Thursday, October 7, 2010

31 days, 31 faves: An American Werewolf in London

I'm thinking I might as well just pull out all the films from 1981 in one fell swoop, 'cause I've got another one right here. An American Werewolf in London is my favorite werewolf movie, and with good reason. John Landis is a savvy son of a bitch, and I like it.

While I love Dog Soldiers for its brutality and The Howling (another '81 film, I'll have you know) for its big scary wolves, AAWIL has the perfect blend of horror and humor, and I'm sure that's what keeps it so high on many a list of favorite horror.

If you haven't seen the movie, I do have some spoilers in the recap below. But hell, if you haven't seen it, I'm not sure we can be friends.

So.... David and Jack are on a lovely walkabout in jolly old England. I've never actually been to England though, so I can't say just how jolly it truly is. Truth be told, if I'm going by this film, Britain doesn't look all that inviting - in particular the eerie moors, where our two friends end up after a ride with a load of sheep. Due to rain, they are drawn to the nearest stop - a pub on the outskirts of town (in actuality it's pretty damn far out of town).

The Slaughtered Lamb isn't your average pub. (Well, then again maybe it is. Again, I've not been across the pond, so some of you in the know will have to enlighten me.) When they stroll in, all action in the pub stops and everyone looks at them like they each have two heads. They're told there is no food there, but that they could be lucky enough to get some tea.
There is some bumbling conversation and when Jack asks why there is a pentagram painted on the wall, looks could certainly kill. The tension lies pretty thick, as all the locals eye them up and end up warning them, imploring them if you will, to stick to the road during their travels and avoid the moors at all cost.

Feeling waaaay to awkward to hang around there any longer, they make haste and start strolling along the road, debating the eccentricities of the pub, the weather, girls back home, and the fact that perhaps they should have started their backpacking adventure in Italy.

Soon, they hear a strange howling sound in the distance. If I were a gambler (and I am, on the first Saturday in May) I'd have never left the pub in the dead of night in a rainstorm in the first place, no matter how odd the folks were. Nonetheless, the menacing howling noise continues, seemingly getting closer with every step they take in the opposite direction. Extreme nervousness sets in and the guys start to practically run back to The Slaughtered Lamb.

Not so fast. When Jack trips and falls down, David tries to help him up but Jack is immediately attacked by some sort of creature. I'm thinking you can guess what it is considering the title of the movie. David turns and runs, then his conscience tells him to go back and see if he can help. Instead, he sees Jack ripped up like a rag doll and then is ambushed by - okay let's just say it! - a werewolf.

Before he can say Blue Moon, shots ring out and the wolf (?) is dead. From his vantage point on the ground, David loses consciousness just as he sees a man, naked and bleeding from several gunshot wounds, lying nearby. The men from the pub stand over him and watch the events unfold as he closes his eyes.

Waking up in the hospital with little recollection of said events, David is attended to by Doctor Hirsch and Nurse Alex Price. They explain that Jack is dead and he's been out like a light for several weeks. David argues with them that it was a wolf that attacked Jack and him, but when he is questioned by the police they assure him it was "just an escaped lunatic" (as if that's okay!)

As Nurse Price tends to his every need, he sleeps and has wild, inexplicable dreams in which he is naked and running through the woods, pouncing on deer like they are prey and chomping on their dead bodies like a deranged hunter of some sort. Worse yet is the bizarre dream about Nazi zombies coming to his home in America and killing his entire family, militia-style.

Making things even more unbelievable is the fact that David begins to get visits from Jack. Looking just like the recently deceased should, Jack argues with David that he was killed by a lycanthrope and that David's fate was sealed when it also bit him. He says that when the moon is full David will senselessly murder innocent people and that he has to take his own life before it comes to that. Jack also makes mention that anyone David happens to kill will be unable to move on - they'll be stuck in limbo until the curse is lifted.

These scenes in the film are my absolute favorite, with Jack sitting alongside David in his hospital bad, eating his toast from his breakfast tray and discussing his own morbidity. Fascinating stuff! The special effects (practical all the way) are stellar. Rick Baker is a freaking genius and anyone who wants to go into that line of work could take a lesson or two just from watching this movie. But I'm sure you know that, right?

Feeling bad for David and obviously attracted to him as well, Alex decides to let him come back to her flat (because everybody should pick up strange American men once in their lives). David is feeling all He-Man suddenly, and the two have a rousing bout of glad-to-meet-ya sex in the shower and beyond. I still can't hear Van Morrison's Moondance without picturing those scenes in my head. And just when David thinks he might be doing okay, Jack makes a return visit, this time even more decomposed than before and getting more and more pissy about David's need to off himself.

Alex heads off to work the next day and David's just hanging around the apartment (flat for all you Brits) doing nothing when it suddenly hits him. And just like that, he starts to turn into a werewolf. Almost certainly the best part of the movie, we watch limbs stretch and contort as David screams in pain and falls to the floor. The end result is a rather nasty looking wolf with no man left to speak of. Though I will say I prefer the wolf in The Howling (sorry!) because it seems more badass, I don't think the actual turning could have been better than in this film.

Off David (in his wolf form) goes to wreak panic on the streets of London (sounds like a song to me), eventually killing several unlucky souls before waking up in the zoo in the wolf pen. Pretty cool, huh? David is without apparel, so after some quick thinking on his part, he coaxes a young boy to give him his handful of balloons (great scene!). He then steals an extremely ugly red coat off a bench and rides the subway home. All in a day's work.

David realizes everything Jack said is true and decides to commit suicide, calling home to the states to wish everyone goodbye. When it comes down to it though, he pussies out. Needless to say, Jack accosts him at a sleasy porno theater and brings a cache of David's victims with him to discuss the various ways of killing himself. Time is his enemy though, and when it turns dark outside and the moon is full, David morphs into his wolfey alter ego and runs amok in Picadilly Circus.

As in most werewolf movies, it never ends well for the wolf. Most horror fans have seen this one, but I won't spoil the logistics of it here. Suffice it to say, it really wasn't a marvelous night for a moondance.


Mr. Gable said...

An American Werewolf in London is an amazing movie. It's got the perfect blend of everything, humor-terror. It's really awesome. I didn't think I'd like it the first time I watched it, I just heard that the effects in this movie were really good...and it turned out this whole movie was really good.

Christine Hadden said...

Agreed. I just can't think of a thing to complain about when I think about this film.