Day 11 of 31
American Werewolf in London (Horror, Comedy, 1981) (18) D: John Landis W: John Landis C: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Joe Belcher. 1h 37m. UK/USA.
Synopsis : Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.
TAGLINE : John Landis – the director of Animal House bring you a different kind of animal.
An american werewolf in London is a superb movie not just because of the witty script, amazing effects and great acting but it’s also everything that’s usually missed in all other werewolf movies. The inspiration seems to stem from three main sources, firstly the very old and traditional myth and legend of the werewolf in olde English folklore, secondly John Landis’s outlandish american amusing humor (try saying that three times in a row) and thirdly all the fears of problems that occur when an outsider meddles in local affairs.
Usually films about werewolves are about the werewolf, the beast within man and on occasion the love and devotion to bring them back to humanity, the unusual angle that this film takes is from the victims of the wolf.
So what’s all the fuss about? Starting off as a comedy drama shrouded with quiet mystery, two American student, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) travel to England, while getting lost in a random rural town, the movie hits a creature feature brick wall when they are attacked by a strange wolf like creature, only one escapes and with the help of a quaint nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) and the advice of his dead friend Jack, David has to try and solve the problem of the Werewolf. From the legendary shapeshifting scene onwards the gore and surprisingly the comedy steps it up a level, usually a movie goes one way or the other but this raises the bar in favour of both.
Every aspect of the film is steeped in some form of comedy, one liners, puns, black comedy or even the muppets, all this twinned with some gory guts and horror, an iconic transformation scene and great zombie animatronics. From beginning to end there are constant creepy and surreal scenes, dream sequences and just freaky unrelated stuff. Landis was just experimenting with whatever he could come up with and chucking it all in the mix. At the beginning of the film the duo travel to a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb while travelling with some lambs, really delivering the message that they are literally being served up for slaughter.
There are two massive quirks in this film for me, one is the dead giving David advice, not only does his bestie come back from the grave to help him out while decaying a little bit more each time but the victims of the werewolf also haunt him, splayed in blood and acting in a jovial yet pissed off manner. These scenes are brilliant, a little bit of a distraction to the story but it adds to the disturbing nature of the film. The other aspect is the amount of effort that goes into the porn movie shown in the cinema during one scene in the film. I won’t go into detail but it was the first scene to be filmed and was “written” and fully acted etc for the few seconds it was shown. Its this amazing level of detail that can be caught throughout the film.
As if a switch is flicked through the movie you’ll often find yourself taken to a whole new bizarre movie short. One minute you’ll be following David through his amazing animalistic adventure then you’ll be watching an episode of the muppets, or watching david running through the woods naked in a dream, there is never any warning when these scenes take over they just cut straight in.
Another great feature is the wild one liners, mostly in response to some equally bizarre scenarios, but an example is when David finds himself at the zoo one morning and has to travel through london naked he steals a little boys balloons and the poor kid responds, “A naked American man stole my balloons.” I suppose there isn’t much else you could say or do lol.
The cinematography varies but is always accurate to the scene and of a high quality. The music is what makes the film extra special, I think all the classic songs that mention the moon are included in the soundtrack to this trippy nightmare, including Blue Moon, Bad Moon Rising and Moondance. It’s a little cliche but sadly quite infectious, definitely part of the good fun side of the film.
For me the most developed character and the person who is quite pivotal is Jack, Griffin did a great job in ensuring that most of Jack’s delivery was equally terrifying and funny. In the later scenes he does become animatronic but the voice is still Griffin (what a cool name huh).
Landis has always been influenced by comedy and seemed to take any opportunity to splice in any ideas he might have had to shoot a scene, just make them a dream sequence and hey presto we have a slightly quirky film, I adore his total disregard for traditional film making. This was his first attempt to chuck horror into the realm of comedy and successfully managed to blend the two, adding to another level of his cult success. I’d be put to death if I didn’t mention Rick Baker whose visionary transformation scene changed the world and werewolf movie transformation scenes forever.
I do wonder if the moral message is included in this film, it’s hard to imagine it had any underlying message when you’re watching a the corpse of a Londoner complain about how a cursed american has inconvenienced him. Still there are hints at true love never dying and always be aware of local superstition and never ever stray from the path. As this film sits right in the middle of horror and comedy it would suit either audience, even a comedy hater like myself. It really does cater for a wide spectrum and is worth watching for its unique silliness and an alternative view on the age ole tale. While I can praise this film on every level possible, the only aspect which is poor are the actual werewolf scenes, the transformation scene is perfect and hold up, but after David changes its a little bit disappointing with him in his wolf form and the killings while fairly shocking are not really styled for the gore lovers who want to see each detail.
V: An american werewolf in london breaks down all the barriers between comedy and horror, in the best possible way. It offers a few laughs in either a black comedy style or just plain silly, on top of that it tells a great version of a story that we thought we had all understood and yet it gives us another facet in one of the oldest stories known. I love it from beginning to end and my guilty pleasure is to sing along to all the moon songs too.. this film is eternal .
R: The Howling (1981), American Werewolf in Paris (1997) , Fright Night (1985), Lobos De Arga – Attack of the Werewolves (2011)
L Werewolf Films, Transformation Films,
5B John Landis, Jenny Agutter