Saturday, 7 April 2012

An American Werewolf in London

Year:  1981
Director:  John Landis
Screenplay:  John Landis
Starring:  David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine
Running Time:  97 minutes
Genre:  Horror, comedy, monster, werewolf

This blend of comedy and horror has become one of the best-loved cult films of the 1980s.  Two Amercian backpackers, David Kessler (Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Dunne), are travelling through the Yorkshire moors when they stop off at a small pub called The Slaughtered Lamb.  There they are disturbed by the strange and unwelcoming attitude of the locals, and quickly set back on their way after stern warnings to stay on the road and stay off the moors.  However, before long they do wander off the road and are attacked by a savage wolf-like creature which kills Jack and wounds David.  Three weeks later and David is recuperating in a hospital in London where he is disturbed by strange and violent dreams as well as visits from his progressively decomposing friend, Jack who informs David that they were attacked by a werewolf and that he, Jack, is one of the "undead" and must remain in limbo until the werewolf's bloodline is severed which means that David must kill himself before the next full moon or he too will become a wolf and kill others.

This was one of a number of werewolf movies that were released during the early to mid 1980s when there seemed to be something of a boom in werewolf films.  The other popular cult werewolf picture that was released in 1981 was The Howling.   The film benefits from a strong and engaging cast, with Jenny Agutter particularly memorable as the nurse who falls for the inured David.  The dialogue is witty and frequently laugh out loud funny.  The film is probably best known for it's, at the time, ground-breaking special effects which won an Oscar for makeup artist Rick Baker.  Most memorable is the film's centrepiece transformation sequence which even today, and even while it is inevitably showing it's age, still looks bone-crunchingly painful.  Part of what makes the film so successful is that in the midst of all the supernatural shenanigans there is a real feel for the reality of life in London in the early 1980s:  Punks on buses, only three channels on television and budget cuts.  However, the problem that the film has is that, as gruesome and as funny as it is, it really isn't very scary, although there are some impressive jumps and shocks.

Fans of British comedy may recognise a young Rik Mayall (star of The Young Ones (1982-1984) and Bottom (1991-1995)) as one of the chess players in the pub at the beginning of the film. 

A sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris was released in 1997 to very poor reviews. 

David Naughton finds himself in need of a good shave and a really good dentist in An American Werewolf in London   

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