Quick you guys let's make a werewolf movie, in which every song used within the film has "moon" somewhere in the title...I imagine this is what John Landis said to producers when creating An American Werewolf in London. Where Evil Dead begins humorous and spirals into a considerably scary movie, this work begins humorous, considers being scary and then decides just to continue being absurd instead. I am not sure if you are supposed to laugh as much as I did while watching an American Werewolf in London, but it goes without saying that the wry humor and somewhat mockingly over-the-top special effects lend to a comedy more so than a horror film, but, after all, it is John Landis, the guy made Animal House. Living on the edge of the late seventies which were witnessing a thriving punk rock movement and the early eighties which emphasized a focus on capitalist conservative values, An American Werewolf In London manages to deal with both these cultures with great zeal and a maddening silliness that makes the movie incredibly watchable. I was wondering why the guys over at Filmspotting felt so adamant about this being included in their top films of 1981, but after viewing this work I can see why it made their list, and more importantly managed to land right outside of the AFI's top 100 films of all-time, a pretty surprising feat, even if the list only includes works by American directors. While all of the films I have viewed throughout this month of horror movies, I have enjoyed most everything I have watched, however, I can say with some certainty that this work has proved to be the biggest surprise so far in means of its enjoyability, as well as cinematic fervor. An American Werewolf in London epitomizes everything that a cult classic film should.
Beginning with two young men, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), getting off of a sheep herders truck to begin backpacking across Europe. While their adventures begin with them traveling through the English countryside both express a great desire to arrive in Rome where they assume a large amount of hot women will await them. However, their trip has just begun and they find themselves stopping by a local pub, aptly named The Slaughtered Lamb, initially unwelcome the two begin banter with the bar patrons only to discover that they are hiding a secret about some creature roaming the hills of the area, unfortunately, they discover this far too late and Jack is killed by a creature, while David is scarred before being saved by the locals. David awakes in a London hospital with wounds and bizarre nightmares of running through the woods naked. It is explained to him by one Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) that his friend Jack has died and he was attacked by some sort of lunatic person. David adamantly believes that he was attacked by some sort of furry creature an exclamation that only receives the support of an attractive young nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter). As David's visions worsen he even begins to see the undead corpse of Jack who explains that he has become a werewolf and as such will desire human flesh and all those he kills will only continue to rise unless he commits suicide. After release from hospice, David movies in with Alex and continues to kill people during full moons, ending up waking up in a zoo after one particularly bad night of killing. Revisiting Jack in an adult cinmea, David comes face to face with all his victims as they plead once more for him to end his life, after another spree David is surrounded by cops and a pleading Alex, who apparently gets the turned version of David to have a brief change of heart, yet the bestial nature takes form and attempts to attack her, resulting in his being gunned down dead. In the middle of her tears, the film cuts dramatically to the credits with yet another moon related song playing loudly.
An American Werewolf in London could be read in a few different ways, perhaps commenting on othering, sacrifice or cultural decay. However, my reading of the film could not help but focus on the element of tourism and miscommunication that results. Of course this is an absurdist representation of that, considering that much of the plot is predicated on David not being told the truth about werewolves, but this can serve as a metaphor of the lack of knowledge many tourists have to social customs when they enter a new place, in this case David, nor Jack, were knowledgable enough about this foreign culture to understand that they were in werewolf country and thus subject to attacks. Perhaps this can serve as a reflection to when a foreign traveller, or more appropriately tourist, crosses certain borders to a place that are unwelcome, often with disastrous results. It reflects nicely to the occurrence a year or so ago when American hikers unknowingly crossed into Iran only to be arrested by the police, as they were unwelcome. While this is a very real tragic example of such actions, perhaps Landis is reflecting on this action. Furthermore, An American Werewolf in London is one of the best post-modern horror films I have ever seen, trumping even Zombieland and Shaun of the Dead in its cult epicness.
Key Scene: David's turning scene is quite excellent, although the cut to credits is so jarring that it cannot be ignored.
Everyone should have a copy of this film, it makes for a great horror/Halloween screening and I am sure it has a fair share of drinking games floating around the internet. Get the bluray whenever finances allow.