Monday, May 9, 2016

You Have Lovely Sheep, or Thoughts on An American Werewolf in London

John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London continues to be the gold standard (or the silver standard) for modern werewolf movies and horror comedies.  David Naughton and Griffin Dunne star as David and Jack, two American college kids hiking the moors of England during their Grand Tour.  They’re warned by the locals to stay off the moors and notice the pentacles engraved in the walls of the local pubs.  Lon Chaney Jr. is mentioned as well that the pentagram is the mark of the beast, supplying quick exposition if you happened to miss the title of the movie, in addition to paying proper respect to their cinematic past.  It doesn't take too long before they’re savagely attacked by wild animal under the full moon.
All of the good werewolf movies feature a doomed romantic interest, and in this film it is supplied by Jenny Agutter from Logan’s Run (1976) as Alex Price, the comely British nurse who falls for him.  They might seem to fall in love quickly from a modern perspective, but this is a werewolf movie, and Landis keeps the action going at a lively pace.
The spectacular werewolf transformation remains innovative and impressive to this day.  Completely and gloriously analog, accomplished solely with animatronics, latex and yak hair, the one-take sequence with minimal edits is reminiscent of the chestburster scene from Alien (1979).  David Naughton's agonizingly physical performance as he becomes a werewolf that is more wolf than man was so impressive for its time that they created a new category for the Oscars and Rick Baker ended up winning the first Academy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.
The juxtaposition between humor and horror is one of the greatest strengths of the movie.  Griffin Dunne’s performance as David’s progressively decaying revenant best friend, David waking up nude in the wolf pen of the London Zoo and the antics of clumsy police inspectors are interspersed with truly horrific scenes of Nazi werewolves and amazingly realistic gore.  There’s a delicate balance maintained between tragedy and comedy, funny enough without sacrificing the horror elements.  The humor deepens the viewer’s relationship with David, we like David; we want him to find a cure and have a happy ending.  We are emotionally invested in the characters, which makes the inevitable finale all the more devastating.

Director John Landis went on to make his mark on the 80’s with Trading Places (1983), The Three Amigos (1986) and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video (1983).  The soundtrack features Blue Moon by Bobby Vinton, Van Morrison’s Moondance and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Bad Moon Rising.  There are cameos by both Frank Oz and Miss Piggy, and watch out for a very young Rik Mayall at The Slaughtered Lamb, playing chess.


my first novel? thanks for asking:) I wrote a 4 book supernatural martial arts series concerning the ongoing feud between a group of kung-fu killer witches in san francsico’s chinatown.