Monday, October 22, 2012

October Watch: An American Werewolf in London

I cannot begin to come to An American Werewolf in London (1981) objectively.  I had to leave work fifteen minutes early or so to make the picture, and someone said "I've never seen it.  Is it good?" (my co-workers are well aware of my love of movies like The Room, so my interest in a movie is not a sign of my belief in the film's quality).

I paused and said "You know, I don't really know.  I've seen this movie a half dozen times since I was sixteen or seventeen, and I know I like it."  And I suspect that's true for a lot of us who saw the movie when we were the right age to enjoy the horror, the comedy (it is a wickedly funny movie), the sex, and the rather pragmatic ending to the film.  Like the better horror films, you don't really worry about the bad science, the faults in the make-up or effects (and this is Rick Baker so the effects were completely groundbreaking for 1982 and still look mostly terrific.  @#$% CGI.) because its not about whether you can see the string on the bats or the seam in the creature's suit.  In a weird way, as expensive as a creature feature could be to produce, it really is about the story.

And I like the story of An American Werewolf in London.  A bit of a decent guy finds out his best friend is dead and he's going to become a werewolf in a few days?  And meanwhile he's seeing the undead?  The dream sequences are actually a pretty great way of conveying the coming change and keeping the tension going as David moves toward full werewolfdom and the coming of the full moon.  

It's a straightforward tale of personal horror, swinging wildly between straight up gags and old school monster horror, and how can't you get behind that?  I mean, the second werewolf scene in the "adult cinema" is straight up hilarious with the awful movie on the screen and the insane conversation with David's victims.  Nothing about it lacks for mood or the sense of doom that infiltrates The Wolfman with Lon Chaney, Jr., but the pathos is matched by how absurd it is to become a werewolf, in a way.

But we all really remember Griffin Dunne in this movie in make-up and dead, but still most definitely Griffin Dunne.  David Naughton didn't go on to Hollywood super stardom after this role, but I buy him in a way I never bought Chaney or even Benicio Del Toro going through his changes in the latest Wolfman remake.  That scene in Alex's apartment is just terrific even before Baker's make-up takes over.

As I have a penchant for girls with upturned noses and high cheekbones, let us also salute Jenny Agutter of this film.  She's a real sport.  It's a weird movie in which to be "the girl" and they could have cast someone a lot more boring.  She does okay.

I'll keep it short.  I have a hard time believing you haven't seen the movie, so I leave it you and the comment section to discuss.  But I just loved seeing this on the big screen for the first time in stunningly crisp presentation at The Alamo Slaughter Lane where the film is showing all week.

Also, if anyone wants to go in on opening a pub with me named "The Slaughtered Lamb", we are now taking investors.


Jake Shore said...

I'm afraid I can't be objective either. But for different reasons. I saw this movie when I was way too young; about 2-3 years after it came out, so I was 9 or 10. I was obsessed with Universal monsters at the time and the Wolfman was my favorite. So I convinced my mom to rent this for me. To put it simply, it scared the shit out of me. Especially the opening scene where the two guys get attacked. I'm surprised she let me watch it past that, but when the Nazi creatures storm into his house, my mom promptly shut it off.

Having seen a time or two as an adult, I can acknowledge it's a fine movie. But I've never really gotten over the trauma of my first viewing. It's been in my Netflix cue, but every time I think to watch it, I'm overcome with dread, which is weird because the movie is really quite funny. Maybe it's the non-horror movie feel that makes the film so terrifying.

Or maybe I'm just a pussy.

The League said...

If it makes you feel any better, I won't watch "The Last Unicorn" because it freaked me out when I saw it in the theater. I actually own a copy (it's complicated) but won't watch it.

JAL said...

Yes, strange Naughton never went on to much else. He's ridiculously damn good in this.

Nurse Price...ohh la la. What red-blooded American boy wasn't smitten with her?

Oh, and the "dream's not over" dream sequence gets me every time.

The League said...

I think because I believed David was a student and Price a working Nurse, until this screening I was under the impression she was supposed to be 5-10 years older than David. This was the first time I realized that there was no stated or implied issue around her age and I had totally made that up in my head.