Saturday, April 14, 2012

An American Werewolf In London

Now I know I talk about vampire films a lot but I do have love for the other most famous of horror movie monsters: werewolves. They say you can only love one and not the other in the battle of vampires vs. werewolves but it depends on the quality of the film and how a vampire or werewolf mythos is handled. One of my favorite werewolf films is An American Werewolf In London.

What's The Plot?
American college students David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are enjoying backpacking across the Yorkshire moors in England but one night they stumble across a pub and are turned away by the patrons when asked about the candles and a pentagram. The only advice given to David and Jack are to "stay on the road" and "beware the moon" by the very hostile men before they leave. Soon, the men feel guilty about letting the strangers leave and go after them when a piercing howl fills the air. David and Jack don't follow the advice given to them by accident and hear the same howl in horror as they realize their mistake. Suddenly, a large animal attacks the two young men killing Jack and mauling David almost to the brink of death as he does not wake up until three weeks later in a London hospital.

Even though David doesn't remember much he knows that it was a wolf that killed his friend even though police tell David that he and Jack were attacked by an escaped lunatic. The nightmares David begins to have of monstrous faces and of himself attacking and killing animals and people don't help but when Jack begins to appear to David with a slashed face it is confirmed that a wolf did attack them...a werewolf. Jack's corpse informs David that he will change into a werewolf during the next full moon and the only way to prevent this is to kill himself. Besides David transforming any victim of the werewolf's bloodline killed will continue to be among the living dead in a grotesque, decomposing state until the beast is killed.

Despite the horror he has been through, David finds one spot of hope in his bleak situation: Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). This pretty English nurse has fallen into a Florence Nightingale situation with her patient and lets him continue to recover at her London apartment. David falls in love with Alex as well and it seems as if the nightmares have ceased until Jack appears to David again the day before the next full moon with the same story: he will become a werewolf and kill unless he ends his own life before then. Soon, it becomes too late and the following night after a painful transformation, David becomes a werewolf and goes about London spreading terror and killing half a dozen people.

Now that David knows Jack was speaking the truth...can he take his deceased friend's terrible advice? Will David commit suicide to save more Londoners from joining the living dead? Can Alex help the man she loves fight the sickness inside his mind and overcome the curse?

Now I know my plot description seems short but again An American Werewolf In London is one of those films you have to watch to get the full enjoyment of the experience so...

What Else Can I Tell You?
The transformation scene is of course an amazing piece of horror cinema! Rick Baker created the effects for the werewolf and the living dead victims in this movie and it impressed Michael Jackson enough that we see the same touches in the famous music video for Thriller, also directed by John Landis. Even though Landis is known more for his comedy films like The Blues Brothers and Animal House, he still brings comedy to American Werewolf but it doesn't take away from the dramatic or horror aspect of the film. Back to Rick Baker, his make-up effects won an Academy Award for this film in 1981 which was the first year the category was introduced!

Acting wise, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne steal the movie basically! Though it may seem weird, Griffin Dunne walking around as a corpse that just keeps rotting away is funny because he is just so deadpan and acting as if nothing is going on while you are almost a science class skeleton is hilarious!

"Can I have a piece of toast?" ~ Jack's first line to David coming back as an undead corpse.

David Naughton handles his character's tragic disposition in a slightly less maudlin way and is comedic and dramatic at the same time. His acting during the transformation sequence is almost painful to watch because the way he screams in pain is so believable that you can feel what it must be like to have your bones shifting and cracking into that of an almost canine beast. On the lighter side, his character is practically naked throughout the film in comedic and not so comedic scenarios that you feel sorry for him and can laugh at him at the same time! Jenny Agutter as Alex Price is sweet, lovely and the character that holds the main drama emotion for the film. She keeps us grounded between the blood and horror and the dark humor of An American Werewolf and in my opinion, is the voice of reason and reality. 

The soundtrack of the film is interesting as all the songs have the word "moon" in them but the context of song doesn't really fit to the emotion of the scene. "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival is a good choice but the other songs are mostly 3 different versions of "Blue Moon" and one other standout of Van Morrison's "Moondance" which actually fits the scene it is used in (A love scene between Alex and David which is more playful than romantic and is still sexy.) As I said the make-up and special effects are outstanding but the original composed music and the cinematography are also noteworthy.

When the film came out in 1981, it was also against other werewolf films The Howling and Wolfen. I have seen The Howling and have yet to see Wolfen so between the two choices I have more love for The Howling as I saw it first. An American Werewolf in London is not a bad film and is one of the better werewolf films but is nowhere near the original The Wolf Man as being iconic but it comes in very close. If you ever get a chance to view this movie and enjoy comedy-horror films, this is at the top of the pack.

Next Blog: The Rocky Horror Picture Show

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