Overview: Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists. Universal Pictures; 1981; Rated R; 97 Minutes.
Beware the Moon: The opening of American Werewolf in London, in which Americans Jack and David enter The Slaughtered Lamb looking for some respite from the harsh Yorkshire cold, is seminal. The locals, all terrified of something on the moors but also suspicious and hostile to strangers, are quickly and richly defined. I would happily watch a prequel film just about those characters and the events leading up to their ominous advice, “Keep clear of the moors and beware the moon.”
It is advice the two backpackers accidentally ignore, putting them in the path of something furry that lurks on the moors, howls at the full moon, and likes to rip dude’s throats out. (Spoiler: it’s a werewolf.) One of the Americans, David Naughton, survives and is taken to London where, after visitations from the ghost of his deceased friend and a series of messed up nightmares, he discovers that he now has the curse upon him, and when the moon is full again, he will become the wolf himself.
A Naked American Man Stole My Balloons: Amidst the violence and bloodshed, two other things abound in this movie: comedy and male nudity. My wife was pleasantly surprised by the refreshing amount of male nudity in the film. One scene has Naughton waking up in the buff at the wolf cage in the zoo, stealing balloons and a woman’s jacket to cover himself up to traverse the zoo and city. Nudity aside, the scene also shows John Landis’ skill for scares and laughs in equal measure. Another scene depicts the wolf on a bloody rampage. Landis raises the terror level and then brings it straight back down again in a farcical scene of zoo nudity, giving the audience some time to breathe before the terror starts again.
I am a Victim of Your Carnivorous Lunar Activities: You can’t talk about American Werewolf without talking about Rick Baker. The key scene of Naughton transforming into the wolf is without equal, especially as it was made in 1981, with no CGI. The sound of bones breaking and reshaping and growing is overwhelming, yet you can’t look away. There is a great YouTube video that explains how each effect was achieved, but I still think it’s just a cover for the fact that they just filmed Naughton actually turn into a werewolf and then tried to pass it off as special effects.
Conclusion: A supernatural battle between a feral American and stiff upper lipped Brits, An American Werewolf in London earned its classic status by being a genuinely funny horror movie and a genuinely scary comedy movie. Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start writing my script for The Slaughtered Lamb: The Movie.