An American Werewolf In London
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Distributed by: MCA Home Video
Reviewed by Ismael Manzano
Loyal fan, I am on a mission. It came to my attention recently that some of the movies that I’ve grown up with, adore and revere have gone unnoticed by the younger generation and my peers alike. Films that I always thought of as pieces of Americana, to others, are barely recognizable names from a blurred past, or worst, forgotten originals of poorly done remakes. Case in point: An American Werewolf in London (1981). I couldn’t believe it when I heard people my own age talking about American Werewolf in Paris—the 1997 sequel—as if it had been the original. Now, while ‘Paris,’ wasn’t a bad movie, it failed to live up to the magic of the first movie—even though it sold a lot of its gimmicks from ‘London.’ So, I’m here to review an old favorite, in the hopes of rekindling your interest and putting ‘London’ where it should have been all along, prominently displayed in the analogs of Americana, as one of the greatest, bad horror movies of all times—seconded, of course, by Bruce Campbell’s Evil Dead movies.
David Kessler (David Naughton) and his friend Jack (Griffin Dunne) are Americans backpacking through England when they get attacked by a large animal. Jack is torn apart, but David survives thanks to the help of some locals. He awakens weeks later, in a London hospital, where he’s told of his friend’s death. He is also told that he was attacked by a crazed man, which David adamantly protests, but no one will believe him.
Weird, savage dreams plague his nights and have him questioning his own sanity, even as he meets and begins to build a relationship with a young nurse named Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). The romance is quaint and believable, adding a human touch to the horror flick that is too often overdone in today’s cinema. And with her help, David begins to heal, emotionally from the traumatic event, he’d endured.
It isn’t long before David is visited by his increasingly decaying, quick-witted friend, Jack, who constantly tells him to kill himself to save others and set his soul free. Jack tells David what he doesn’t want to hear, that they were attacked by a werewolf and that during the next full moon, David will turn into a werewolf and kill as well. David doesn’t listen, but it isn’t long before the full moon proves Jack right and the body count begins to pile up.
The movie climaxes with a brutal, yet darkly funny, confrontation where werewolf-David runs amok through the London streets, causing mayhem at every corner. But can the love he and Alex share save him from the curse?
An American Werewolf in London was one of my all-time favorites, even after watching it again, years later. It had antiquated, yet effective special effects—at least as far as the gore was concerned. Though the werewolf was obviously just a man in a big suit, the editing did a good job shooting as little of the actual costume of possible so as not to draw attention to it. And the David’s transformation from man to wolf was and will always be, a classic--one of the most well done, low-budget works of our time. I found it far more disturbing than anything I’ve seen a computer produce to date.
This old style of filmmaking proves that you don’t need computer graphics or in-your-face action every scene to keep the story moving. This film held my attention with good old fashioned storytelling, unraveling David's descent little by little, as he struggles between his sanity and his fear of becoming the very monster that killed his friend.
The only thing about this movie that relegates it to the ‘great, bad movie’ category—aside from it having been made twenty-plus years ago—is David Naughton’s facial expressions, which seem to run the gamut between amused confusion to amused confusion, and almost nothing in between.
The collector’s edition DVD has plenty of featurettes, a commentary, interviews, and outtakes that are sure to please fans of this classic. I hope that my recommendation means something to you, because if you do not have this movie, you should.
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