August 20th, 2013: An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London

Cast and Crew:   Elmer Bernstein (Soundtrack); Brian Glover, Rik Mayall, Frank Oz

What It’s About: David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are American college kids back packing their way through Europe, who find themselves on the wrong moor in the wrong town in Northern England on a moonlight night after ignoring not terribly helpful warnings from unfriendly locals at the Slaughtered Lamb pub to “stay on the road”.  Only David survives their encounter with what the locals tell him was a murderer, not the wolf he believed attack the pair.  David begins to doubt his sanity when he is disturbed by strange dreams and meetings with Jack, who tells him that David is now a werewolf and that he must kill himself before he kills others.  David is taken in by his beautiful nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) who, like David, hopes that the visions are a result of post-traumatic stress while David’s doctor (John Woodvine) begins investigating the attack when details don’t seem to add up.  Things get worse as the full moon approaches…

Why Watch it Today?: There’s a full moon tonight, so why not spend it with this excellent blend of horror and comedy from writer/director John Landis and special effects wizard Rick Baker, who’s stunning transformation sequence won him an Oscar for Best Make-Up (the bear-like look of the fully transformed werewolf is less successful, but intelligently seen in mostly fleeting glimpses in shadows).  An American Werewolf in London is in many ways a stealth remake (or shall we say a successful update) of The Wolf Man, with an American stranger in England who is bitten during an unlikely wolf attack, then spends the film confronted with strange visions and dreams (aided and abetted by someone knowledgable of the occult who explains what is happening) that convince him he was attacked by a werewolf and is himself transforming into one, while simultaneously falling in love with a beautiful English woman who he eventually fears  he will kill in wolf form.  The romance is nearly as unlikely and convenient for making the story a tragedy here as it was in the earlier film (though points to Landis for at least choosing a good-looking and likable protagonist  in place of Lon Chaney Jr.’s schlubby middle-aged handy man who by all accounts shared mutual hatred with his leading lady Evelyn Ankers) but Agutter manages to sell it remarkably well, weaving a thread of tragedy into the black comedy, gore and horror that makes up the rest of the picture.  Griffin’s ever-decaying, always kvetching ghoul is as memorable as Maria Ouspenskaya’s grieving gypsy mother, though perhaps not as poetically so.

Other Choices:  The Howling, The Beast Must Die aka Black Werewolf, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

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