Movie Review: “An American Werewolf in London” – Classic with Bite

Written by Angela July 13, 2014

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Have you been experiencing sudden hot flashes, paranoia, muscle aches and an unusually increased sex drive? Have you recently woken up in any strange locations following the night of a full moon, nude and not knowing how you got there? If you said “yes” to any of the listed symptoms, then you could be suffering from a rather alarming case of lycanthropy. If you find you have been stricken, then I highly recommend the 1981 cult classic, “An American Werewolf in London”, written and directed by John Landis. It may not necessarily cure your malady completely, but it will definitely serve as an entertaining distraction.

“Beware the moon, lads.”

The plot is based upon the homespun tale made ever so familiar to us through folklore and pop-culture. Whilst out wandering through the fog on one tragic night, a young man is unwittingly bitten by a werewolf. At first he is grateful to have survived such a horrible event, but a month later wishes himself dead as he undergoes a painful transformation into the very same beast by the light of a full moon. In this version, the young man in question is American backpacker, David (David Naughton), who is attacked alongside his travelling companion, Jack (Griffin Dunne) in the dark moors of Northern England. Although Jack does not make it through the grisly slaughter, David awakens to eventually discover his friend’s soul has remained behind with some ghastly advice to kill himself before he kills others during the next full moon. What follows is David’s offbeat quest to make the right decision between the needs of the many and himself before it’s too late.

“You’re gonna become—“
“I know. A monster.”

While 1941’s “The Wolf Man” served as a prototype film of how a werewolf would be portrayed in American cinema, “American Werewolf” is a milestone in the werewolf subgenre for its clever fusion of traditional mythology and modern cheek. With its constant self-referencing digs (the boys begin their journey by hopping off the back of a sheep truck), and wonderful humour (“A naked American man stole my balloons!”), audiences even today are sure to enjoy the movie’s surprisingly laid back tone against the backdrop of ancient legend and stuffy British accents.

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Intriguing satirical glances at TV violence and pornography, dreamy visions of werewolves clad in WWII Nazi garb and a pointed reading of a passage from the novel “A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court” all make me wonder if perhaps this movie has more to read between the lines than it lets on, but at the very least it’s a ton of fun to take in at a purely surface viewpoint. David’s transformation scene alone has put the film on the horror movie map until the end of time, while Jack’s unfortunate decay is reminiscent of the effects in the same year release, “The Evil Dead.” The 1980s were a golden age for mainstream American horror, and the cleverly sarcastic yet violent demeanour of “American Werewolf” makes it the leader of the pack for this period.

“I am a victim of your carnivorous lunar activities.”

“American Werewolf” is far too short of a film. 90 minutes is not nearly enough time to properly explore all the issues of life, death, love and cultural identity that are presented in both a humourous and grave simultaneous fashion, and so the tone of the movie feels overwhelmingly unfinished, especially during the hasty credit roll at the film’s abrupt end. The experience is nevertheless hysterically fun, and at this point in time one can’t help but enjoy a rather exclusive sensation one gets when watching a film they know the following generation has no idea even exists. “American Werewolf” is old, but it’s method of re-inventing an ancient mythos into a quirky cult movie will never ever be outdated.

My Rating: 7.5/10

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About Angela

Angela McInnes is an English major and up-and-coming horror film aficionado. To her, happiness is a bottle of rum and a creature-feature on a Saturday night.

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