backpacking through desolate English moors, American students
David Kessler and Jack Goodman are attacked by a fearsome
creature. Jack is killed, but David survives, waking up three
weeks later in a London hospital. However, David is not the
lucky one, because on the next full moon he is due to become
There are some things in life that you just take for granted,
aren't there? Such as the fact that water is wet, or that
grass is green. Or the fact that An American Werewolf in
London is a fantastic film. It's been a few years since
I last saw it, and I had forgotten just how brilliant it is.
comedies, of which this is a groundbreaking example, are far
more commonplace nowadays than they were back in 1981, and
by today's standards the emphasis seems to be very much on
the horror element rather than the comedy. A vast proportion
of the plot is spent building up the tension, from the spooky
scenes on the dark moors of East Proctor to the dire warnings
about what David (David Naughton) will become. These warnings
come in the form of disturbing nightmares and verbal cautions
from David's undead pal, Jack (Griffin Dunne). It's amazing
how writer/director John Landis manages to sustain the story
for so long before David's transformation, by which point
the movie is well over halfway through. The aforementioned
dream sequences help to keep the terror ticking along, especially
the one that takes place in David's family home.
comedy elements also help to keep the viewer interested. These
range from the bumbling, Inspector Clouseau-style antics of
police sergeant McManus (Paul Kember) to the casual comradeship
of Jack, who remains laid back even as his facial features
decompose during the course of the movie - thanks to some
splendid make-up effects by Rick Baker. Following David's
first metamorphosis, the movie takes on a more horrific slant,
though this doesn't get in the way of some hilarious juxtaposition
of tone as gruesome events take place during the screening
of a porno movie entitled, courtesy of a John Landis in-joke,
See You Next Wednesday.
A particularly commendable aspect of this movie is the fact
that its American writer/director doesn't make any of Hollywood's
usual crass generalisations about the UK. The only real giveaway
is when characters, including Brit John Woodvine as Dr Hirsch,
refer to the north of England as "northern England" - an Englishman
would be far more likely to use the phrase "the North" or
specify a region. Other B-list British celebs to watch out
for include a non-speaking Rik Mayall and the trademark gruff
Yorkshireman Brian Glover.
slight quibble that I have is this: why does the undead Jack
appear so "fresh" three weeks after he was killed, only to
decompose so rapidly over the next few days?
such minor points pale into insignificance compared to the
film's stronger points. Now reissued at a bargain price, there's
no excuse for never having seen this classic movie. See it
before next Wednesday!
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