Nobody can watch all movies produced. This is just an impossible proposition. But there are a lot of films that a person should have seen before they die (if that person is so inclined). In the horror-comedy genre there are Gremlins, Tremors and Ghostbusters that are considered required viewing. Although An American Werewolf in London is not officially a horror-comedy, it is mentioned in the IMDb as fantasy-horror, I consider this to be very much a comedy. It is gory, but also incredibly funny. After all, this comes from the same director who made The Kentucky Fried Movie. ‘Nuff said.
As the title suggests An American Werewolf in London is about an American in London. And not just any American. He has been bitten by a werewolf and is now a werewolf himself. He also has a friend who was killed in the attack, but who still haunts him in various stages of decay, and he strikes up a romance with a nurse. Well, as you can see, plotwise there is not that much to talk about. It is actually the brilliant mix of horror and comedy that put An American Werewolf in London on the map.
The movie starts surprisingly downbeat. The two tourists, David and Jack, arrive at a pub in the British countryside and get on the bad side of some locals, who practically send the two boys to their deaths. They arrive at a pub populated by people who seem to be in on the secret, but are not willing to help the young Americans. Among the patrons we see a very young Rik Mayall (The Young Ones), Alien³’s Brian Glover and Gladiator’s David Schofield. Casting real Brits lends an authentic quality to the movie that it really needs to root the outlandish plot.
The understated British demeanor also serves as a wonderful counterpoint to the outrageous circumstances. For example, when a man feels threatened in an subway station, he says, rather worried, “I can assure you that this is not in the least bit amusing.” Any other person from another country would probably have shouted and run away. Subsequently the wolf man wakes up in the zoo and he coaxes a bunch of balloons from a boy, who says to a woman, straight-faced “A naked American man stole my balloons.” It is understated comedic moments like these that make An American Werewolf in London the classic it is to this day.
That and the fantastic visual effects by Rick Baker. The transformation scene holds up really well considering it is more than thirty years old and shot in full light. There are no black outs in that scene. Great stuff. Other scenes feature a masterfully made up Griffin Dunn, who was attacked by another wolf man. Let your imagination run wild with that one. There are some other scenes that feature visual effects, but for the most part An American Werewolf in London relies on not seeing that much of all the gore. There are a lot of jump cuts from the horror scenes to something similar. Like a growl from the wolf man that goes over to a growl from a lion. A bit cheap, but necessary, because the budget probably didn’t allow them to go all out.
An American Werewolf in London is a surprising blend of horror and comedy that highlights the differences between two societies. This is a lot of fun that I should have checked out years ago.