An American Werewolf in London (1981) Directed by John Landis. With David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover and Frank Oz.
Written and directed by John Landis, An American Werewolf in London is a curious blend of horror and comedy, with a plot that is more or less explained by its title. After the soothing intro of the song Blue Moon – we begin in northern England. As night descends, two US-backpackers (Naughton and Dunne) seek shelter in a remote pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. Once inside, they encounter the not-so-friendly locals. After a few thorny exchanges, the two bewildered men leave the pub to face the hostile Yorkshire night. Last of the Summer Wine this ‘aint.
After an atmospheric first act, we arrive in London as John Landis establishes two conflicting tones by flitting between the playfulness of the ironically upbeat soundtrack (all songs with moon in the title), and the ferocity of the bloody horror shows that occasionally pierce through. In the lead, David Naughton plays a run-of-the-mill kind of chap. He isn’t particularly charismatic, although that doesn’t stop him from capturing the attention of Nurse Jenny Agutter. By comparison, the televisual-looking second act begins to drift; struggling to assert itself as it slowly edges towards inevitable plot developments.
The centrepiece of the film is the now-famous transformation scene, which increases the heartbeat and remains astonishing. Between the skill of the editing and the impressive special effects and make-up, the sequence is so brilliantly executed, that it must go down as one of the defining moments of horror cinema.
While the make-up and physical effects are magnificent – the film constructed around them isn’t anything remarkable. Despite its firm reputation as a classic, none of that seems reserved for its bland central characters. All things said, An American Werewolf in London is worth seeing for that scene alone. 3/5