An American Werewolf in London - 1981
Two American college students, Jack and David, start their Europe backpacking trip in England, where they run into a werewolf. This movie throughout the years has gained a significant cult following thanks to its dark comedy, creative camera work and revolutionary make up and special effects.
Out of the first werewolf attack only David survived, and we see the brutal murder of Jack. During his recovery in the hospital he starts to have fever dreams produced by the werewolf genes taking over his body. My favorite scene out of this sequence is the Nazi squad of monster that raid his house and kill his entire family. This dream is the perfect combination of comedy and gore that clearly sets apart this film from the rest. After his fever dreams die down, he gets a visit from his undead friend, Jack, tying to warn him of what he is going to become, a werewolf.
Jacks's visits are a work of art, each of them showing different techniques of make up and special effects. His first visit Jack has his normal colored skin, with his wounds filled with bright red blood and his skin hanging off him. His second visit we see his skin turned almost dark green colored and his blood dark red and dried out, showing how the passing of time has decomposed his body. His third and final visit he is almost a skeleton with very few skin still hanging on to his bones. This time around they used an animatronic puppet to deliver how far gone his body is.
The three scenes above would've been enough to explain why this movie's make up artist are regarded so highly, but they decided to go ahead and deliver, for its time, one of the most creative and visually impacting werewolf transformation scenes. Nothing I write in the blog will do it justice so please enjoy the scene for yourself down below:
Landis, writer and director, was very creative also in his use of the camera for the first night of David's werewolf killings. Using the camera as a POV shot, putting his audience in the mind of the werewolf. All of his killings a visceral and gory, yet they have a dark humor under tone that set them apart from the typical horror movie killings. The subway scene in particular was incredibly well shot, having the actor run away from the camera and showing real fear, as he tries to escape his death.
Now let's talk about my favorite scene of the movie. After David finally accepts that he is a werewolf, he is invited by Jack to talk inside a dirty movie theater. This sequence is almost a Monty Python sketch. Picture David, going through an emotional breakdown after realizing he has killed multiple people, talking to Jack (at this point a skeleton puppet) and all his victims from the previous night, while a dirty (and funny) movie is playing in the background. My favorites of the victims are the couple he killed, as they are still so quirky and upbeat, despite being covered in blood.
The final 8 to 10 minutes of the movie is brilliant organized chaos. The werewolf is loose in London causing car crashes (Landis having done The Blues Brothers a year before, he was pretty comfortable with car stunts). It's fast paste, filled with great deaths and real tension on how it will actually end. I don't want to spoil the ending for you, but if you have made it this far it means you have already seen the movie, I just want to point out Landis's directorial decision to fast cut to the credits with a happy and upbeat song playing overhead. This leaves the audience still trying to come down from the adrenaline rush of the last 8 to 10 minutes, while being taken back to the comedic tone the movie had overall.
When you see how far this movie pushed the boundaries of conventional storytelling and how creative/inventive the make up team was (fun fact: they won the first ever Oscar for make up) you can't deny why this movie deserves its cult following. Thirty-six years later and I am still beyond impressed by the talent the filmmakers had, and that's why I love movies.
An American Werewolf in London, is currently playing on Netflix. I hope you love it too.