Aroooo, it’s Burl! Ha ha, yes, I have a review of a werewolf movie today, and it’s one of the best: An American Werewolf in London! 1981, by many reckonings, was The Year of the Werewolf, since this picture, The Howling, Full Moon High and Wolfen all came out that same twelvemonth! (Wolfen, it should be noted, isn’t really a werewolf picture, but in many ways it might as well have been!) And there was a lot of debate at the time, and there is still for all I know, about which was the better picture: this or The Howling!
Well, ol’ Burl is here to tell you that they’re both great, and choosing the better one is like choosing your favourite child! You might think you have a preference, but then you find it’s changed, and in any case most of the time you love them both pretty much equally! And, most importantly, you just don't have to choose!
Anyway, I’ve always enjoyed this movie most robustly! It’s the story of Jack and David, two students on a trip to Northern England, which I thought was a strange choice of destination until I traveled as a young man myself, and guess where I ended up! The lads get attacked by a werewolf of course! Jack dies, David is scratched up a bit and ends up in a London hospital, having a r*mance with a nurse played by the lovely Jenny “Logan’s Run” Agutter! In the meantime his dead pal shows up and tries to persuade him that he’s a werewolf himself now, and that suicide is the only answer!
Of course David thinks this all hooey, and there follows a famous transformation scene! It’s very impressive, the more so today with all the weightless CGI they put on us! I don’t mean to fly my fogey flag too energetically, but give me those old fashioned Special Makeup Effects any day! Ha ha, and then there’s some killing, a policeman who appears to be auditioning for John Cleese’s part in Monty Python, further visits from Jack, the dawning of the truth, See You Next Wednesday, the freakout in Piccadilly Circus, and the final alleyway encounter!
I will say this in agreement with the picture’s detractors: the ending is a bit weak! There’s a very brutal series of car crashes in the Circus, which was the standard Landis climax of the day, and then an attempt at an emotional climax that the movie almost but has not quite earned! It unfolds with an admirable economy though, and you can’t complain about a good, sudden fade-to-black followed by the Marcels’ version of “Blue Moon!” Ha ha, no you can’t!
And the first chunk of the movie, the beautiful credits sequence right through the pub scene, is purely wonderful stuff! The two leads, David “The Sleeping Car” Naughton and Griffin “After Hours” Dunne, are perfectly cast, especially Dunne! Ha ha, imagine if John “Into the Night” Landis, the director, had cast whoever was big that year, in that age group! Imagine if the movie starred Robby Benson and Christopher Atkins! Ha ha, imagine that for just a moment! As in The Thing, the absence of big stars is of great benefit to the picture!
Some people complain about the wonky tone, but it’s always worked magnificently for me! It’s chock full of great British actors, it’s funny, it’s gory, the photography is nice, the trick effects are glorious! It’s logically challenged at times, certainly (ha ha, where are David’s parents?) but a marvelous picture really, one which, in its design, feels as Important as any Goldcrest production, but in spirit is one of the great 80s latex makeup movies! Chariots of Fire meets The Power! Ha ha, and the tag line on the poster was lifted from Prophecy!
I’m as fond as I can be of this picture, though I recognize its flaws! I’m going to award An American Werewolf in London three and a half walking meatloaves!