Classic Movie Review: An American Werewolf In London

It’s May 5th as I write this, and I have only watched ONE movie for the month of May so far. What the hell? I’m really falling off of my pace.

I guess that is to be expected; since I have been vaccinated and the weather is turning, the world is opening back up to me. And I have a lot more to do on the weekends than be stuck in my house. So whereas going out and seeing friends and going places has been great… movies, man. I was on such a good movie pace this year.

And this weekend isn’t getting any better! The wife and I have let house cleaning fall entirely by the wayside since our Halloween party. Saturday is going to be the closest to Spring Cleaning I have ever done because we are having guests over the following weekend. That… is really going to be an all-day affair.

And then Sunday is Mother’s Day! So I’m sure I’ll be visiting the in-laws.

What I’m getting at is that at least the first part of May’s Entertainment Rex series might be a bit thin.

But! I did watch that one movie so far! So what was it, you ask (assuming you didn’t, you know, look at the title)?

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Another in a LONG line of my “How did I never watch this before?” movies since COVID started, An American Werewolf in London was a first time viewing for me, joining the likes of The Exorcist, Alien, The Shawshank Redemption, and more from over the last 12 months.

The plot of the movie is all but given away in the title. While backpacking across England, two young Americans named Jack (Griffin Dunne) and David (David Naughton) come across a strange pub known as The Slaughtered Lamb. After getting weirded out by the locals, they leave and are soon attacked by a monster. Jack is killed, but David is only injured.

He wakes up in a hospital to everyone telling him they were attacked by a madman, but David knows that wasn’t true. Despite coming across as a lunatic, his nurse falls in love with him and invites him to stay with her upon his discharge.

David starts sporadically seeing the progressively rotting corpse of Jack, who tells him that David is a werewolf now, and those killed by such creatures (like David) are cursed to roam the earth as undead spirits. They can only find peace when the werewolf bloodline is ended. And lo, David is now the end of it. I guess the Brits did a good job eradicating everyone else the werewolf from earlier ever attacked. What an efficient people (aside from the fact that they just let the kid attacked by the lycanthrope go to the hospital after they killed the monster itself)!

Jack’s spirit ends up being right, and David IS a werewolf! He kills some folks his first night, but he doesn’t recall having done so until he hears the news reports. He flees in a panic, turns again, and is finally shot down by the police during a wild chase through Piccadilly Circus, which is an excellent name for anything, and now I want to go to London. Seriously, which sounds more fun? “Times Square”? Or mother fucking “PICCADILLY CIRCUS”?

I’m not sure why I’d never watched this before, especially given my proclivity for horror from its era. Maybe because it never launched a franchise like the Michaels, Jasons, and Freddies of the day. If this had spawned a slew of movies with diminishing returns, I’d probably have been all over them! Part 6: David Lives! Part 7: Jack’s Dead, The Final Werewolf! Missed opportunities is what I’m saying.

But no, we apparently only ever got An American Werewolf In Paris, SIXTEEN YEARS LATER. And it starred Tom Everett Scott, doing that thing he does.

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As it is, it’s good that this movie was left alone because it is legitimately fantastic. I was actually amazed at how great this was because I am perpetually prejudiced against older movies since I am a bad person. You’d think after having been a lifelong fan of Halloween and having seen The Exorcist live up to all expectations last year, I wouldn’t have gone in thinking this was going to be overrated. But no, I never learn my lessons.

Let’s neg the movie a bit first before we get into the gushing. What was particularly bad about it? Honestly, the movie becomes almost a self-parody with how many “songs about moons” it crams in. When you hear the first one or two, like “Bad Moon Rising”, you think “Oh wow, that’s creative!”. But by the time you get to “Blue Moon” by The Marcels over the credits, the subtlety and fun is gone. It’s all been run into the ground and you wish the producers had shown a bit more restraint and not beat you up with them.

As another negative, the general cinematography ranges from “adequate” to “laughable”, as some shots just seem to be put together so perplexingly. When David and Jack are attacked by the werewolf, for instance, the camera cuts to David running away, but it’s this weird, tight, scope-less angle of his running, shot from the side, and it made me think of a Looney Tune’s scene… during one of the movie’s decidedly less humorous moments. Then David feels guilty that Jack isn’t with him, and he turns back… so we can get the same shot, but going in the opposite direction. That’s the low point of the weird camera work for sure, but nothing after it is so substantially better as to make up for it.

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As for the positives, there are several. The first of which is pacing. The movie clocks in at a bit under an hour and forty minutes, and every single moment feels purposeful. Nothing is rushed, nor is it dragged out. Events occurred exactly when everything felt “right” for them to happen. You get enough information on David and Jack in their early conversations, the werewolf attacks after the Slaughtered Lamb has built the mood, and then you get a good bit of drama over whether David is really going to be a werewolf or if he’s just going mad. When he does change, it’s right in the sweet spot where the moment has been awaited without feeling delayed.

And for me, pacing is one of the most underrated aspects of any media, and it’s also one I am the dirt-fucking-worst at as a writer. Everything I do feels rushed when I read it back. So when something like AAWIL nails it so impressively, it always stands out to me.

The next obvious point of praise is for the effects. I love practical effects, even as I think modern criticisms have romanticized and overvalued them to some degree. However, when CG effects are good, well… you just expect them to be; when practical effects are good, you marvel at them. And the effects here are terrific. The werewolf transformation scene here is as good as advertised (I’ve always heard it referred to as one of the truly great practical effects of all time, and it is). Do I think this movie looks better than, say, the computer generated world of Avengers: Endgame? Nah. But for its day and how it was made, it’s borderline unbelievable. Both have their place.

It goes on. The acting is really good across the board. The evolution of David’s doctor as he investigates David’s claims and comes to believe completely works. And the movie just has some really clever moments, like opening with David and Jack hiding amongst sheep as they hitchhike along England. It’s a more clever and subtle joke than the fourth moon song you’re fed, anyway.

Additionally, there was one moment–a minor nothing scene–that really strikes me. David calls his younger sister to try to tell his family goodbye. The whole call is dynamic–both funny and heart-wrenching–as their conversation, only seen though David’s side, is so damn realistic. It came across to me as a genuine talk that this character would have with his little sister. In a movie full of fun, I was fully absorbed in one character making a phone call. David Naughton deserves all the credit in the world for slamming that moment.

All in all, this was another movie I waited far too long to see, and yet I am also glad I got to watch it for the first time!

It’s neither as “funny” nor as “scary” as being called a Horror/Comedy implies, but it does a good job at both, being creepy at points and forcing some chuckles at others. And aside from some cinematography decisions, it’s expertly made.

8.5/10

One thought on “Classic Movie Review: An American Werewolf In London

Add yours

  1. I really like An American Werewolf in London, its a great horror comedy, well acted and directed. I like how its set in the UK and unfolds mostly in London. The Werewolf transformation effects are awesome as well.

    Liked by 1 person

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