An American Werewolf in London, 1981.
Directed by John Landis.
Starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne and Jenny Agutter.
After being attacked on the moors by a lycanthrope, an American student finds himself afflicted by the curse of the werewolf.
[Note - this review is from the Halloween screening held at London Zoo as part of Volkswagen's "See Film Differently" programme - read our report on the event here]
An American Werewolf in London tells the story of two travelling Americans, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) on their travels across Europe. En-route, they stop over in the North of England where they are attacked by a werewolf - Jack is killed but David survives and takes on the werewolf bloodline. The locals, who have been cursed by the werewolf for many years, see this as a prime opportunity to rid their village of the beast by dumping the Kessler boy in London - where he is cared after by Nurse Alex Price (the gorgeous Jenny Agutter). The curse of the werewolf hangs over David as he is plagued by horrible dreams and gets frequent visits from his dead friend Jack who is trapped in limbo until the werewolf bloodline is severed. Not only that, but when the next full moon appears, he is going to go through some changes...
Werewolf is a truly amazing film from a filmmaking standpoint. Something that I noticed more than ever from this screening was how funny the film is. For a motion picture that is inherently a horror film, there are a lot of funny moments in it – David’s boredom around Alex’s house, Jack’s deadpan look on the afterlife and the opening sequence in The Slaughtered Lamb are all great examples of how light hearted the film can be and, more impressively, how British the film is. Bearing in mind that is written and directed by an American filmmaker, Werewolf in London feels incredibly English and has an almost homely sense of pride to it.
Despite the fact the film is about a werewolf, there are only 3 scenes (including the initial attack) that feature the beast – all of which probably clock up to about 15-20 minutes of footage. The rest of the film is spent brilliantly on the relationships between the characters and building up the tension to the first lunar-fuelled activity. It’s handled so well by Landis that you can’t help but be impressed.
But of course, the scene the film is most remembered and revered for is its bone crunchingly horrible yet brilliant transformation scene. Landis does an incredible job of making the audience feel the pain David is going through as he changes from man to beast. We feel every crack of his bones, every hair growing out of his body and every excruciating moment that he goes through. It’s a marvel of filmmaking and special effects that has yet to be topped by any werewolf-based movie since.
An American Werewolf in London is hands down one of the finest horror movies made in the 80s and still holds up to this day nearly 30 years on. Its special effects are impressive, the acting is great and the direction is world class. The script is incredibly detailed in comedy, horror and drama and never once feels like it’s juggling too many balls at once. If you’ve never seen the film before, go out and buy the 2 disc edition DVD or the newly released Blu-Ray – you won’t regret it.
Oh, and remember to stick to the roads when you do – steer clear of the moors.
“The wolf's bloodline must be severed; the last remaining werewolf must be destroyed. It's you, David.” – Jack Goodman, An American Werewolf in London