An American Werewolf in London (1981)
I first saw this film when I was about ten years old. Or rather, I saw the first ten minutes. When the initial attack occurs on the moors, my Mum switched it off. And I’m not surprised. Just those first few minutes were enough to make me shit my shoes off. It would be many years later before I would actually watch the movie all the way through.
An American Werewolf in London begins with two backpacking young Americans finding their way to a mysterious village somewhere in Yorkshire. They are attacked on the moors by a werewolf – one is killed and one survives, thus carrying on the werewolf’s curse. Recovering in a London hospital, the survivor, David (David Naughton) is cared for by nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter). His nightmares soon erupt into vicious attacks as he transforms, under the full moon, into a werewolf.
This film is an absolute classic of the genre. There are genuine jump-out-of-your-seat shocks, moments of bloody gore and a tragic love story that combine into a thrilling experience. The special effects make-up (by Rick Baker) is still out standing today, particularly the transformation scene.
Often described as a “horror comedy”, there is a humorous tone in moments throughout the film which helps create the light and dark shades. Director John Landis, however, has stated that An American Werewolf… is not a comedy, it just uses the lighter shades to create impact for the more horrible scenes. Landis blends the moods superbly. There are also numerous nods to the werewolf movies of the past; both verbally (The Wolfman and Curse of the Werewolf both get a nod) and in the structure of the film.
I’ve seen this film many, many times since Mum first switched channels after ten minutes. I’ve even seen it on the big screen, for a special late night showing a couple of years ago. The film’s ability to shock is now lost on me somewhat – I know when every scare is due to happen. But I still enjoy watching this film and absorb every incredibly clever touch that Landis utilises. It’s made a massive impression on me – I still remember the first time I was way down deep on the London underground, and gained an appreciation of the loneliness and isolation in one particular scene.
An American Werewolf In London: if you’ve not seen it, see it now. But not in a dodgy theatre in Piccadilly Circus, obviously.