From the far reaches of the Milky Way Galaxy, It's Retro Nerd Girl with a film review for you.
Today I'll be reviewing the movie An American Werewolf in London released in 1981.
David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Joe Belcher
IMDb Rating is currently:
The Synopsis is:
A young american college student, David Kessler, traveling abroad gets bitten by a werewolf as he is being haunted by the ghost of his friend, Jack while beginning to build a relationship with a British nurse by the name of Alex.
*THE REST OF THE REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS. *
John Landis wrote the screenplay for this film following an incident while shooting Kelly's Heroes in 1970 in the countryside of Yugoslavia observing a gypsy funeral.
It took some time but John finally got the green light to make the film a decade later.
The progression of events are pretty simple, but there is an additional spark of genius in the odd dream sequences that not only surprise the audience but leave them wondering about it long after the film is over.
The story here is king, the comedy and special effects are heavy, but also come naturally and appropriately from the dire situation.
There were lots of memorable quotes from fantastic dialogue.
"A naked American man stole my balloons."
"Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors."
"Beware the moon..."
"I didn't mean to call you a meatloaf, Jack!"
"You made me miss."
"You just put the gun to your forehead and pull the trigger."
"If you put it in your mouth, then you'd be sure not to miss."
"Life mocks me even in death!"
"THAT'S ENOUGH!... That's enough."
"Ah, don't be a putz David."
At an hour and 37 minutes, I absolutely loved the pacing of this film. Everything just flows wonderfully.
The challenge in this film is the curse of the werewolf and how David deals with it.
Curses in movies and pop culture are events, but in this film, the curse manifests psychological tortures for David to try to get him to eventually kill himself.
And the way the curse manifests these tortures are through dream sequences and visits from the undead.
The film is famous for a specific scene, where David’s home in America is violently invaded by Nazi werewolves in a dream. The sequence really confused many viewers, but, we have to remember that the events in dreams hardly make sense, unless you know how to interpret dreams.
Dreams are ways the subconscious mind that is all knowing can communicate with us and sometimes violence and shocking images are the only way to get our attention.
In many films of the 1980’s the Nazi’s were a regular representation of pure evil, and they decimated David’s family, who were probably the only people he really loved besides his friend Jack at the time of the dream.
Mind you that they were werewolves, foretelling that the curse of the werewolf would destroy his world, everything he cares about.
Another example of the fact that the curse is manifesting itself in the dream is that all of the dream sequences include something associated to the wolf.
When Jack appears, the dreams go away. The manifestation of the curse has finally materialized in the most effective way to communicate with David and in a state that will get his attention, still fresh from the kill.
Is he a zombie? No. He’s not really there because he disappears whenever other people enter the room. He is part of David’s imagination, warning him about the curse.
Another interesting thing to notice about Jack is that the way he is decaying seems as if the transfer of time were weeks, but it has only been days.
David is a good kid. He is really likeable from the start. It just easy to bond with him as he and Jack start out the film bantering.
He’s not a hero or specially gifted, or the chosen one. He’s just an average guy in a bad bad situation.
When he is attacked by the werewolf he is taken to a hospital where he meets Dr. Hirsch and his nurse, Alex Price.
There is an instant attraction between Alex and David resulting in a rather sudden romantic relationship.
In the meantime David is trying to tell them that he was attacked by an animal, he’s having weird dreams and being visited by his dead friend Jack.
Dr. Hirsch is the only person to really dig any further to David’s claims. I don’t think he ever really believes that David is a werewolf but he believes that there is something wrong when he checks out the Tavern where David and Jack was last seen before the attack, The Slaughtered Lamb.
The technical aspects of this film really shine over time.
I think that people usually remember David’s werewolf transformation scene. And It’s spectacular.
In my opinion, it is the very best werewolf transformation I’ve ever seen on screen. It was just pretty amazing.
While John Landis was trying to get the film made he discussed a wolf transformation with Rick Baker who later won the very first Academy Award for Best Makeup for this film.
Rick Baker's dog Bosko was used as a model for the wolf to embody what Landis called a "four-legged hound from hell".
John Landis initially wanted to only show glimpses of the wolf, but he loved Rick Baker's work so much he decided to really show the monster in great detail, which was a sensational idea. You can’t take your eyes off the screen when you see it.
The same excellence was placed into the makeup used for Jack’s makeup. It looks terrible… I mean that in a good way.
