Today's Pick: An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Werewolves are a really fun concept. It's a shame that we don't have an enormous catalog of excellent werewolf flicks, but the few that we do have are incredibly special. Probably the pick of the litter (har har) has got to be John Landis' An American Werewolf in London, a horror-comedy that is amazingly accessible to a wide audience without betraying its deep love of the genre. While it's almost consistently funny, it also plays its grislier parts with complete conviction. This film doesn't pull any punches, and that's most noticeable in its effects work.
The now legendary Rick Baker handled the makeup and effects in the film, and they are still spectacular to this day. While its most recognized accomplishment is the landmark transformation scene (still the best werewolf transformation I've ever seen), the makeup work on the ghosts that haunt main character David are equally impressive and unforgettable. It's also inventive to make Jack's spirit deteriorate as the film goes on. It works on both a story level and makes the audience look forward to his next appearance.
While the effects are certainly the most talked about aspect of the film, it would be a disservice to say that they are what make the picture so great. John Landis' script is so simple in the execution of its premise that it allows the movie to do stuff you don't even realize is original. David's dream sequences are fantastic, towing the line between bizarrely funny and honestly horrific. That streak of dark humor is best portrayed in the porno theater scene, where the ghosts of David's victims tell him all the various ways he could kill himself. It's my favorite scene in the whole picture. I also love that David's knowledge of werewolves comes wholly from The Wolf Man. It's always irritating in films or TV shows when events that are happening to characters parallel popular fiction, and no one ever mentions it, leading me to believe they live in a universe where stories about such situations were never conceived (The Walking Dead always bugs me in this way. They don't even say/know the word "zombie").
The cast also endears a lot of goodwill, simply because they are immensely likable. I don't think there's a single character in the film who is utterly unapproachable. Even the stuffy doctor and the shady townsfolk have moments that make you appreciate them. And the leads (David Naughton and a drool-worthy Jenny Agutter) are sweet but never saccharine. David has a great sense of humor, even when dealing with his awful curse. This humor makes his story all the more tragic, and ends up giving the film a lot of its emotional weight.
An American Werewolf in London works on a purely entertainment level, but also has lots of brains behind it. The simplicity of its story allows you to slip into its rhythm instantly, and the laughs and screams start flying fast and free. If you only watch one werewolf film this Halloween season, make it this one.
Tomorrow's film is not good, but that's what makes it so great. See you then! Oh, and remember, beware the moon.
31 Days of Drew 2 (2014)
31 Days of Drew (2013)