An American Werewolf In London (1981)

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I am surprised that I it has taken me so long to review a werewolf film given the number floating about. An American Werewolf In London was a good film to put right this lapse. The film opens in a long aerial sequence of the imposing English countryside (far away from the urban jungle of London) which reminded me greatly of the opening of The Shining released a year before. We meet David Kessler and Jack Goodman, two young American tourists played by David Naughton (Midnight Madness) and Griffin Dunne (Dallas Buyers Club) respectively as they come across a small village pub. The Slaughtered Lamb is a pub for ‘local folk’ and after an altercation with a few of the locals, the two hikers leave into the dark night. The pair completely ignore the locals advice of ‘Beware the moon’ and ‘Keep to the road’ and head off singing into the open moorland, an unwise idea at the best of times. The locals, feeling guilty go after Jack and David but are too late, the tourists have been attacked by a hideous wolf killing Jack and mauling David, putting him into a coma.

When David wakes up three weeks later in a London hospital he starts having horrific nightmares and is visited by a decomposing Jack, trapped forever to wonder the Earth until the bloodline of the werewolf that killed him has gone, which, of course, is David. When he is discharged David moves in with his nurse, played by Jenny Agutter (Logan’s Run) which seems somewhat unethical to me but this was the 80s I suppose. Alone on the night of the full moon he transforms into a werewolf and terrorizes the whole of London, killing several people.

The special effects in An American Werewolf in London are really good, especially considering that it was made in an era before CGI. The werewolf is one of the best I’ve seen on film, neither a hirsute man in need of a manicure or a normal wolf it is something out of nightmares, a giant black-haired beast with large yellow fangs and flashing eyes. The transformation from man to beast is definitely the set-piece of the film with the agony of bones transforming, limbs changing and whole physiology shifting in clear detail. That said, the special effects of the slowly decaying Jack are also excellently realised.

I really enjoyed An American Werewolf in London, it wasn’t too long and had a clear story arc, albeit predictable. Written and directed by John Landis (The Blues Brothers, Twilight Zone: The Movie) it is a fun film to watch when you are not in the mood for anything particularly scary or that requires too much thinking about.

Rating: 5/5

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Fun Fact: All the songs in the soundtrack have the word ‘moon’ in the title, including Blue Moon, Moondance and Bad Mood Rising.

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