An American Werewolf in London
an american werewolf in london | john landis | david naughton | jenny agutter | joe belcher | werewolf | comedy | united kingdom | united states | werewolves | griffin dunne | john woodvine | david schofield | brian glover | lila kaye | rik mayall
Film: An American Werewolf in London
Director: John Landis
Writer: John Landis
Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Joe Belcher
This was a film that my sister and I grew up on. My father had it on VHS and we used to watch it all the time. I didn’t really understand the story, as most children don’t, but the effects in this film were amazing. It terrified both of us and for some reason, but we kept coming back to it. This last viewing I had the pleasure of seeing in my local theater on a 35mm print. It was quite the experience and it really took be back to the feeling I had as a child. The synopsis is two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists.
We start off with our two students, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), as they’re being dropped off by a truck driver. He has a bunch of sheep and he’s going a different direction. He warns them to stay on the road and out of the moors. The two make it to a small village and head for the pub, The Slaughtered Lamb. It has an interesting sign with a decapitated wolf head on a pike.
They are not given a friendly welcome inside. The locals are leery of them and they are all, but kicked out when Jack asks about a pentagram on the wall. He was talking to David about it earlier and bringing up the plot of The Wolf Man. They are told to stay on the road and out of the moors again as well as to beware the moon. They hear howling and are attacked by a large wolf. Jack takes most of the attack. David is knocked down and saved by the men from the pub. He looks over to see a man bleeding next to him.
David wakes up in a hospital. He is in the care of Dr. J. S. Hirsch (John Woodvine) and Nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). He keeps having nightmares of running through the woods and of wolf like creatures. Jack visits him as a ghost like figure, showing the wounds that killed him. David thinks he is losing his mind. Alex is there to help and allows him to stay with her, as she is falling for the American. Dr. Hirsch starts to look into the attack on him as everything doesn’t add up.
He doesn’t believe it until a change comes over him and he becomes a werewolf. He goes out into the city and wreaks havoc. The problem is that he doesn’t remember it until he is told about the crimes. He has to decide what to do before he changes again on the full moon the following day.
As I’ve alluded to here, I was a big fan of this film growing up. I didn’t get the finer points of it until this last viewing, but I can say for me it, it really holds up. It is an interesting story and one that I can relate to. I didn’t do it as a college student, but I did visit London and Europe a few years ago when given the chance. There is this feeling of being an outsider that David is going through which I could relate. Now I wasn’t attacked like he was or going through these inner changes, but just being in a new place without knowing anyone.
This inner struggle is interesting as well for him. He doesn’t believe that he is a werewolf at first. He doesn’t believe that Jack is really visiting him and this makes him think he is going crazy. Going even further here, his nightmares are interesting. At first they start off with him running through the woods naked. He is doing what a wolf would do and just being free to make whatever decisions he wants. They become darker as he kills a deer and is eating it raw. My favorite one though is David at home with Nazi, werewolf soldiers breaking in and massacring his family. I did notice something this time that there is a tiny menorah, so he really is Jewish. Being that they’re Nazis is really an interesting statement.
Something that some of you might already know about me, horror comedies can really bit hit or miss for me. There are more that I dislike, than like. Growing up I really didn’t notice the comedy, as a good bit of this is adult and nuance. This time it really had me cracking up. The comedy though is really done through sarcasm and is really there in-between the horror. It is really with Jack and David or how he copes with what is happening to him. Part of the problem horror comedies is that it sometimes lessens the scarier elements. That doesn’t happen in this one.
Bringing up the scenes where he is seeing the spirits are interesting as well. It gives us lore that is special to this version of the werewolf mythology. It gives us what David has to end it without going into research or voice-over narration. As I have stated as well, it also gives us humor with David and Jack’s banter. Plus the conversation in the porno theater was pretty funny with the different personalities he has to deal with there, ranging from anger and humor.
This moves me next to the pacing of the film, which is great. It doesn’t waste any time getting into it. We as viewers know what the film is going to become, but it does it in a way that we aren’t sure if it is in his head or not. We see the wolf, but then we get a glimpse of the real man. I know the legend of werewolves is thought to be a man murdering people but those at the time couldn’t comprehend it so they thought the brutal aftermath couldn’t be done by a man. Even the doctor knows that things aren’t really matching up, but thinks that David has mental issues which are his concern. The tension is built to the climax where I think we get a great ending. I also enjoy the parallels to The Wolf Man as well.
What also helps this film is the acting. I don’t think any of the performances are great, but they fit for what is needed. Naughton is solid as the lead in this one. I think he handles well if he is losing his mind, but we know he really isn’t crazy. He also believes what he is seeing makes an interesting dynamic. He does give us the emotions of knowing what he has to do to end this. Dunne is fun as the comic relief. I like that he knows the story of The Wolf Man and after his demise tries to make David see the truth. Agutter I had a crush on from this film, but a lot of that goes toward her as a nurturer. I did find her attractive as well. It was from this viewing that I realized how much of modern woman she is and I really respect the performance. Woodvine is solid as the doctor as well. He believes enough in David to look into what happened, but not that he is really a werewolf. He thinks there is more of a psychology issue, which I think adds an element to this one. Everyone in the Slaughtered Lamb was great and the victims of the werewolf as well, they definitely rounded out this film for what was needed and then some.
To the effects of this film, they are absolutely amazing. It is crazy this film came out when it did and we get the transformation scene. It is crazy that it was done practically as it looked great. I still cringe during it even though I’ve seen it before. I think the look of the wolf is good and the results of the attacks are as well. The dream sequences look quite real, even though the Nazis are wearing masks. I also love the ghosts David is seeing. We see the progression of the rotting for Jack and everyone looks as they did at the time of death. It is amazing and Rick Baker truly is a master of the craft. The film is also shot amazing which also helps. I like the POV of the monster as it stalks victims, it adds a solid effect.
The final thing to cover would be the soundtrack of the film. I love that every song used in the film is about the moon, which is a really a call back to the full moon and its effect on the werewolf. I think it just shows the thought and care that was put into it. I think the other songs really fit the scenes to build tension. I couldn’t finish this without talking about the howl, which really made me anxious as well. You know something bad is coming. It is definitely a great part of the film as well.
Now to wrap this up, if you couldn’t tell, I love this film. It is one of the best werewolf films of all time. I think the story is interesting as it parallels and even brings up The Wolf Man. I think the story of the film is interesting in that David and Jack are outsiders and it is even more with the changes to the former character. I think the humor actually helps and enhances the film. The deeper allegories of the dreams also works very well. I think the acting brings everything to life and the pacing of the film builds tension. The soundtrack and effects are both absolutely amazing. I would definitely recommend giving this film a viewing, even if you aren’t a fan of the genre. It really is that good and works as a great blend of humor and horror. It is an all-time great.
My Rating: 10 out of 10