24 April 2014

(1981)

An American Werewolf in London is one of those rare instances in which a horror film's sharp comedy does not interfere with its story. Amazing you say? Yes, considering the director is John Landis, whose previous notable achievements included Animal House and The Blues Brothers.

David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are students backpacking through the English countryside. They stop at a local pub but are unnerved by the behavior of the hostile patrons - who don't seem to trust strangers. The friends are asked to leave after asking one too many questions and are advised to "stick to the road."

The two head out through the English moors during a full moon and are attacked by a wolf. Jack is killed and David is wounded. Recovering at a hospital, David begins to receive visits from the undead Jack...who continues to reappears in an increasingly grotesque state.

Jack tells David that they were attacked by a werewolf and that while he himself died, David will turn into a werewolf during the next full moon. He encourages David to commit suicide to stop the curse.

David begins to be plagued by nightmares in which he is running naked through a forest...and one in which his family is murdered by masked gunmen during a home invasion.

Still, it seems he has recovered and he is released from the hospital to stay with his nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), with whom he falls in love.

During the night of the full moon and while Alex is at work, the transformation begins. The hair grows out on his body, his face undergoes a metamorphosis...and his hands and feet stretch out into animal-like proportions. Ready for the kill, he goes out into the night and murders six people.

The next morning, David wakes up naked in a zoo but manages to make it back to Alex's apartment. When he finds out that people were murdered the previous night, he tries to tell Alex that he is responsible for the carnage.

Undead Jack beckons David into a movie theatre and introduces him to the people that were killed. They taunt David, suggesting different ways he can off himself.

There is another full moon and David changes once again, terrorizing theatre patrons. The police are called and they try to barricade him inside...but David breaks out.

Barrelling down the streets of Piccadilly Circus, the creature causes a series of horrific car crashes and much mayhem. Alex arrives on the scene to find the werewolf cornered in an alley. As Alex tells David she loves him, the creature lunges towards her and is shot down by the police. It then returns to David's human form once again.

Released within the same year as two other "wolf" films, The Howling and Wolfen, An American Werewolf in London is the standout. There are so many wonderful touhes, including superb Oscar-winning make-up effects by Rick Baker and a fun soundtrack in which the word "moon" appears in every song.

David Naughton is excellent in a role that traditionally reeks of tragedy. Take the sequence during the amazing first transformation. The character of David Kessler is doing everything he can to distract himself - reading, pacing around, looking for food...then suddenly he's in pain and screaming in agony. It is intense, even with the inevitable outcome.

The once promising feature film career of director John Landis was cut short when actor Vic Morrow and two child extras were killed during the filming of 1982's The Twilight Zone. Landis and several crew members were later acquitted of several charges but his work suffered.

He did go on to helm the video for fan Michael Jackson's Thriller, employing many of the visual effects seen in An American Werewolf in London.

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