Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Seen: On my laptop, streamed from netflix instant.

More 80s horror? Bring it on! The other night I noticed An American Werewolf in London was going off instant so I jumped on finally watching it, and boy was that a good decision. John Landis's off-kilter follow-up to Animal House and The Blues Brothers, the film opens on young twentysomethings David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), close friends who are backpacking around northern England. One night they get lost along the foggy moors after a run-in with some creepy locals, and a mysterious animal attacks them. Jack is mauled to death, and David wakes up in a London hospital with claw marks and an incomplete memory of the night's events. Plagued by vivid nightmares and visions of Jack's talkative but deteriorating corpse, David suspects he is going insane and takes comfort in the arms of Alex (Jenny Agutter), a sympathetic nurse. The full moon draws ever nearer and David wonders if he could truly turn into a monster, as the ghostly Jack has continually warned him.

I've never been especially into werewolf stories. Aside from Remus Lupin, I can't really think of a werewolf I've been invested in. BUT I do love tortured heroes, and werewolves often are just that, so the trope can do it for me. Written by Landis when he was a teenager, An American Werewolf in London really holds up incredibly well today. This is largely due to the absolutely stunning special effects, as well as the unexpected blending of comedy, horror, and weird weird imagery. Seriously, I'm a little obsessed with the dream sequences and totally obsessed with all of Griffin Dunne's zombie corpse appearances. Everything in this movie looks so good, Rick Baker even got the first make-up Oscar for it. Like, they created the category for him! The transformation sequence was the one thing I knew about from this movie, and it's famous for a reason. It HURTS in the best way and even though I was little distracted wondering where his penis got to, mostly I was just floored by how awesome it was. The more pre-CGI horror movies I watch the more I want to see, I just really love the effects I'm seeing in films from the 70s and 80s. It's not that it looks more real necessarily, but it looks way GROSSER and I dig that.

Ok I know I sound ebullient in my praise but actually I didn't love everything about American Werewolf. Mostly I felt star David Naughton was a bit weak in the role, he just came off flat and unbelievable in his line readings. Sure he was cute, in a Dustin Hoffman/Robert Downey, Jr hybrid kind of way, and he gets naked a lot (A+), but he sort of flounders for most of the film until the very end when he seems more sure of himself in the role, more driven. Maybe part of it is the script- the character isn't the most fleshed out- and maybe part of it is Landis's direction, but for whatever reason he just stood out as this weaker link within the film as a whole. I also thought the climax was sped up, I mean he bit off the head of a cop and it was awesome, but then after like 5 minutes of chase around Piccadilly Circus he just gets shot? I wanted more.

But mostly this movie is raddddddddd. I might make a poster for it in the distant future when I have time to make art again. Sigh.


Pair This Movie With: More horror obviously! For another fun 80's horror with good make-up there's The Lost Boys. For freaky ass shit that just escalates there's Altered States. For a slightly more subtle story about fear of monstrous transformation, there's Cat People. Woo!


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