Review – An American Werewolf In London (1981)
If i were to ask you, to name the first movie that springs to mind, when you hear The Marcels classic track, Blue Moon, and then Bad Moon Rising by Creedance Clearwater Revival, i’m fairly certain you’d all come up with the same answer i would, had i been asked the same question.
The year 1981 was a great year for horror films. We saw the release of the likes of Friday The 13th Part 2, Halloween 2, Hell Night, The Evil Dead, Scanners, The Burning, The Howling, Dead And Buried and My Bloody valentine. Into the middle of all this murderous mayhem dropped a movie that successfully blended full bloodied horror with laugh out loud comedy.
An American Werewolf In London is a movie we talk about alot on the RetroMovieZone Facebook group. It’s a firm favourite with most of the members, and were constantly posting articles, artwork and video’s connected with the film.
My own personal memory of hearing about the movie for the first time, was spotting the title in a newspaper article. It immediately put me in mind of some of those slightly silly, but classic 50s monster movies like, I Was A Teenage Werewolf and I Married A Monster From Outer Space. I have to confess, it didnt exactly fire me up to want to take a trip to the cinema.
The plot is fairly simple. Two American students, Jack Goodman and David Kessler, played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, are backpacking across Europe. They end up in the U.K, and find themselves on the Yorkshire moors, where they come across the tiny village of East Proctor. The lads take shelter in the villages one and only pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, and meet the locals who are clearly suspicious of them, and quite obviously hiding something. After being thrown out for asking about the mysterious pentagram, surrounded by burning candles, painted on the wall, they set off across the moors to find shelter elsewhere. They are attacked by a mysterious beast, which tears Jack apart and leaves David for dead. The animal is then promptly shot and killed by the locals, and David is transported to a London Hospital, where he’s looked after by Alex Price, a nurse played by Jenny Agutter, who most famously starred in The Railway Children, and also Nic Roeg’s very strange drama, Walkabout, set in the Australian Outback.
As if the attack itself were’nt bad enough, David now begins to suffer terrible nightmares, and visits from the decaying corpse of his dead friend Jack, who tells him, in no uncertain terms, that they were attacked by a werewolf, and that he must kill himself before the next full moon, or risk killing innocent people, advice he ignores. The scene is now set for a very powerful, bloodsoaked, last half hour, as he rampages through London, killing everyone he comes into contact with. This gives director Landis his chance to stage a spectacular multi-car traffic accident in Piccadilly Circus. Crashes have been his specialty since the homecoming parade in “Animal House” and the nonstop carnage in “The Blues Brothers.”
The old adage of the simplest ideas being the best is once again demonstrated in this, one of the most entertaining films of the early 80’s, and almost certainly John Landis’ finest work to date. The script is light and witty, the visuals are great and the atmosphere is top class.
Forty years on from its initial release in 1981, An American Werewolf in London is not a film best remembered for its subtlety. It’s like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer the first time you see it. The jump scares come thick and fast and the transformation scene was like nothing we’d seen before. Whereas Lon Chaney Jr simply sat in a chair and grew hair all over his body, in this film you see every bonecracking, skinstretching moment and it genuinely looks as if it hurts like hell.
With stunning special effects, courtesy of Rick Baker, Landis gives us a terrifying story, nicely punctuated with some genuinely comic moments, and of course bucketloads of violence and gore. Some scenes were so explicit they even shock today.
Yes, the plot has holes you could drive a truck through, some things happen way too fast, and some explanations seem forced, but despite all that, this movie is pure fun, and in a world which relies way too heavily on big budget blockbusters laden down with C.G.I effects, makes for a wild and hugely enjoyable movie, which most people, including myself, will happily watch again and again…..