“Be rational, sure. I’m a fucking werewolf for Christ’s sake!” The movie begins with the English countryside. It isn’t exotic, or far away looking, the colors are drab and it should start to rain any second. It looks lonely while Bobby Vinton croons “Blue Moon.” A truck full of sheep stops at a crossroads. American hitchhikers Jack (Griffin Dunne) and David (David Naughton) look astoundingly out of place, but we can’t help but feel comfortable with them. They are old friends excited to be backpacking through Europe. They make their way to a small village and visit (the greatest name for a pub) “The Slaughtered Lamb.” These interlopers are not welcomed by the locals and quickly dismissed with a warning “beware the moon.” But after they leave, the audience is given a brief glimpse into the world of this small village. They know something the rest of the world doesn’t. They know they should not have let them leave and that their fate is up to God. And then, over the thunderstorm we hear a howl. This is the calm before the storm; the drab colors will soon be graced with vibrant pulsating red. That storm is An American Werewolf in London. Before David fulfills the prophecy of the title he must first be bitten by the werewolf. This and most conventional wolf man lore was created by Curt Siodmak when he penned the original “The Wolf Man” (1941). Due to the limitations and restrictions of the time, in that iconic classic film, when the wolf man caught his prey he proceeded to choke his victim. The morning after, when the townspeople discover the body, the m.o. was always the same “the jugular vein was severed.” Not the case here; Welcome to the 80’s! Bigger is better and greed is good. Jack and David hear the roar and know that something is definitely wrong when they see the full moon. Something has not only caught up to them, but is circling them. Jack says what we are all thinking: “oh fuck.” They take off running and in typical fashion someone (David) falls. As Jack looks over his fallen friend, angry at the unintentional cheap scare, is when the monster strikes. Hugh Glass got off easy. With disturbing brutality, Jack is thrashed to pieces in the moonlight. Feathers from his jacket fly, and blood and flesh, then even more blood and flesh, and finally more, blood and flesh. The agonizing screams of pain and begging for help are nothing short of tangible because this is the first time we have truly seen this. All the while, we never see the monster. Only frantic glimpses of dark fur, flashes of large fangs and a sense of the enormity of the creature, it engulfs Jack. The townspeople have had a change of heart and manage to save David but not before he is attacked. Fans of these movies know what will happen next. The full moon rises again, a transformation takes place, and the body count rises. These are the certainties of a werewolf picture. It’s comfortable, I don’t mind it, but what makes this one stand above the rest are the handful of master strokes that helped change movies, that make carnivorous lunar activities sensational to watch. The casual viewer who hears An American Werewolf in London will automatically think of the film’s centerpiece, its claim to fame: the transformation. And for good reason. Rick Baker crafted some horrifically beautiful magic. It was so good the Academy Awards invented the Best Makeup category as a direct result, which was Rick Baker’s first of seven. When the wolfsbane bloomed and the autumn moon was bright, Lon Chaney Jr. elegantly dissolved into a well-dressed, hairier version of himself with a couple of sharp teeth. Due to the limitations of the time, this was all that could be attained. It’s timeless and lyrical and my favorite of the Universal Classic Monster series, but it has no edge. Lawrence Talbot would calmly sit while hair grows from his feet, or stare worriedly into the mirror while his features changed. But, here in London when the moon is full, David’s body erupts in pain. David Naughton’s acting here is utterly convincing, which in a word is phenomenal. The genuine look of horror and agony when David’s hand elongates is overwhelming. Over his screams, we hear the disturbing sounds of bones breaking as hair begins to cover his body, this is the first transformation that looks like it is supposed to, painful. It is one of the best magic tricks in cinema when in a fully lit room, in real time and as clear as possible, David’s face itself elongates. CGI has given us some wonderful sights, but they cannot touch this, not even close. The scene ends with a creature hunched on all fours and a howl at the moon. The special effects in this scene are so good they overshadow the rest in the film – which are equally astounding. In particular, the rotting corpse of Jack that visits David to warn him of his impending doom. It is so convincing when we first see the gaping holes in his throat and that one little flapping piece of skin hanging off his jaw, it’s such a small touch, but that little loose piece of skin is a master