Hysterical Horror That Will Get You Howling…
An American lad gets attacked by a werewolf on holiday in Yorkshire leading to comic and horrific consequences in London.
An American Werewolf In London – TrailerLionsgateUKMovies and photos © Universal Pictures
Just over 35 years ago the film, An American Werewolf in London (1981) made its debut in the cinema. It’s been on the to watch list for viewing with my darlin’ husband along with a few other films previously reviewed – such as International Velvet (1978) and Somewhere in Time (1980) – so I was superhappy to see it in the TV listings.
I last remember seeing this film last in the late 1980s and as I find some of this werewolf film more gory scenes a wee bit difficult to watch. Darlin’ husband is always honest enough to tell me when they are over so as I can resume watching the film.
I’m not sure if this film’s showing was to coincide with its anniversary release or it was purely by accident. But either way, thanks to the Finnish TV bosses for showing this cult werewolf comedy tale. This comedy is probably one of the best werewolf films especially if you compare it to the dire Teen Wolf (1985) with Michael J Fox to the ridiculous, namely Wolf (1994). In the awful Wolf, the script alone wasted the talents of Michelle Pfeiffer and James Spader, and not even Hollywood heavyweight – and favourite actor – Jack Nicholson could save it.
An American Werewolf in London – directed by John Landis – stars Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter and David Naughton. The story tells of two American lads – Jack (Dunne) and David (Naughton) – trekking over the Yorkshire Moors. The lads come across a wee village and visit the local pub, called the Slaughtered Lamb.
Jack innocently asks about a five-pointed star on the wall to the untrusting and unfriendly Yorkshire occupants. The Yorkshire cast includes a few familiar British faces such as comedians, Rik Mayall and Brian Glover. The lads are then asked to leave by the now angry occupants, however, nightfall is approaching and so they are advised to stay on the path. The pub landlady however is concerned for their safety.
Meanwhile, on the moors, Jack and David have lost their way and also find they have strayed from the path in a double whammy. An eerie strange howling is heard. Although the pub occupants are familiar with the noise, they dismiss it and all responsibilities for the lads. The lads are then hounded by a wolf-like creature. This creature kills Jack through a number of horrific facial and body injuries – and hurts David badly. The creature is then killed by the men from the pub and transforms into a man, revealing this creature to be a werewolf…
The scenes then cut to a hospital in London where David has been admitted due to his injuries. The village occupants have reported to the police and medical staff that he and Jack were attacked by an in-patient who escaped from a mental health hospital. In the hospital, his doctor, Doctor Hirsch (John Woodvine) reports to his nursing team. David is looked after primarily by Alex (Agutter), a pretty nurse. A mutual attraction appears to develop between them.
David starts getting recurring apparent hallucinations involving his friend Jack and killing animals in the wild. Jack warns him he will become a werewolf at the coming full moon and advises him to kill himself. Jack states as his victim he has been doomed to wander the earth as undead and can only die properly when the werewolf bloodline is severed. On discharge, David moves in with Alex as they start a relationship. However, the full moon is approaching with horrific consequences for David has become an American werewolf in London.
This film was commended for its makeup and special effects for which it rightly won an Oscar and this was the first film to do so for this category. Particular praise in this area is the makeup for the dead Jack who literally decomposes before your eyes. However this doesn’t sound as bad as it seems, having started with horrific bloody injuries and his face literally in shreds, I found this the grimmest of his undead looks, but this got increasingly easier to watch!
However, the most praise goes in David’s transformation to a werewolf which is much, much better than the programme Manimal (1983). In this TV programme, Simon McCorkindale as Professor Jonathan Chase turned into animals to hunt down the bad guys and solve crimes. It sadly lasted only one season. However here the special effects leave you transfixed until the metamorphosis is completed. Additionally, some of the camera shots are taken from the viewpoint of the werewolves in this film leading to some handsqueezes for my darlin’ husband.
There are a few more familiar faces, Frank Oz makes a small cameo both in person and as his alter ego Miss Piggy. In addition, you may recognise a famous member of the EastEnders (1985) cast as even nasty Nick Cotton (John Altman) has a small part to play. The film is also remembered for its musical score for which the moon is mentioned in all the soundtrack’s songs lyrics and titles including Blue Moon and Bad Moon Rising.
However, despite its horror label, there are many laugh aloud moments for the audience, in particular to those of us who will recognise the London type stereotypes from that time as scenes are played out in some of London’s locations. The Yorkshire scenes are equally as fun, however, the” Yorkshire Moors” filmed in Wales.
As for a sequel, this has been in the form of An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) and a reboot has been considered by Landis’ son. However, for now, I will just ask for the moon from David M Latt, producer of Sharknado and the Asylum movies not to make a Syfy version of this cult movie. Or am I too late… or am I just barking at the moon.
Weeper Rating: /10
Handsqueeze Rating: /10
Hulk Rating: /10
I have submitted my review on An American Werewolf in London (1981) for Shroud of Thoughts 4th Annual British Invaders Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Jenny Agutter in Dominique and The Eagle Has Landed. Frank Oz who also stars directed Death at a Funeral (2007).