‘An American Werewolf in London’ Retro Review
Director: John Landis
Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne
Plot: Two American students are backpacking through the moors of Northern England when they get attacked by a werewolf. Jack is killed whilst David wakes up in a hospital. Plagued by nightmares, he finds himself being overcome by a strange force.
Review: The werewolf is one monster that has never been given a good run in cinema. Aside from the Lon Chaney original, there’s few good examples over the entire century. But that doesn’t matter, because An American Werewolf in London is all we’ll ever need. Whilst it’s not very scary, it as a great atmosphere and is downright entertaining.
Beginning the magical land of English stereotypes, David and Jack are quickly established as two laid back American’s enjoying their holiday. They’re witty, charming and exchange some amusing banter, making them likeable protagonists. Their simple ways are nicely contrasted against the creepy small town pub they find themselves in, The Slaughtered Lamb. The viewers share their uneasiness as the villagers act in a rather odd manner (possibly because they don’t notice Rik Mayall sitting with them). The following sequence, leading up the attack on the moors, is a great example of subtlety. The camera practically hugs the pair and whilst the landscape is bare the darkness and fog seal them in. The sounds of the wolf stalking them cranks up the suspense, especially in the blu-ray’s remastered surround sound. After the colourful, oddball opening this sense of disquiet, followed by Jacks mutilated corpse, has a far stronger impact than a director forcing jump scares on us.
The rest of the movie follows this routine to great effect. Although it wasn’t written as a horror comedy, there are laughs to be found simply through the characters behaviour. Landis is successful in disarming the viewer prior to some of the freakout moments. David’s nightmares are disturbing enough even before they pull the ground-breaking nightmare-within-a-nightmare trick that’s become more popular with time.
Although the actors all do a great job, the real star is Rick Baker and his effects team in creating the werewolf change. Landis keeps an unflinching camera on David as he twists and stretches while hair grows out of his back, creating a change that remains unmatched by more recent CGI offerings – especially in the piece of crap sequel that we won’t mention here. Although the close-ups on the wolf – however fleeting – look a bit poor by today’s standards the more creative use of the monster stand the test of time. Of particular note is the glimpse of the wolf from the top of the escalator while it stalks a helpless commuter.
An American Werewolf in London is packed with classic scenes. The nightmares, the initial attack, the transformation, the naked run through the zoo, the demon Nazi invasion, and so forth. Best of all is the surreal moments in the porn theatre when the ghosts of David’s victims return to convince him that he needs to kill himself.
If you want to spend your Hallowe’en with a movie that’s more entertaining than anything else on the horror shelf, look no further.
NINE outta TEN