An American Werewolf in London Review


October 26, 2014 by

An American Werewolf in London Image

David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, respectively) are a couple of men looking for adventure. They've decided to backpack across Europe, see some sights, meet a few friends, and engage in casual encounters along the way. They kick off their voyage with a hike across the moors of Britain, where their world tour is cut short. After being cast out of a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, the two friends attempt to travel by foot to the nearest cradle of civilization by the light of a full moon. Those who booted them from the Lamb give them only three bits of advice:

Stay on the road...

Keep clear of the moors...

Beware the moon...

The pair unwittingly violate all three of the warnings, and it's not long before the hear the horrible demonic baying of a predator on the prowl. Distant howls eventually become nearby grunts in the darkness, and David and Jack decide to double back to the pub. After his friend slips, Jack reaches down to lift David up, lowering his defenses just long enough for a pair of powerful jaws to clamp shut on his shoulder and drag him to the ground, where he's torn to shreds by a lycanthrope. David's immediate response is to run, but he realizes after a few seconds that he left his buddy for dead. Upon returning to Jack's bloody corpse, the hungry wolf strikes David, leaving a nasty scratch on his chest. Blasts issued from guns signify the end of the beast, as the men from The Slaughtered Lamb decide to come to David's aid. Though they've saved his life, they were too late; for David now bears the mark of the wolf, and it will only be a matter of time before he transforms as well...

Boiled down, An American Werewolf in London is a standard werewolf movie. It opens in familiar fashion, with the protagonist becoming "infected," segues into his transformation and kills, and then concludes with the constabulary chasing the beast down. However, the presence of a formula does little to hamper American Werewolf's effectiveness.

The movie would be nothing without its usage of humor, from deadpan deliveries courtesy of Naughton and Dunne to bumbling simple comedy, usually coming from an idiotic rookie detective who appears in a couple of scenes. For the most part, though, American Werewolf's comedy is subtle. You aren't barraged with schtick so much that it kills the sense of dread and horror, but it does provide a nice cushion to soften the blow of the some of the film's more gruesome moments. For instance, it's nice to go from shots of severed body parts or a truly creepy sequence in which David stalks a man in a subway station, to a scene in which David awakens nude in a zoo and attempts to leave without being arrested for indecency.

Let's just say that the last line I expected to hear in this movie was spoken by a child to his mother: "A naked American man stole my balloons." Classic!

Although there are a few scenes with some rather meaty bits laying on the ground, sometimes with David noshing on them, there isn't a terrible amount of gore in the movie (unless you count Jack's spectral makeup, as he remains in the movie as a spirit doomed to walk the world in limbo until the wolf's bloodline is severed). America Werewolf isn't out to shock you, and tends to build tension in more classic ways. Typically, it involves random characters going about their lives during a full moon, unaware that there's a lycanthrope aiming to tear out their throats. Most of the deaths are also off-screen, which leaves something to the imagination and cuts back on gross-out tactics or visceral scares.

Probably the most impressive aspect of American Werewolf is its visual effects. As a film of the early '80s, it doesn't contain a drop of CG. The werewolf plaguing London is a practical effects monstrosity, built of latex and machinery, and expertly puppeteered. The creature looks, moves, and sounds authentic. Hell, if someone had told me that there was no actual puppetry in this film, and that the producers actually had captured a werewolf, I'd believe it.

As you can tell, I'm building towards the film's iconic scene: David's transformation (warning: there's man-butt in that video). Both awesome and terrifying, the scene depicts David shifting from human to wolf, complete with the sick creak of reshaping bones and the creepy whisp of rapidly growing hair. The scene itself also utilizes some fantastic makeup and clever editing, not to mention painstakingly crafted creature effects.

Every time I watch this flick, I want the events to transpire differently than they do. You follow David, you discover that he's a descent guy all in all, and that he's mad for Alex, a nurse who took care of him while he was hospitalized. There's also a fairly touching scene where he calls his home and lets his family know that he loves them, just before attempting suicide so as to prevent himself from transforming. David doesn't succeed, of course, because he's frightened, and who wouldn't be? We also might feel a pang of grief that Alex might lose her new found love. Just the same, we know where standard werewolf movies eventually end, and, like me, you might continually wish for it to conclude on a lighter note...

Director John Landis juggled a handful of elements, and nailed everything. An American Werewolf in London is a taut horror flick, not to mention funny and a touch melodramatic. Combined with its amazing visual effects, the movie holds up very nicely today, and still stands tall as a classic amongst fright films.

Rating: 10/10

Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.

About the Author: Joe Shaffer

Joseph Shaffer is a working man by day, freelance games writer by night. He resides in the Inland Northwest with his wife, and spends most of his free time watching bad movies and playing video games (and eventually writing about them).

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