Wednesday, 5 August 2015

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Two American college kids, hiking around Europe, are attacked on the Yorkshire Moors leaving one dead and the other a werewolf filled with guilt over his friend's death.

With An American Werewolf in LondonJohn Landis proved that it is possible to make a mainstream horror comedy without it coming off as either a camp farce or an Abbot & Costello slapstick shit-fest.

David Naughton as David (the Werewolf) and Griffin Dunne as his friend Jack (the Zombie) work perfectly as the the two Americans, spitting one-liners but without coming off as irritating and brash. The deepening relationship between Naughton and Jenny Agutter is tender and believable. Naughton's descent into lycanthropy is gradual with some great dream sequences preceding the justly famous transformation scene; one in particular figuring David unable to save his family from a pack of Nazi monsters, echoing his guilt over running away from his friend while he was being attacked by the original werewolf. Then there's the supporting cast of notable British actors including Rik Mayall, Brian "Leon Arras the Man From Paris" Glover, Alan Ford and David Schofield. The dialogue is beautifully natural (the hike through the moors, Agutter and the children in the hospital) and the soundtrack, containing "moon" titled classics, is perfect.

I've watched An American Werewolf in London so many times that this time I thought I'd try something a little different and see if the film can be viewed as a portrayal of a man's grief and guilt over a friends death causing a breakdown, with all the lycanthropy being imagined. Well, sort of, apart from the final scene most reactions to David could have been caused by seeing a naked man covered in blood. Ultimately the experiment failed but it was fun though.

Anyway, here's some other little moments that stood out:
  • Brian Glover and David Schofield delivering beautifully timed dialogue in the Slaughtered Lamb scenes.
  • Frank Oz's Mr. Collins talking like Fozzie Bear.
  • The Muppet Show clip where Miss Piggy says "you call that violence art?".
  • The decomposition of David's friend Jack.
  • David trying to watch the, at the time, very limited British TV with the accurate News of the World advert.
  • The porn film.
  • The underground chase scene.
Above all, even the transformation, the one thing that stands out for me is the way that Landis captures Britishness. I don't think I've ever seen us portrayed as accurately by an American as in An American Werewolf in London.

A perfect balance of horror, comedy, gore and tenderness.

"Beware the moon!"

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