By Matt Brunson
AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON (1981)
DIRECTED BY John Landis
STARS David Naughton, Jenny Agutter
Writer-director John Landis' tongue-in-bloody-cheek horror yarn is considered in some circles to be the best werewolf film ever made, yet as I’ve stated before, I belong to the group that prefers 1981’s other wolfman hit, The Howling (to say nothing of 1941's definitive The Wolf Man). Still, until it derails at the end, Landis' piece does a nice job of mixing its horror with humor.
Yankee tourists David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking across the English moors when they're attacked by a frightful man-beast; Jack is killed, but David is only injured and shipped off to London to recuperate. A lovely nurse (Jenny Agutter) takes him under her wing, but David begins to doubt his own sanity after he's confronted by a decomposing Jack, who informs his friend that he'll turn into a werewolf during the next full moon.
Landis goes with the flow here, referencing classic wolfman flicks through the dialogue, cramming the soundtrack with appropriately titled oldies ("Blue Moon," "Bad Moon Rising"), and even taking some good-natured digs at English mores and manners. Unfortunately, he runs out of steam just before the finish line, as the film ends with the sort of chaos (crashing cars, falling bodies) that was appropriate in the director's previous hits (National Lampoon's Animal House and The Blues Brothers) but proves to be embarrassing and insufficient here.
For his excellent work, Rick Baker won the Best Makeup Oscar in its first year as an annual (rather than occasional) award. For the record, the only other nominee that initial year was fellow makeup/FX great Stan Winston, cited for transforming Andy Kaufman and Bernadette Peters into shiny robots in the box office disaster Heartbeeps.
(An American Werewolf in London will be screened at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Oct. 31, at the Neighborhood Theatre, 511 East 36th St. The movie is being shown as part of the Bad Moon Rising series presented by The Light Factory, The Neighborhood Theatre, Actor’s Theatre, and Visart Video. Doors open at 7 p.m. Admission is free. Details here.)