Thursday, September 13, 2012

There's A Bad Moon Risin'...

Karen: This last weekend I saw "An American Werewolf in London" on the big screen, at the historic Paramount Theater in Oakland, California. There was a good sized crowd and they were really into the film. It was fun to see it on the big screen -I'd only ever seen it on TV. It had a quirky mix of humor and horror that didn't always succeed, but for the most part was enjoyable, and certainly had the most startling werewolf transformation yet seen. Any thoughts?


Edo Bosnar said...

By far my favorite werewolf movie, and probably one of my favorite horror movies as well. Since I'm not the biggest fan of horror, I think it's the black humor component that really makes this one work for me.
And yes, that transformation scene is really well made: equal parts scary, shocking and a bit funny - thanks to what is probably one of the funniest lines in the movies: "I'm sorry I called you a meatloaf, Jack!"

Anonymous said...

I love this film. It has a cleverly judged (if not subltle) mix of horror and humour that works on both scores. Landis didn’t invent this, but I find people who try this generally fall between 2 stools: either the horror is good, but the humour just seems sick thereafter, or the humour just makes the horror feel cartoony. Raimi fell into this with the first Evil Dead pic, the horror was too horrible for the humour to work. It worked better in the second one. Romero goes both sides: Night was like a documentary, which made the zombies eating guts just horrific. Dawn was like cartoon violence, so it facilitated the social satire better (zombies go to the mall...quel suprise). The Freddy movies got it right initially, but then went over the line almost immediately, with Freddie becoming basically the hero rather than the villain, and the increasingly-contrived murders seeming to happen only so he could get the one-liner in afterwards.

AAWIL is so much better than that. The humour is funny (esp. waking up nude in the zoo), the horror is horrible, the suspense is beautifully notched up and you never lose sympathy with the hero even though you know he has to die.

The scene you’ve picked for your pic epitomises the movie to me. The transformation begins, and in true Lon Chaney style he falls behind the sofa, but then instead of popping in & out of sight, each time a little hairier & toothier, we actually pan behind the sofa and watch the transformation, millimetre by millimetre, in agonising detail, while Full Moon Rising plays behind. Classic horror being re-written but homaged at the same time.

I also love the script. In my little circle, lines are quoted freely. If we’re ever out late at night, ‘stay on the path, lads’ is quoted, and any country pub in the middle of nowhere is de facto ‘the slaughtered lamb’.

Heathcliff didn’t howl!
No, but, you know...he was on the Moors...


Karen – can I make a recommendation to you? (may have mentioned this before). If you ever get a chance to see these documentaries, give them a go. They will increase your enjoyment of even, dare I say, some of your favourite films:


Anonymous said...

Another thing, about the effects. I think that there are several movies from the 80’s (like this and the Thing) which will age better than movies from the late 80’s and early 90’s because they used mechanical / physical effects rather than CGI. Early CGI already looks pretty ropey.

Karen said...

Hi Richard and Edo - I think the humor holds up well for the most part. There were a lot of laughs at the showing I went to (at the right parts). The soundtrack also set this film apart from its contemporaries. The dream sequences were also unique and who can forget the nazi werewolves/monsters?

I was lucky enough to see a panel of John Landis, Rick Baker, and David Naughton at Monsterpalooza earlier this year. The back and forth between Landis and Baker about the werewolf design was hilarious (with Baker still wishing they'd done a wolf-MAN), and Landis is still annoyed about the Howling coming out first (and Baker's involvement in that). But they all seemed fond of each other and it was a fun event.

Richard, I watched the three parts of A History of Horror on my computer last year. I agree, a wonderful documentary. In the same vein, I would recommend David Skal's book, The Monster Show, which covers cinematic horror from its beginnings into the late 20th century.

Chuck Wells said...

A fun flick overall with lots of able British character actors grounding the proceedings in a nice reality.

The old lady at the pub who chastised the local men to go after the Americans, lest they become the next victims.

And of course, Jenny Agutter was yummy!

Anonymous said...

Hi Chuck – that landlady was an actress called Lila Kaye (she died just a few months ago) and a couple of years after AAWIL she turned up as a barmaid in an episode of Cheers which I’m sure she got as a result of someone being a fan of this movie.

Rip Jagger said...

Here's a review of the movie I wrote a little less than a year ago--

1981 was, as it turned out, the year of the werewolf. In that year three werewolf movies hit the theaters -- The Howling, Wolfen, and American Werewolf in London. And as it turns out, they are all very different werewolf movies and all pretty good. Wolfen is a moody and very atmospheric thriller, The Howling is a self-aware and taught romp, but American Werewolf in London by director John Landis might the best of the trio.

It does have its flaws though for sure.

The story is a humdinger. Two young American tourists run afoul of a werewolf on the moors in a remote English village and one is killed outright and the other transformed. But this movie is at once a funny flick rich with characters and character and at times a pretty intense little horror movie.

Giffin Dunne is outstanding as the murdered friend who returns as a ghost spokesman for those killed by werewolves. His blase acceptance of his fate makes it work much more effectively than any bit of high anxiety might've done.

Jenny Agutter is gorgeous and offers up an exceedingly robust performance as the nurse who cares for the wounded tourist who is slowly becoming a monster.

David Naughton is the reason though that this movie doesn't deliver as well as it ought. It's not his fault really, he tries, but his acting has always bothered me in this movie. He seems clearly an amateur among a gang of pros and his charm though evident doesn't overcome some really awful line delivery.

It doesn't help that practically all the other actors in the piece are from the London stage and so bristle with real acting chops. Naughton stands out not only as a lone American among Londoners, but as a novice actor among real pros.

The movie is famous for its special effects, and Rick Baker's work here is quite good, even revolutionary. In these modern days of CG, it's always nice to settle in with a movie that has to do things the hard way, so makes the most of the little monster action it can afford. Horror is about the unseen, and that caveat is often forgotten by modern movie makers who can show virtually anything they can imagine. It might be grotesque, it might be grim, but it rarely is horror.

This movie gets there with some slick edits and some judicious use of make-up and true physical effects. All of them don't work as well as they might, but they hold up effectively enough to keep the flick rolling.

American Werewolf in London is a charming movie that is at once a romance, a comedy, and a decent horror flick. That's a lot to do and it does it for the most part.

Rip Off

Roygbiv666 said...

I would second your recommendation of David Skal's book, The Monster Show - very interesting history of cinematic horror. I find his thesis runs out of steam by the time he gets to the 1970s, but overall it's a great read.

I'll need to watch that movie again. Maybe Halloween.

Karen said...

Another thing about the film: the abrupt ending. David dies, and then poof! Credits. Very 70s nihilistic.

Garett said...

I'm not a big horror fan, but I loved this and The Thing!

Inkstained Wretch said...

What is interesting to me about the film is how matter-of-fact it is. Naughton wanders into the moors, gets bitten, starts transforming while he is recovering from his injury, gets visited by his friend, now a ghost, and eventually goes on a rampage and is killed by the police.

Its all very straight and linear: The drama, thrills and humor come from exploring the natural consequences and reactions to this scenario. It is part of why the film holds up so well, despite the fact that it is about a guy turning into a werewolf: It manages to feel pretty realistic.

On a related noted, I remember thinking at the time that British hospitals must be the greatest places on earth if all of the nurses were like Jenny Agutter...

Doug said...

Good to hear from you, Inkstained! Quit being such a stranger!

I still can't believe that Jenny Agutter was in the Avengers flick...


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