American Werewolf in London
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An American Werewolf in London


Blu-ray (Full Moon)

As far as the cinematic influences go, the 80s were pretty much known as the decade of the slasher film supernatural serial killers stoking unexpected and albeit usually annoying, teenagers and killing them and rather imaginative ways. While this is certainly true, the slash and dash flick was far from the only lasting influence on the horror genre gets started in that period. It was also a time with some of the traditional creature features and classical horror films reinvented through an explosion and special effects. One seminal film, released in 1981, was ‘American Werewolf in London.' The movie, written and directed by John Landis was the first film to bring an Academy Award for Best Makeup, a category just created that you. The winner was a man well-known for special effects makeup, Rick Baker. Mr. Baker had already achieved the epitome of respect in his field. The extraterrestrials in the original ‘Star Wars,' and depicting the subtleties of human aging is working ‘The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.' Lycanthropy would be his claim to fame when he won the same Oscar in 2010 four ‘Werewolf.' Mr. Landis so perfectly blended cutting-edge special effects intensely dramatic human story, that Michael Jackson hired the director to create one of the most famous music videos ever, ‘Thriller.' The New Blu-Ray, Steel book addition is the latest high definition treatment for this film. Personally, I feel the previous Blu-ray edition referred to as ‘The Full Moon Edition,' is the one to get cheaply because of the full-length documentary included in its credits. The matter which one you choose this, this film is a critical part of any serious collection.

A pair of American college students, David Kessler (David Kessler) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne), decided to vacation, by traveling English countryside. While backpacking, across the Yorkshire moors when they realize they have become a bit lost in the night is rapidly falling. They make their way to a local pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, stopping in for drinking to warm up. When David notices a pentagram on the wall, the room becomes silent as he inquires about it. The locals become hostile the young Americans deciding the best course of action would be to leave. On their way out an older man admonishes them; ""Beware the moon, lads", "Keep on the road". If the two young men leave the owner of the pub feels the right thing to do would be to go to the lab as an eerie howl pierces the night, the patrons begin to barricade the door to the establishment.

Although David and Jack remember the warning, a moor at night is a very dark place and in short order. They do wander off the path. They’ve heard the howls that so upset pub goers and realize the source of the sinister sound is moving closer to them. As the clouds momentarily part they look up to see the full moon above them. Suddenly they are attacked by a person preternaturally large and vicious animal that bites David and killing Jack. A shot rings out; the patrons have come out of the pub and killed the creature. As it lies there on the damp ground dying, it transforms into a naked man. David was seriously injured necessitating his hospitalization. After three weeks, David awakens but is unable to recall anything that happened that night. Upon learning that Jack was dead, he becomes understandably agitated, as a pair of detectives is dispatched from the London police to question David. Detective Inspector Villiers (Don McKillop) is the belligerent member of the team while his partner, Detective Sergeant McManus (Paul Kember), is quite understanding proving to be the typical good cop/bad cop team. They alleged that a mental patient escaped from a nearby facility was responsible for the brutal, unprovoked attack. David remains adamant that his assailant was an extremely large wolf.

David does manage to sleep but is disturbed by nightmares of him running through the moor, attacking a deer and ripping its head off before consuming it. Several of the dreams plaguing David becoming increasingly disturbing when they occur during his time awake manifesting as visions of Jack with his face badly disfigured from the attack. His deceased friend explains that it wasn’t a mental patient of regular animal that set upon them, it was a werewolf that attacked them. The mangled Jack explains that as a result of surviving the bite he also a werewolf. The only way victims can rest in their death is the last of the werewolf line must die. The zombielike Jack stresses that David has to commit suicide before the next full moon completely turns him into his wolf form. While in the hospital, David begins a flirtatious relationship with his nurse, Alex Price (Jenny Agutter). Apparently, she has always had a soft spot for strays and takes him to her flat. Meanwhile, his physician, Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) finds his curiosity piqued, and he investigates David story by going to the Slaughtered Lamb. Upon discovering that the locals are lying in the police report is mysteriously misplaced; Dr. Hirsch is prone to believe that there might be more truth to David statement that anyone is willing to admit.

Jack keeps revisiting David urging him to commit suicide, each time his corpse appears more deteriorated than the last. The makeup to depict this, and eventually, a similar condition with David’s victims is a large part of what earned Mr. Baker his first Academy Award. The most memorable shot in the entire movie that still ranks up there with the top frightening moments in any horror film is David’s first transformation into a wolf. The producers had originally envisioned bipedal creatures such as Lon Chaney’s iconic Wolman from the 1940s. Landis held out and eventually won that our hapless antagonist should take on the full form of an exceptionally large wolf, a quadruped. Having grown up with the transformation of the like controlled depicted as a man becoming increasingly hirsute. Why disquieting for the time, it came nowhere close to the not only visceral but psychological impact of what we were about to see. The transformation was exceptionally painful for David. Terror is growing in his eyes as he watches his hand elongate, becoming a rather large paw. His mouth, especially his lower jaw also becomes longer becoming a snarling, fanged snout. All the while this is transpiring David’s excruciating pain become an intense, visceral experience for the audience, unlike any similar transformation sequence. Augmenting the highly detailed visual effects of his hand lengthening into a paw are sound effects that transmit the agonizing experience. Bones loudly begin cracking as they realign and his screams of agony becoming increasingly animalistic. During the first transformation, the horror is disconcertingly juxtaposed to the light rock song by Van Morrison, ‘Moon Dance.' In fact, every one of the songs employed in the soundtrack is related to the moon. One of the most effective is Credence Clearwater Revival’s ‘I See a Bad Moon Rising.' Eventually, David awakens naked in the London zoo, in the wolf enclosure. Another scene that remains among the most famous in the genre is the transformed David attacks and local movie theater. Now Jack is accompanied by decaying corpses of a pair of David’s victims, highlighting the need for his suicide.

While the theaters were being taken over by the boobs and blood oriented slasher flicks, this film stands out as a return to some of the basic tenets of horror that the new trend overlooked. While there were many scenes of pure visceral horror, contributed most to help frightening. This movie is, and remains, is the use of the point of view of the werewolf. But given the vantage point of watching David try to cope with the dichotomy of his dreadful situation; the feral need to attack inherent in an alpha predator, and his human need end his suffering and the eternal pain. He is inflicting upon his victims. Infusing a sufficient element of psychological terror to the story to elevate it above the mindless slaughter embraced by most of the horror films of the era. David Naughton may have come to Mr. Landis’s attention to his very silly song and dance commercial for the soft drink Dr. Pepper, but this movie put him on the map as a serious actor. Ms. Agutter was perhaps best known to American audiences for her co-starring role in the science-fiction movie ‘Logan’s Run,' but she has been a standard fixture in British film and television. It is a misrepresentation to list this film as a horror/comedy, a specification frequently applied. Admittedly there are some examples of dark humor, but they are utilized to establish a proper pacing that affording the audience an opportunity to regain their composure after the savage carnage. Apparently, Landis was taken aback when he first saw the film remastered in high definition. It brought home the fact that the film is exceptionally chilling and explicit in its violence. This remastered edition achieves a quality far superior to any seen in the theater,

bulletBeware the Moon
bulletI Walked with a Werewolf
bulletMaking An American Werewolf in London
bulletAn Interview with John Landis
bulletMakeup Artist Rick Baker on An American Werewolf in London
bulletCasting of The Hand
bulletPhotograph Montage
bulletFeature Commentary with Cast Members David Naughton and Griffin Dunne

Posted 11/03/2014            Posted 09/20/2016

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