And the film seemed to bask in the details of each stage of Jack’s deterioration and I think a lot of films turn away from that because it may gross too many people out. I thought it was fantastic. This is a rare craft, few films have embraced.
The sound design was amazing in this world fully engulfing you in the moments of tension and fear with fantastic atmospheric sounds. Even the unexciting scenes had a very realistic layer to it that feels organic to the ears.
The best of it was really the sounds of the wolf, which was rumored to be a combination of several animals.
The score was simply gorgeous with only about 7 minutes in total. The rest of the sound in the film were either sound design or pop songs from various areas, mostly the 50’s and all the songs in this film have the word "moon" in their titles.
BTW, there are 3 wonderful renditions of Blue Moon in the film, performed by Bobby Vinton, Sam Cooke, and The Marcels.
There is something utterly spooky about some of the slower songs from the 50’s and the film opens with that beautiful slow version of Blue Moon performed by Bobby Vinton, setting the stage for a creepy start.
The performances were all pretty good.
Just before this film, David Naughton was most popular for being on a television commercial for Dr. Pepper, singing the song "I'm A Pepper". He proves to be a good actor in this film really selling the painful contortions during the transformation scenes as well as the comedic moments.
Griffin Dunne was simply brilliant as the hilarious Jack Goodman. It was surprising to learn that he was not as cheerful as his character on set, but it makes sense having seeing himself in such a horrific make up, most likely for the first time.
Griffin did double duty as he helped puppeteer the more skeletal version of his character in the adult theater scene, while saying his lines at the same time.
There is a cameo from Rick Baker as one of the Nazi werewolves in the nightmare sequence.
Frank Oz makes an appearance in the film as he does in all of John Landis’ films sorta as his good luck charm.
And OZ is mostly known for his work on the Muppet Show, which also has a cameo in the film featuring an episode of the show that was never aired in the U.S.
John Landis makes an appearance as one of the people who is pushed into a window at the end of the film in Piccadilly Circus.
I love the comradery between Jack and David throughout the whole film, but I really enjoyed their goofing around in the very beginning.
I enjoyed the rich cultural creation of the Slaughtered Lamb and the people in that small town. I loved the physical visual grit that you see there, but I also loved how secretive and mysterious the characters there are. There could be a entire movie devoted to the story of this little town and the history of the curse.
I also enjoyed that the werewolf was a supernatural curse which really enriches the circumstance.
I loved how sagage the wolf was. The film didn’t hold back on making him insatiably hungry and wild. Not even David’s girlfriend could tame him. Along with the fantastic special effects it sold it for me.
And the humor was just perfect for this film, I feel.
The ending is tragic and pretty violent. David ends up at an adult movie theater in the middle of Piccadilly Square in London and turns into a werewolf at moon rise.
The wolf puts the whole city square in a frenzy of panic and we have this wild insane pile up with cars and accidents in a tornado of brutality.
Ultimately David is shot and killed. Alex is sobbing after having witnessed the death of the man that she loves.
And somehow this ends up being a “feel good” movie.
You are about to start crying along with Alex, when suddenly a fun upbeat version of Blue Moon performed by The Marcels abruptly sounds off and the screen goes black in that instant. The credits roll and it kinda leaves you laughing hysterically.
Some people felt that it robbed the audience of its emotional drama and I totally agree. But the film doesn't give you an opinion of what you should make of these events in London, by emotionally driving the music.
I love that kind of ending much better than one that would have left me broken once the film was over.
Not much to wish for because the film gives you much more than you expect.
I had the pleasure of seeing this in the movie theater when it came out as an 11 year old, with my mom and my best friend at the time, Vanessa.
I remember just having so much fun with them talking about the film afterwards. We would roll up our top lip so our teeth could be exposed like, Jack and say, “Hi David” for hours giggling and laughing.
It had been years since I revisited the film and after seeing it recently, to me, it’s just one of those horror films that don’t bank off the cliches of the genre, but offer a mix of humor and visual magic.
Was it too much gore? Maybe. But it was well done and it was an integral part of the story telling.
I suppose that the comedy really softens the blow. It’s a great crossover flick, if you are not into horror.
But one of my all time favorite films.
That sums up my review. I hope you liked it. This is Retro Nerd Girl signing off.
Take care movie lovers! I'm off to the next review!
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