There are directors who are technically or visually amazing, directors who can piece together various elements to tell a story well, directors who make things explode in the right way and provide easy thrills, and directors who know best what their key market wants to see onscreen.
John Landis seems to fall squarely in the latter category.
- Landis has a crack at musical comedy and came up with The Blues Brothers.
- He had a go at straight comedy and came up with Coming to America.
- (He decided to crush the hopes and dreams of a generation and made Blues Brothers 2000.)
…And he thought about making a horror film and came up with this, not one of the all-time best, but in the conversation and definitely worth a look.
First up it’s a pretty crappy title but it tells you what’s coming, so I guess there’s that.
The film opens with two American backpackers as they trudge through Europe on what must be “we’ve graduated, let’s kill some time and let our hair down before college and maybe nail some foreigners along the way” adventure.
David and Jack share an easy chemistry and their dialogue is quite believable and realistic, in the early scenes you can totally “get” that it is just two friends wandering around sharing a laugh… Until that is they stop in at the “Slaughtered Lamb” for a pint (Publican: Why don’t we get more customers! I came up with the name myself.”). As they arrive it is near dark, the customers look at them like they have 3 heads. After a few minutes one of the boys asks the “wrong” question, the customers look at them like they just punched Betty White in the face.
A little frazzled, nervous and I guess still thirsty the boys decide to leave and head off, apparently not together enough to wonder why a local pleads with them to stick to the road they head off cross country into the dark…
The title tells you what happens next, they are set upon by *Something* (wink).
David wakes up weeks later in a London hospital, the living Jack plays no further part in our story. After being questioned by police David swears it was a wolf, the police similarly swear it wasn’t, having already gotten the facts from the locals, they write David’s story off as ramblings of a traumatised boy.
Now David seems to be recovering from his horrendous wounds quite quickly, faster than the human body should allow. He also starts having some (uber) weird dreams (think nazi-monsters gunning down his family) and experiences flashes of disturbing clarity. His main nurse is a young 20 something woman named Alex, she seems to empathise with David and provides him with some personalised care (not yet dirty minds!).
Then one day Jack shows up unannounced, you’ll note I said previously the living Jack was gone, meet the zombie undead Jack. He informs David that he is now a werewolf and that Jack himself is floating in between the living world and the next, the only way he can permanently transition is if the chain is severed – in English this means David must die before Jack can move on. Jack matter-of-factly tells David to top himself before the full moon, or you’ll transform and kill people. Good news to get as you are starting to feel a little better.
Given his amazing recuperative powers David is allowed to be released from hospital, and after a “You can crash at my place” from Alex he does just that – NOW you can let your filthy minds run free. The next couple days are spent relaxing – Cue the Bow-Chicka-Wows maestro.
Days pass, then Jack shows again, a little more decomposed, a little more desperate: “The full moon is tomorrow. Top yourself or I will remain in limbo”.
We know if David does in fact kill himself then he won’t become anything more than mulch, so it is safe to say he does not, the rest of the film pans out like you might think it would, but it is a hell of a ride getting there.
The makeup effects for the ever-deteriorating Jack are amazing considering that there is zero CGI used, and the transformation sequence is quite rightly seen as a masterpiece to this day. Should it depress those that made The Wolfman that a 30 odd year old movie with no computer assistance absolutely PWNS their comparatively shitty big-budget CGI everything effort? I vote yes. (And the old guy on the train with the cane who was insane in the membrane was Christopher Plummer).
David gets to transform a couple times, each time he manages to have a little wolfie-fun at the expense of the innocent citizens of London, each time he wakes up naked in public with no recollection of the night before (insert Colin Farrell joke here). The attacks and killings themselves are not shown clearly onscreen but the aftermath often is, and as you would expect it is always bloody.
Of course the local police and media are a tad concerned given the 6 murders in the area, and Alex and her Doctor similarly share some information and theories between themselves.
The ending is a little abrupt in that 80s way which is simultaneously strange but refreshing, the story is essentially told so it ends. In fact the entire movie is really quite straightforward:
- Guys on holiday attacked. One dead.
- Second guy a werewolf but doesn’t (yet) know it.
- Guy falls for a cute nurse.
- Now he knows it! Transform – Attack – Recover – Rinse – Repeat.
There are no unnecessary subplots, no bits that go nowhere and every character is there to be eaten or to wonder why people are being eaten around them and who is doing it.
All in all An American Werewolf in London probably can’t be considered an All-Time classic even though the transformation sequence is, it is a little too simple and the middle third of the film lags a little too long. But it does tell its simple story very well and entertains along the way in the first and last thirds of the film.
Put another way: If you thought The Wolfman was OK An American Werewolf in London will blow your tiny little mind!
Final Rating – 8 / 10. There aren’t too many films of this era that hold up well against the more BOOM CRASH POW stuff of recent years. This however is most definitely one of the exceptions. Fun, scary and with a couple of very memorable scenes.