Wednesday, 2 November 2011

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Written by Happywax    Nov 2011
Rating   9.5 out of 10

Director - John Landis

David Naughton - David Kessler
Griffin Dunne - Jack Goodman
Jenny Aqutte - Nurse Alex Price
John Woodvine - Dr J.S. Hirsch
Don Mckillop - Inspector Villiers

Well holy shit looky looky what I found tucked away in my classics section on my DVD wall.  An American Werewolf in London' is one of the greatest horror films of all time. Most people remember it for the iconic transformation scene. Traditionally, most special effects in movies tend to not date very well. But like Karloff's Frankenstein, or John Carpenter's re-imagining of The Thing, the transformation scene in American Werewolf continues to get better with age. The feats accomplished in this scene (when you look at it from the eyes of the post-CGI world) have never been topped. Even today, you feel David's pain as his body stretches and snaps and morphs into something else.

And the film itself is just as iconic. It's such a simple story when you stop to think about it. There's no final twist. No underlined message put in by a director who thinks he's smarter than you. No room for a sequel (although the hacks in Woodtown saw fit to make one anyway in the mid-1990's). The movie hangs on a very basic plot-thread, and for a movie known for it's jaw dropping effects, it's primarily character driven.

John Landis wrote the movie when he was 19, and that may have something to do with it. There's a strong sense of empathy that runs through the narrative. Just as the transformation scene makes you feel what David's feeling on a spectacular and dramatic level, the rest of the movie makes you feel David's pain, grief, happiness etc. just as affectively. You really get a sense of what this nineteen year old Yankee's backpacking in Europe is all about. Hell, he could even be you.

The film does not get bogged down in trying to explain the supernatural events it chronicles. Sure, you're given basic explanation and a sense that there's something bigger going on, but for the most part the movie says that werewolves exist because werewolves exist. David is a werewolf because he was attacked by one and survived. There is no cure. He needs to kill himself. Nuff said thank you very much. Landis does a great job of planting these events into a real world surrounding. It's like he's saying, here's reality as far as this movie is concerned, and just like in our reality, life sucks. Get over it.

I read somewhere that the Suits wanted Landis to change the bleak ending. They were saying "Come on John, we've gotten to like this kid, why does he have to die?" and Landis just laughed and said "Because that's how it ends." You've got to respect a guy who sticks by his vision like that.

There's a lot to be said about this movie. I could go on and on about the soundtrack. I could mention the hot sex scene. I could write a  paper on the significance of David's dead best friend Jack, who haunts our hero throughout the course of this movie like Hamlet's wacky neighbor. But I will leave this as my final thought in this review - An American Werewolf in London is a timeless masterpiece made by a man who was at the top of his game. Pure. Simple. To the point.

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