An American Werewolf in London (1981) is a typical teenagers abroad movie until things go wrong. David and Jack are traveling Europe over their summer vacation. They start their trip in Northern England and everything seems fine until David and Jack are attacked by huge animal after a run in with some strange locals. An American Werewolf in London was clearly inspired by The Wolf Man (1941) and not only aims to put a contemporary spin on it, but also fix a couple of the problems with that movie.
I actually kind of liked how this movie used previously unknown actors, sometimes this makes the dialogue a little awkward but for the most part it adds a sense of realism to me from the very beginning, which is pretty smart considering how wild the story gets towards the end.
I like the soundtrack choices, picking a whole selection of songs just because they have the world "moon" in the title. It's something that was a good idea and is executed well. So well in fact that to this day when people think of the CCR song Bad Moon Rising people (myself included) can't help but think of this movie.
One more thing I like about this movie is it's use of dreams and nightmares. They add so much to the story and are used with such effect that they can be really funny and scary and really show how much David is going through!
Really I don't think there's much that's actually "bad" about this movie. Some of the dialogue (slang) is dated now, but that's what happens when you make something contemporary to the 80s. It's not necessarily a bad thing, and it's also not horribly overdone.
As I said before An American Werewolf in London is clearly inspired by The Wolf Man, but what's nice about it is that it not only makes many references to it either via character dialogue and even similar events (like the dog barking at the inflicted in both films) but it also expands upon the original source material. Everyone around David is telling him he's imagined what he saw, much like Larry Talbot in the original, but in this film they have the scientific community using actual real scientific and psychiatric terminology. I love how they add to the suffering from the original by having David see and converse with his victims this is such a smart expansion from the source material that it blows me away. Also they fixed the 2 legged werewolf problem and I really enjoyed David's hypothesis (based on the original) that a werewolf needs to be killed by someone who loves him. It's something that really has a lot of thought behind it and you can tell writer/director John Landis had thought a lot about The Wolf Man.
Major props to John Landis on this one direction in the whole film is so simple and smart it's amazing. Starting with the script, the screenplay is very smart in that it's really streamlined so that quickly establishes relationships and people in the quickest and most effective ways. The direction is very smart, somewhat low budget and very effective. Somehow they had the foresight to show less of the monster and more of the gore, realizing that gore holds up and monsters don't. There's lots of really smart use of the camera, there's one scene that blew me away in particular. This scene where the werewolf is stalking a man on the subway, I think there's literally two brief shots of the werewolf in the entire sequence and the rest is all done through really smart camera work, P.O.V. shots, sound and acting. But at no time do you have any doubt this man is being hunted by a werewolf. It's super smart. Pretty much every werewolf scene in this movie is important and very effective. And they still hold up, that transformation scene in particular is just genius.
And the last thing I want to mention is how good the screenplay/film deals with the comedy of the film. This is another PERFECT example of blending horror and comedy in a seamless way (if you can't tell by now, this is something I really love when done right.) Once scene for example, there's a scene in a porno theater where Jack is talking with David and Jack looks absolutely horrible. He introduces more recent victims and they all tell David repeatedly to kill himself. Even on paper the whole scene is insanely dark and horrible, and yet through out the entirety of the scene you can hear moaning from the porno they're watching! And there's lots of scenes and lines that are just hilarious, the dream sequences also with the alien Nazi things killing people. Completely genius.
An American Werewolf in London (1981) is a comedy/horror that is filled with lots of really smart things going on and a great direction. I highly recommend this one. 4.5/5 stars.
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