An American Werewolf in London (1981)
97 Min. Technicolor
With David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter
Directed by John Landis
Rating: ***1/2 of *****
David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffen Dunne) are two college kids on a walking tour of Europe while on break. They start their trip in northern England, and end up trecking across the Scottish moors. After being dropped off by a sheep herder, the two find their way to a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. They're kicked out after asking about a pentangle etched on the wall with candles burning beside it. The customers leave them with three warnings: Stay clear of the moors, Stay to the road, and beware of the moon. Even though it's a full moon, the two end up losing their way. They both end up being attacked by a large wolf-like animal, which is shot by the locallers just after it kills Jack and injures David. David slips into unconsciousness just after seeing that the creature that attacked he and his friend has turned into the naked corpse of a man.
Three weeks later, David awakens in a London hospital, under the care of Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) and nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). There he is visited by a representative from the US Embassey and a police chief, who tell him that he was attacked by an escaped lunatic as opposed to the wolf-creature that David insists attacked him. David begins having nightmares, including seeing his family slaughtered by a band of demon faced Nazi soldiers and running through the forest and hunting. Just before his release, he sees and talks to his dead friend, Jack, who appears to him as a continuously rotting corpse. Jack explains that the two were attacked by a werewolf, and that he is caught in limbo due to his un-natural death. The only way for his soul to rest is if the wolf's bloodline is severed, meaning that David must die.
David (naturally) begins to think that he's insane, but Alex and Dr. Hirsch insure him that he is okay for release from the hospital. Alex invites him to stay at her apartment, since he has no other place to go. David agrees, and they almost immediately begin a sexual relationship with one another. Dr. Hirsch travels to the Slaughtered Lamb in order to check up on David's story and finds that everyone there refuses to say anything about what happened. One man finally begins to talk, but is hushed quickly by an older man from the pub.The night after David's release is a full moon. While Alex is at the hospital, David transforms and goes on a feeding frenzy, killing six Londoners in the process and ending up in the wolf exhibit at the London zoo. He awakens, unaware that anything has happened, and finds his way back to Alex's apartment. Dr. Hirsch, aware of the murders and frightened that David might be a danger to himself or others, tells Alex to bring him to the hospital. On the way, however, David finds out about the murders. From that point on, he knows that he is the one that did it, and runs from Alex. He finds a porno theater, where Jack signals him in to talk. There he meets the undead corpses of the people he had murdered the night before. David lingers to long, however, and just after nightfall, his transformation begins again...
AAWIL is one of the more original horror films to come out of the 80's, or any decade for that matter. The story itself is very engrossing, if not entirely believable. John Landis (director of Animal House and The Blues Brothers) crafts a taught horror tale while interweaving elements of romance and comedy in a perfect manner. The acting, as far as the main characters are concerned, is very good as well. But lets focus on some things in more depth.
First off, the direction. For the most part, it's extremely strait forward direction. There are some eerie atmospheric shots at various points in the film, but most of the rest of it is pretty simple. The simplicity helps, in this case. To much atmosphere would have made this film to much of a horror film. As it stands, it is mostly a drama with horror, mystery, comedy, and romantce thrown in. While this is a jumbled lot of genres to have represented in a single film, Landis does a superb job of crafting all of them until they weave together almost seamlessly. In this aspect, the film itself is almost perfect. It only falls apart in the end, the very end in fact. But we'll get into that later.
Now to move on to the acting. David Naughton pulls of a perfect performance, which allows you to both like and feel sympathetic for his character and his plight. Jenny Agutter (of Logan's Run fame) does a good job of playing the love interest, as well as minor protagonist, of the story. Even if some of her lines are hoaky, ill realized, or just plain stupid, her perfect accent and equally perfect looks keep it going. John Woodvine does a superb job, in my opinion, of playing the practical but still skeptical doctor who tries to figure out exactly what is going on inside David's head as well as what happened at the Slaughtered Lamb weeks before. And we musn't forget Griffen Dunne, who plays the ever rotting undead corpse of Jack Goodman (as well as Jack Goodman himself). He pulls off the part of a friend trying to help a friend in need perfectly, even if it is with an animatronic puppet at the end of the film.
As most of you, no doubt, allready know, the special effects for David's transformation scenes are incredible. Rick Baker (who did effects for the remake of King Kong amongst many MANY other things) outdid himself for David's first transformation. Wether it's his extending joints, growing muscles, or expanding face, it's all pulled off with realism that doesn't often come along in film making. The werewolf itself, when seen in all it's glory, is a little less convincing (though the angles at which it is shot and the briefness of it's appearances help this a lot). Overall, kudo's are definately deserved by the effects crew on this outing.
So, is there any bad in this film? Of course there is! The great (read: 90%) majority of this is the ending. The ending is, quite simply put, horrible. The film just ends. There is no real revelation of anything to anyone, there is no real emotional jolt, there's nothing. It just ends, then Blue Moon starts playing in all of it's "Doo wop" glory as the credits roll. I've grown accustomed to the ending as it stands, and it doesn't bother me nearly as much as it used to. But on first viewing this film, the ending left me feeling cheated for even caring about the characters and their plight. Aside from the ending, there are a few minor continuity errors (read: Very MINOR). An example of this is Dr. Hirsch's beer at the pub. He takes a sip, lowering the level of the beer to about an inch and a half below the lip of the mug. Upon his next sip, however, the mug is nearly full again. Unless you actually look for the few continuity errors that there are, they aren't apt to really bug you in the film.
Do I recommend this movie? I'll have to give a rather enthusiastic yes in response to that. It's thoroughly enjoyable fare, and well worth the price of at least a rental. I'm sure many of you may want to purchase it as well. You won't get any complaints from me about it.