Director – John Landis
Cast – David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye, Joe Belcher David Schofield, Brian Glover
Release Year – 1981
Reviewed by John of the Dead
One of horror’s most well known films, An American Werewolf in London has achieved such notoriety thanks to the high level of “fun” viewers experience with this watch. After making his name with Animal House and The Blues Brothers, veteran filmmaker John Landis etched himself into horror lore with what very well could be the greatest werewolf film of all time.
In this film we follow David Kessler(David Naughton) as he vacations Europe with his best friend Jack Goodman(Griffin Dunne). One night they enter a small town and despite warnings from the townsfolk to stay on the roads and be wary of the moon, they eventually venture off their path and come across a bloodthirsty creature. The attack does not end well for the friends, but what lies ahead of them is the true nightmare.
Horror films that stand the test of time usually come with some sort of groundbreaking accomplishment, and that is exactly why An American Werewolf in London has achieved such status. The special effects in this watch are a true testament to how live action FX are always a good choice in horror, and thanks to these groundbreaking effects this remains one of the few horror films to win an Academy Award(Best Makeup). Director John Landis deserves all of the respect he has received for this film and his choice to take the plunge and invest in live action effects, which is one element that kept this film from production for nearly 8 years. In fact, this film comes with possibly the greatest werewolf transformation scene of all time.
The rest of Landis’ direction is top notch, and his wide scenic shots come complimented with an awesome musical score, which makes for an enjoyable watch. His camerawork is excellent, especially during the chaotic scenes involving the transformed David rampaging through downtown London. While Landis gave us a real treat with his life action werewolf FX, we get a great amount of gore and sweet kills thrown in as well. In fact, Landis himself mentioned being amazed at how graphic this film is after approving a mid-2000s high definition release of this awesome film.
Story-wise this film is cool and quite simple. Most werewolf films share common elements, such as not heeding warnings and eventually being bitten by the beast, and then the rest of the film focuses on the emotional turmoil the protagonist goes through as the transformation begins to take effect. Well this flick gives us all of that, but also comes with some original elements regarding David’s emotional conflict he suffers before his true transformation takes place. Because this story comes written by Landis himself, you can expect a fair amount of comedic elements thrown into the film as well. I was glad to see that the comedy was not over the top, but tastefully silly, even during the awesome gore scenes towards the film’s climax. There was one distasteful scene that I felt had absolutely nothing to do with the story and was merely John Landis making an unnecessary social statement that did not go with the film. It is obvious the film is not aimed at making social remarks like Romero’s Dawn of the Dead, so I must knock this film for distastefully losing its focus for that.
Overall, this is an awesome horror film thanks to its groundbreaking elements that have etched it forever in horror lore. We get great direction/execution, awesome special FX, a fun story, and many other classic feel-good elements that come naturally with a John Landis film.