#326 An American Werewolf In London

(1981, John Landis)

“Beware the moon”

It’s no longer Halloween, but it appears that today we still have the horror bug, and this is a movie that has it all. Werewolves! Gore! Murder! Yorkshiremen! Frank Oz in a non-puppet role! Today we’re looking at An American Werewolf In London.

Two American students are inexplicably on holiday in the Yorkshire Moors. After David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) wander into a spooky pub filled with terrifying Yorkshiremen, the two end up venturing onto the moors at night, where they’re attacked by a beast. Jack is killed, but David is saved when the scary Yorkshiremen shoot the beast. David is taken to hospital in London (as opposed to, I don’t know, Leeds) where he begins to experience strange visions of a horribly mutilated Jack who tells David that he’ll turn into a werewolf. David also falls for his nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), and the two begin a relationship.

An American Werewolf In London is a very self-aware horror movie, one that plays around with its tropes and generally doesn’t take itself all that seriously. This is something that works both for and against the movie as a whole.

First of all, American Werewolf is actually pretty fun. It’s very silly and cheesy, but seems to revel in its own cheesiness. The spooky Yorkshire pub feels like an intentional parody of the spooky Romanian villages from old school Dracula movies, the characters are all aware of The Wolf Man as part of pop culture so there’s no ludicrous faux shock at werewolf legends we’re all aware of, and the movie even seems determined to mess with viewer expectations at every turn.

There are also some stunning visuals here. Ghost!Jack is gruesome and simply gets worse as the movie progresses, as the remains of his corpse steadily decay more and more every time he appears. The werewolf transformation scene is also stunning in how uncomfortable and almost realistic it is, as realistic as a werewolf transformation can be. David as a werewolf looks a little ridiculous when we eventually see him, but that’s about the only complaint I have on that front.

But on the flip side, American Werewolf sometimes feels like a collection of half-formed ideas. Aside from the initial attack on the Moors, no actual werewolf stuff happens for the majority of the movie’s running time. While this is great at messing with audience expectations, it can also feel like the director was stalling for time.

I also wasn’t too sure about the characterisation here either. David felt poorly-developed as a character, and some attempts at building his backstory at times felt half-finished. A dream he has partway through the movie seems to be trying to show his old home life before crazy stuff happens, but it feels so out of place and under-explained that it made me wonder why they even bothered.

His relationship with Alex also felt poorly developed. Aside from vague flirting, there relationship seemed to go from patient and carer to Hot Sexy Lovers so fast I wondered if I skipped a scene. Perhaps it was our old friend, Stuffy British Acting, that helped this situation, but I think the lack of development for both characters was also a major factor.

I also felt the ending was alarmingly abrupt after everything that happened. Just when you expect to see the aftermath of the movie’s events, the credits roll and it’s all over. It’s a further thing to add to the list of things that felt unfinished before production went underway.

But overall, An American Werewolf In London is a silly yet dark movie that provides a bit of stupid comic horror fun for 90 minutes, so if you like that sort of thing, go nuts. It’s not perfect, but it’s watchable.

Starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne & John Woodvine
Written by John Landis
Produced by George Folsey Jr, Jon Peters & Peter Guber
Music by Elmer Bernstein
Cinematography by Robert Paynter
Edited by Malcolm Campbell

Favourite Scene: That famous transformation sequence
Scene That Bugged Me: Look, I get that An American Werewolf In Middlesbrough wouldn’t have had the same ring to it, but come on, you took him to London after he was injured on the Yorkshire Moors?! COME ON!

Watch it if: You like silly werewolf movies
Avoid it if: You’re expecting a serious take on werewolf lore

Posted on November 14, 2014, in 1980s, Comedy, Horror and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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