An American Werewolf in London
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Remember back in the early 1980s when special-effects makeup artists were tripping over themselves to create the next big effect? The Howling boasted a fantastic werewolf transformation scene courtesy of makeup wizard Rob Bottin. Then along came Bottin's mentor, Rick Baker, with his own spectacular effects in this popular horror comedy directed by John Landis. An American Werewolf in London is more of a makeup showcase than a truly satisfying movie, but the film is effectively moody when David Naughton discovers that a wolf attack has turned him into a bloodthirsty lycanthrope. Jenny Agutter plays his love interest (watch out, he bites!), and who can forget Griffin Dunne as Naughton's best friend, an undead corpse who progressively rots away as the plot unfolds? All things considered, it's easy to see why An American Werewolf in London became a modern horror favorite. --Jeff Shannon
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Top Customer Reviews
In 1981, John Landis was (and still is) the King of Comedy. Animal House, Blues Brothers, 1941... The humor still percolates through this film as well as sets a new STANDARD for horror/ shocker films: Terminator, Nightmare On Elm Street, with it;'s gallows humor and; for the time, pretty amazing visual effects. Prodigious usage of "Moon" based songs to further carry the humor.
In many ways, this movie IS a comedy, as one would expect from Landis, but it is a horror film at it's heart. PTSD and "survivor guilt" while also developing into a monster. It's a pretty dark little film that ends up tackling some bigger issues and haunting the main character as he ends up becoming the creature he is warned about.
This movie comes about within a "new age" of film-making, where bigger risk is take with subject matter and pushes boundaries of what is considered to be "obscene" as well as acceptable. NOW, this film is considered to quite quaint and tame, but back in 1981... This was a very HARD R rated film. It is quite gory, features nudity and plenty of swearing. While other movies before it: Jaws, Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Friday The 13th came before it, when one views this movie, you can see how it really ended up becoming more influential to films like Terminator, Nightmare On Elm St and the horror genera in general.
As a 10yr old, I absolutely BEGGED my Grandmother and Step-Grandfather to see it... and I'm sure they cursed me since. There was a point where I did have to leave the theater; as I recall, it was The Uptown in Chicago on Broadway. While already shaken up by the first attack, I think I "needed a moment" when Griffin Dunne's character first visits David Naughton in the hospital.
Hey, it was 1981 and I was 10yrs old!
I still revisit the film because it is a classic and still grabs me to this day.
Steering clear of formulaic horror movie plot clichés, An American Werewolf in London avoids immature promiscuous summer campers and delinquent drug-using twenty-somethings with loose morals as we are introduced to our protagonists David and Jack. Yes, they're twenty-somethings. And yes, they have their quippy repartees. But their immaturity is no more than an otherwise responsible pair of men enjoying a night of manhood away from the wife and kids. They're actually somewhat mature when things aren't crazy.
They unintentionally make their way to The Slaughtered Lamb Pub, a northern Englishman's locals-only sort of place adorned with a pentacle on the wall. They are a backwoodsy, superstitious and secretive lot. More fearful of the locals than anything they could encounter among the full moon, dreary weather and local fauna, they flee into the wilderness to be met with some sort of animal attack. David in injured by this "animal."
During his recovery David dreams about some in-the-buff jaunts in the forest followed by some very disturbing visions of evil "werewolf soldiers." As clearly indicated by the movie's title, this recovery occurs in London, he occasionally turns into a werewolf and people get eaten. David's lovely nurse Alex takes a shining to him and invites him to stay with her.
While David lives with the curse of lycanthropy, his victims are also cursed. These now undead victims appear before David, flayed and gory, and serve as an "everything you ever wanted to know about werewolves, full moons and lycanthropy" guide. As we see David's undead victims throughout the film their level of decomposition advances and you can't help but to smile when they point that out. Great make-up, by the way! Sprinkling more comedic charm on this gory horror are the sharp-tongued jokes and off color behavior of David's haunters.
The transformation scenes are really something. We see his hands slowly elongate and HEAR his bones and tendons stretching, giving root to the maddening pain he seems to be going through--I mean, I almost FELT it myself. So then, when his vertebrae elevate, his shoulder blades protrude and his skull begins to elongate you predict more pain as if you were watching someone brace themselves before resetting your dislocated shoulder. His nudity during this scene properly conveys his vulnerability and you genuinely feel sympathy for all of his suffering. All the while, some ironically pleasant music is playing in the background on Alex's record player in her kitschy living room.
Fully transformed, he looks like a wolf after an "evil" HGH binge on chest and arms day. But not so much like a wolf-man. This is a nice change of pace even when compared to today's werewolves in which our shapeshifters become regular-sized normal looking wolves (e.g., Hemlock Grove), giant normal looking wolves (e.g., the Twilight Saga), wolves from a twisted R-rated Alice in Wonderland (e.g., Ginger Snaps), classic wolfmen (e.g., The Wolfman, Wolf, Teen Wolf), the wolfman on steroids (e.g., Van Helsing, Cursed) or the reversed man-wolf (e.g., the Underworld series, Being Human, An American Werewolf in Paris).
Writer/director John Landis is epic in comedy--having brought us Animal House (1978), The Blues Brothers (1979), Trading Places (1983) and Coming to America (1986) to name a few--and he's even had other successful forays in a least semi-humorous or satirical horror (e.g., The Twilight Zone movie, Innocent Blood), but I find it stunning that he was responsible for the greatest werewolf movie of all time! And this is hardly just my opinion. While some favor The Howling (1981) or Ginger Snaps (2000), online lists tend to include London in the top five or six (if not #1) more than any other.
The story is good, but clearly not without some forgivable issues. What made this movie truly great was Landis' ability to be brilliantly funny at times, while keeping a straight, serious, even brutal tone during the violent, rending scenes, the wincing transformation and the final scene with nurse Alex and David such that I wouldn't dare call this a straight up horror-comedy or a satire; simply a great, very serious werewolf movie that also happens to be often funny when things aren't dire.
It doesn't matter how old you are. The effects truly hold up and stand the test of time so don't worry that the lack of CGI will make it uncool. Just see it!!!
In 1981 I was 9 years old when the movie first came out. My family & I went to see it in the movie theater when it was new/fresh. I recall laughing and almost crying from being scared. Today, I feel like I'm 9 years old and in the theater again when I re-watch this movie.
American Werewolf in London is one of the best comedy horror films ever made yet as some of the scariest moments ever filmed.
This movie uses old school special effects which will give any of today's CGI effects a "run for it's money"! I am mainly talking about the infamous werewolf transformation scene which is still viewed and re-viewed by many today - considered to be one of the greatest transformation scenes ever!
If you have never seen American Werewolf in London then I highly recommend it for viewing entertainment if you like horror and/or comedy.
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