stroke to the scene, bringing equal parts humor and disgust. Which is what this movie is all about, humor and disgust. The humor in this movie alone changed the landscape of horror movies in the 80s. It proved that is was not only possible to walk that fine line between comedy and horror, but that the scope of these stories could be broadened and ultimately improved. The way the humor flows with the story was effortless and organic. But it never overshadows the fact that this is a horror movie first. It’s evident in Jack and David’s relationship the whole way through, from when we meet them surrounded by sheep, to when Jack has almost festered to a skeleton as they sit in a porno theatre. The dry humor of the English is a great balance to that of the American humor when David tries to turn himself in: “Queen Elizabeth is a man! Prince Charles is a faggot!” “If you don’t stop this disturbance I shall arrest you.” “That’s what I want you to do you moron!” That’s still hilarious. But back to the horror. As David recuperates in the hospital from the initial encounter, he begins to dream. Dreams of change and a primal need to run and hunt. The last dream he has, in this humble reviewer’s opinion, is the scariest dream in ALL cinema. Nazi werewolves annihilate his family. It’s such a short part of the movie, and it’s ridiculous to even write, but it works. Machine gunfire, a throat slashing, screeching monsters, Kermit and Miss Piggy, a raging fire, total chaos, and of course, great makeup. It’s so quick, we don’t have time to question the ridiculousness or the coherence. It’s the sudden eruption of senseless violence in what’s supposed to be a safe place that spares no one. A home invasion is bad enough, but a home invasion by Nazi Wolfmen? Genius. It’s a testament to not only how underrated John Landis as a director is, but how good an artist he is. It’s easy to forget that his earlier directorial efforts were The Blues Brothers and Animal House. How impressive is that? You follow up two of the greatest comedies of all time with a truly scary, imaginative and genuine horror film. Shades of Jake and Elwood are evident in the final set piece of the movie, when the werewolf wreaks havoc in Piccadilly Circus and pandemonium takes over. While the action in The Blues Brothers is over the top, entertaining and fittingly cartoonish, it is almost hard to watch here. It starts with a decapitation and goes downhill from there. Bodies are run over, cars crash, Landis himself goes through a window, and I think, to my knowledge, the first front window ejection. If there is an earlier one in movies let me know. When Lon Chaney was the wolf man there was sympathy in his creature, his monster had pathos. There is not a single shred of that here. This is a werewolf, a demon beast straight from hell. With power and cruelty, it tears apart anyone unfortunate enough to see its ferocious eyes. The werewolf’s facial features alone are the stuff of nightmares, menacing yellow eyes, teeth caked in blood and a massive build, brought wonderfully to life by Rick Baker and John Landis. The other inevitable certainty is that this will end in one of two ways. The werewolf kills everyone and escapes to the next town for more carnage to ensue (and sequels to follow), ad infinitum. Or the one I prefer, the tragedy. A werewolf or wolf man is the one monster who takes no pleasure in his work. He is always just in the wrong place at the wrong time when he crosses his path with his lycanthropic destiny. Then the moon will rise, he will lose control and commit violence beyond scope and imagination. When the sun rises and the damage is done there is only guilt, and the only happy ending is the death of the werewolf. John Landis honored the lore that was first created in The Wolf Man, and then magnificently updated it with humor, special effects wizardry, and most important, teeth. See larger image An American Werewolf in London (Full Moon Edition) [Blu-ray] Re-discover one of the most gripping horror films of all-time with the cult classic An American Werewolf in London. Blending the macabre with a wicked sense of humor, director John Landis (National Lampoon’s Animal House) delivers a contemporary take on the classic werewolf tale in this story of two American tourists who, while traveling in London, find their lives changed forever when a viscious wolf attacks them during a full moon. Featuring groundbreaking, Academy Award-winning make-up by Rick Baker (The Wolfman), this digitally remastered Full Moon Edition also includes the new feature-length documentary Beware the Moon. New From: $9.26 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses John E. Meredith June 28, 2016 That transformation scene . . . man, you nailed it. Like THE THING, and a few other flicks from the 80s (horror’s Golden Age), it still holds up. Log in to Reply Raul Reyes June 28, 2016 Right!?! I watched and rewatched it for the review and every time it still floored me. Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.