For the longest time, I had today’s pick confused with another movie featuring the same monster. That other film stars Michael J. Fox and this one earned the first ever Academy Award for Best Make-up. If that wasn’t a big enough hint and you’re still wondering, that Michael J. Fox movie was Teen Wolf, and the film we’re discussing today is none other than An American Werewolf in London.
This was one of the films on the list that I knew I should have seen before, but I’ve usually passed up in favor of something different. Maybe you just have to be in the right mood for this kind of a thing or maybe it’s just that I don’t usually watch monster movies like this. I’m more of a supernatural/ haunted house person. It could also be that I just didn’t know what to expect from this movie. I knew it was a comedy, of sorts, which are usually not my style but it’s another one of those classics that you should see, at least once, if you’re really into the genre. This month was really the perfect excuse to stop putting it off and finally sit down to watch this bad boy and I’m so glad that I did.
Before we get into the good stuff, I’ll admit, there’s a bunch of things about this film that aren’t great. The jarring, uneven tone as it moves scene to scene is the biggest deterrant for me. Some scenes are funny, some are gory, some are just plain awkward. Some of the more comedic scenes feel like they belong in some other movie and it really throws off the flow. There is a lengthy awkward sex scene that halts the plot. Apparently, it was envisioned as something long and more graphic. Still no convinced that’s necessary. It’s a lot as it curently is now and I certainly don’t want to imagine what it might have been like had writer/director John Landis had his way. The other major hitch in the film centers around how odd and unbelievable the relationship with Alex (Jenny Agutter) and David (David Naughton) is. From the first moment they’re flirting to when she’s spoon feeding him to the sex scene and everything in between and after, it’s just hard to get that invested in it because it just feels so fabricated and forced.
The things that the film gets right though, oh boy does it get right. An American Werewolf in London skillfully subverts all of your expectations from the very beginning of the film. It’s not some movie buddy movie, it’s not just some monster movie, or a romance film, though it has all of those aspects to it.
It’s just never exactly what you think it will be, especially the end, but I’ll leave that for you to discover on your own. I will, however, share one very minor spoiler. Early on, my favorite character, Jack (Griffin Dunne) is brutally murdered by a werewolf while out on the moors.
Of course, this is the very same wolf that bites David and turns him into the last living werewolf. after the townspeople shoot the one responsible for Jack’s death. Now, the moment you realize Jack is really dead, I was bummed. I couldn’t believe they killed off such a great character at very beginning and it was going to leave me stuck with David. Imagine my surprise when he came back as a ghost. Every time that he returns, he gets progressively more….decomposed. It’s so cool and helps shine a light on why this film won that Oscar I mentioned earlier.
Aside from the brilliant character of Jack,, the other thing the film knocks out of the part are its creature effects. The transformation scene is insane. It’s the first time I have seen a werewolf transformation that looked as painful as it must truly be to have your body morph and change that way. It holds nothing back and makes you watch the lengthy process in agonizing detail. I didn’t really mind all the bone breaking sounds and action because I was so fascinated by it because it’s all practical effects. There’s no CG, this is all rigged up and filmed on camera by a truly masterful team.
The whole transformation alone is worth watching the film for, if only to see how incredibly timeless it is and remind us how great practical effects can be when done right.Furthermore, when David turns into a werewolf the film really finds its footing. It’s just kind of unfortunate that it takes 2/3 of the film to finally get us there. If you’re looking for some great werewolf action that’s kind of gory and filmed like a dream? This film is for you.
I’ve been going back and forth about whether I would watch this one again or not. For some of the scenes, you bet I would, but do I really want to sit through the rest of the movie just for those moments? Probably. And hey this film was also so beloved by Michael Jackson he got the whole crew to make his iconic Thriller music video. That’s pretty cool too, if you ask me. If you’ve been debating about watching this, definitely give it a shot. I doubt you’ll be disappointed by what you find here. I certainly had a fun time!