon” in their titles, clever! (Actually, I liked the soundtrack)
Three other fun facts: 1) David was wearing a NYU t-shirt! Since he was from New York, it is understandable. 2) The credits congratulate Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding. Also, it contains the disclaimer “Any resemblance to any persons living, dead or undead is coincidental.” Apparently, there is a similar one at the end of Thriller, which was also directed by John Landis. 3) The taxi driver who was driving David and Alex to the hospital was Brick Top (Alan Ford) from Snatch!
Overall, disappointing, less than an okay movie, but great makeup and a scary werewolf. Here is the trailer:
Next up, Oldboy!