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Friday, June 17, 2011



An American Werewolf in London is a 1981 horror comedy film directed by John Landis. When David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), two American backpackers traveling the English countryside, stumble upon a small-town pub, they receive a rather lukewarm reception from the locals when they ask about a pentagram scrawled on the wall. After being thrown out into a storm, the two begin to hear howls around them in the countryside, and after a few moments, they are viciously attacked by a massive beast. Jack is killed in the attack, but David manages to survive but finds himself awakening three weeks later in a hospital. David learns that the local townsfolk had told the authorities that a crazed lunatic killed Jack, but he knows it was something more like a gigantic wolf. As he takes time in the hospital to heal with the help of a beautiful nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter), he begins to receive visits from Jack, who tells him that he has become a werewolf. Jack also mentions that he will be doomed to roam the earth as the living dead until the werewolf bloodline can be destroyed. Initially, David doesn't believe Jack, but as the next full moon approaches, he begins to question his sanity and his inevitable future.

Although I have known about this film for quite a long time, I had never really heard much about it aside from its iconic werewolf transformation scene. Those particular cinematic moments, which helped visual effects expert Rick Baker nab an Academy Award for Best Makeup, was always the first thing I ever heard mentioned about the film, so in a way, that's part of the reason I decided to give the movie a gander. What I didn't necessarily know that it received rather universal acclaim when it hit theaters back in the early 1980's, and after watching the film, I can see why.

We're actually given a rather effective horror-comedy, although it's not as much of an outright "comedy" as, say, 2004's Shaun of the Dead. Instead, the comedy comes in clumps, and it's definitely a little bit on the darker side. For example, there's one particular scene where a number of David's victims sit around him in a pornographic movie theater and contemplate the vast variety of ways he could commit suicide so that they may be put out of their collective, undead misery. It's bitingly sarcastic in a dark and twisted way, but that type of dark humor is right up my alley. When we're not laughing, the film actually serves as a rather effective thriller, giving a number of jump-out-of-your-seat thrills. Sure, they may be prefaced by loud spikes in music, but the close-up of the snarling werewolf is sure to get some viewers' hearts a-racing.

While I'm on the topic of music, I'd like the say that the film's soundtrack is simply stellar. We do have an original score composed by Elmer Bernstein that works rather effectively, but it's the string of pop hits from various artists that really emphasize the comedy of the film. Every single song directly references the moon - an obvious play on the fact that werewolves only come to life during a full moon. Whether it be the many renditions of "Blue Moon" or Van Morrison's "Moondance," each subsequent moon-related song caused me more and more laughter as the film progressed.

Now, the acting in the film isn't anything to truly rave about, but it definitely fits the movie's mold rather well. Naughton is serviceable as our lead protagonist, and Agutter does well as our main female lead and love interest. A couple of the minor characters deliver decent performances - I'd like to give a special shout-out to David Schofield (whom most of you will recognize from the first three Pirates of the Caribbean films) who does well with his limited role. However, if anyone's delivering the best performance, it's Dunne after his death in the beginning of the film. As he continues to come back to "haunt" David, Jack brings a lot of the film's sarcastically comic relief and breathes an inspired bit of life into the film. Ironic, considering his character is actually dead... But I digress.

Overall, I'd have to say that An American Werewolf in London outdid my expectations. I was expecting a film that relied solely on its fantastic special effects (all of which appear real enough to still be considered legitimate today), but we actually get a decent screenplay and some decent acting to aid the movie along. I'd say that it definitely deserves the title of "horror classic" that it has garnered over the past thirty years. I'd say give it a watch if you've got the time.

Movie Review Summary:
Grade: B+
1.5 Thumbs Up

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