Let's see... zombies... vampires... serial killers... leprechauns... aliens... killer dolls... Hmm... Have I ever reviewed a werewolf movie on this blog? For the life of me, I cannot remember. Well, there's no time like the present.
I'll be honest, I've never been a real fan of the werewolf genre. I chalk that up to growing up in the 90s with the chest-thumping-alpha-pack bullshit established by White Wolf in their World of Darkness series of role playing games. More modern depictions of lycanthropes like The Southern Vampire Mysteries/True Blood and Twilight only cemented that dislike in me. Werewolves have become props in vampire stories, and that really isn't fair. They deserve their own time in the sun... er, moon. If you want a good werewolf story, the proverbial (and in this case literal) lone wolf is always best. I can think of a handful, but few are more beloved than 1981's dark horror comedy An American Werewolf in London.
As the story opens, we join two American college students named David and Jack as they backpack through northern England. The travelers seek refuge in a small town pub, but they find the atmosphere less than welcoming. When they inquire about a crudely drawn pentacle on the pub wall, the patrons become hostile. Jack and David depart as the locals offer a piece of parting advice, "Stick to the road, and stay off the moors. Jack and David ignore the warning, leaving the road and becoming caught in the rain as an unseen creature begins to howl and snarl. Deciding to return to the pub, they are attacked by a dog-like creature. Local men arrive and shoot the creature, but not before Jack is killed. Before he blacks out, David sees a naked, bleeding man on the ground beside him... dead.
Three weeks later, David awakens in a hospital in London. He's distraught over the news of Jack's death and becomes agitated when his doctor and the police inform him that an escaped lunatic was responsible for the attack. David insists a wolf-like creature was responsible, and his beliefs are confirmed when Jack appears to him as an undead apparition and informs him that he must die in order to break the werewolf's curse and release Jack's soul. Vivid nightmares plague David's sleep, and he begins to question his sanity as Jack returns again and again. Meanwhile, David's doctor has questions of his own as doubts about the official account of the attack creep into his mind.
An American Werewolf in London is notable for having won the very first Academy Award for Best Makeup, and rightfully so. The movie boasts what is still one of the most horrific and realistic werewolf transformations on screen, and that alone is worthy of accolades, but special effects wizard Rick Baker didn't stop there. The gore effects on David's undead victims, particularly the ever decomposing Jack, are amazing. In an age where we're spoiled by CGI, it's not hard to spot the smoke and mirrors used for some of the effects, but despite this, the movie doesn't lose any of its charm.
I'll be honest, I find the fully transformed werewolf to be a little hokey. I think the creature is best utilized in fleeting glimpses. Some shots work better than others. I think the subway scene bothered me the most. However, I do give the movie props for not going the easy way out and just gluing appliances onto an actor and letting him run around on two legs. This is a werewolf completely devoid of humanity, a true beast, and I applaud Landis and Baker for that.
I don't have to tell you that An American Werewolf in London is a revered classic. Any serious horror fan could tell you that. In a time when horror comedies were a tough sell, John Landis took a chance, and it paid off. I cannot recommend this movie enough. Give this one a watch. If you're in the mood for dinner and a movie, I recommend hamburgers (bloody rare, of course), because there's enough Wendy's product placement that you'll be craving one by the time the end credits roll anyway. Remember, kids, stick to the roads, stay off the moors, and keep an eye out for naked American balloon thieves.