Oct. 11: An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Werewolf films are often the most tragic of horror films, as someone finds himself transformed through no fault of his own into a monster. This makes it all the more unlikely that a werewolf film could be funny, but director John Landis (Blues Brothers, Animal House) certainly achieved that with this film, which very effectively juxtaposes comedy and horror.
David (David Naughton) and his friend Jack (Griffin Dunne) are two American college students backpacking through Europe during summer vacation. For some reason, they decide to start the trip in northern England. The two are hiking through the moors one night, when some creepy locals tell them to stick to the road, which they promptly fail to do. They'92re attacked by a large animal, and Jack is killed.
David wakes up in a London hospital, where he is told that he was attacked by an escaped lunatic. Nobody cares to believe the truth, except perhaps Nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter), who takes care of David and lets him stay with her when he'92s discharged, falling in love with him in the process.
'a0Soon, Jack'92s undead corpse appears to David, telling him that he will become a werewolf at the next full moon, that he will kill people, and they will be cursed to walk the earth, as Jack is doing. The only way to end the curse and let those people rest is for David to kill himself. David, of course, doesn'92t want to believe it, but becomes convinced when he starts waking up naked in the wolf cage at the zoo.
This is the rare instance of a horror-comedy being both funny and scary, often at the same time. The scenes featuring Jack'92s ever-degrading corpse are quite funny ('93Have you ever tried talking to a corpse? It'92s boring!'94), despite how icky he becomes. But the scenes with the wolf stalking and attacking people are all very tense, with surprisingly horrifying violence for a movie this amusing.
And perhaps the most impressive scene in the movie is David'92s initial transformation into a werewolf. Aided immensely by the practical makeup effects, done by Rick Baker (who won an Oscar), which were astounding then and still impressive now, the scene really drives home the feeling of bones and body parts changing and shifting around.
Despite all the comedy, An American Werewolf in London is quick, mean and harsh, using the humor and horror to reinforce and enhance each other, and make a truly memorable movie.
If you liked this, then check out:
'97'a0'a0'a0 The Howling (1981): The other quality werewolf movie from 1981, this one is from Joe Dante (Piranha, Gremlins) and features a reporter (Dee Wallace) who goes on vacation to a rural rest home and finds that it'92s a haven for werewolves. This also features great wolf effects, these by Rob Bottin.
'97'a0'a0'a0 Ginger Snaps (2000): This Canadian movie uses werewolves as a metaphor for puberty. On the night of her first period, 16-year-old Ginger (Katharine Isbell) gets bitten by a wolf. Soon, serious changes start to happen to her body and mind, and her 15-year-old sister Brigitte (Emily Perkins) tries to find a cure.'a0
'97'a0'a0'a0 Innocent Blood (1992): The only other horror feature from Landis (unless you count Beverly Hills Cop III), this is a darkly comedic vampire film featuring French beauty Anne Parillaud as a bloodsucker who accidentally turns a gangster (Robert Loggia) into a vampire, and must stop him when he tries to build a crime family of vampires.