An American Werewolf in London (1981) Directed by John Landis
yesterday was a day before I went to the doctor's again and found out that I have pneumonia. So I was feeling very tired and disoriented and decided to watch a movie in the middle of the day. I watched Arizona Dream (1993) and let me warn you, it was bad. It was painful and induced disorientation. A flying fish, a lost Johnny Depp and some unjustified glorification of being mentally unbalanced. I should have been at least 15 years younger...
To top of the bad movie day, Nick's latest DVD arrivals included An American Werewolf in London and he was just in the mood to re-experience the horror. I did not argue – how could I when his favorite woman Jenny Agutter plays a nurse?
I am generally so scared by horror films that they are banned from our house. Even seeing the spine of The Exorcist gives me trouble sleeping. But this one is just laughable. The growl of the werewolf is scary when heard for the first time, but the actual visuals of the beast are ridiculous. The more you see of it, the less it creates anything but pity. Is this really all they could come up with in 1981?
Then there is the acting. I don't know what these two American dudes are called, but I doubt they had much of a career in movies after this one. They are delivering lines with the enthusiasm of reciting a shopping list from mom. I'm glad one of them turns into a undead dead early on, but unfortunately the other one turns into the main character, the werewolf.
The idea of a werewolf is sexy and dangerous. The line between human and animal can be thin, right? I recall seeing one version of the theme where the love interest is in on the secret and has a bit of fun with the animal every once in a full moon (or is this my imagination?). Here Jenny Agutter and the American guy are paired in a way that makes me think the script writer was not 17 when he wrote this, but in fact five. Yes, we see Agutter's right nipple, but it does not save the planet.
Oh dear this was torture. It made me want to be properly scared. But I'm going to watch some certified classic this afternoon – the pneumonia forces me to, really. (Goddard or Allen, haven't decided yet.)
Two young American tourists are in Northern England, shunned by the locals, and warned to stay off the moors, they are attacked by a wild beast. Jack dies but David survives as the locals kill the beast. David is taken to a London hospital to recover. He is looked after by Nurse Alex Price (yes, Jenny Agutter) who falls for David. David has bad dreams and is visited by his dead friend Jack (a very dry Griffin Dunne) who says he is walking in limbo and will not be set free till David dies. He warns David that they were attacked by a werewolf and that David will turn into a werewolf when the next full moon arrives. A few days later, discharged from hospital and staying with Nurse Price, David's painful transformation arrives and he wreaks havoc on the streets of London.
The dream sequences that David has in Hospital are well made, often bizarre and chilling.The use of music, Bad Moon Rising, Blue Moon and the best use of Van Morrisson's Moondance ever (Naughton and Agutter in a long love making scene), the music brings much of the humor. Jack's re-appearing rotting corpse and David's initial transformation into a werewolf also keep the attention.
But much of the intensity leaves the film once the beast starts slaughtering people we don't know or care about.
Agutter is good as the girl-next-door nurse, and John Woodvine as the Doctor who treats David and believes his Werewolf instincts, adds sanity to the proceedings. But maybe the problem with this film is Landis mixing the gags with the gore, once the initial novelty has worn off, the picture has nowhere to go but repetition.
An American Werewolf in London was within the horror picture genre, quite a breakthrough. Rick Baker's effects were groundbreaking at the time (although look dated now) and Landis mixing humor with blood splattering horror was something no one had seen before. It's interesting that Landis uses unknown actors for the principles. Initially, David Naughton does well as David, but he is lacking something to carry the whole film (and does resemble the Vampire Weekend singer at times!)
Also, much like Woody Allen's London films, this is an American tourist's view of England, with generalizations about Northern Types, English "Bobbies" and a "aren't they charming but backward" mentality. This is an influential horror picture that runs out of ideas half way through. For Landis, it was the landmark Thriller video that followed and then semi- obscurity.
Sadly, a film I remembered fondly from adolescence was a real disappointment this time round.