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Overall Rating
4.3

Awesome57.69%
Worth A Look: 27.88%
Average: 5.77%
Pretty Bad: 3.85%
Total Crap: 4.81%

4 reviews, 80 user ratings


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American Werewolf in London, An
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Beware the moon. And stick to the road."
5 stars

'An American Werewolf in London' is not only the most compulsively watchable movie in writer/director John Landis' portfolio; it is also one of the all-time great horror movies, a pitch-perfect mix of belly laughs and genuine scares fifteen years before 'Scream.'

Landis' stroke of genius was to make his lycanthropic protagonist David Kessler (David Naughton) a Nice Jewish Boy as well as a witty college student. Like Landis, David has seen all the old werewolf movies on late-night TV and can't quite take his situation seriously. But American Werewolf is far from a self-referential spoof. It acknowledges the unreality of its premise, but then treats it with all the realism that Rick Baker's transformation effects (which won an Oscar) can provide.

David and his buddy Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) amble across the dingy green English countryside, laughing ruefully about old girlfriends, as if they were strolling down a New York sidewalk. Like many Americans abroad, they seem to have a bubble of self-protective Americanness around them their surroundings don't touch them except as something to snark about later. They happen across a pub called the Slaughtered Lamb, peopled by the standard array of hostile country Brits. The boys receive vague warnings they don't take seriously. But they take it seriously enough once they're lost in the night fog as hungry growls circle around them.

Jack is killed and David is badly scratched, waking up in a London hospital and attended by a no-nonsense doctor (John Woodvine) and a friendly nurse named Alex (Jenny Agutter). For a long while, American Werewolf coasts on the warm rapport between David and Alex as they take their patient-nurse relationship to the next level. Landis, with considerable help from Naughton, fleshes David out as an amiable, level-headed guy the audience's surrogate who finds himself in the middle of a baffling supernatural conundrum. First come the dreams, sensationally effective, especially the one wherein Nazi monsters invade David's home. Then come the animalistic urges David gets hungrier and hornier. Then come the visits from the spectral Jack, in various stages of decomposition yet never losing his collegiate sarcasm ("Have you ever tried talking to a corpse? It's boring"). Then, finally, alone in Alex's flat during a full moon, David undergoes the change and takes to the shadows of London.

For all its flashes of goofiness, American Werewolf never loses sight of its chief goal as a horror movie. A sequence in which the werewolf stalks a businessman through an empty subway station (the victim retains a hilariously English properness: "I shall notify the police") is almost cruelly effective, getting its suspense not from shrieking soundtrack music but from the man's terrified gasping and the click-clack of his shoes in mad, fruitless retreat. Landis has been ranked among the "masters of horror" for scenes like that (it sure isn't because of Innocent Blood).

Eventually, Landis explicitly marries the goofy and the gory in a surreal scene in which David sits in a porno theater and has to face the mutilated ghosts of the people he killed. They all (including Jack) say the same thing: David must kill himself to end the curse. It's something that's occurred to him, too. Right before that, he calls home, wanting to say goodbye to his parents, and ends up talking to his younger sister. Here, Landis goes beyond comedy and horror. We never lose our affection and sympathy for David even though his rampages as a werewolf are horrifying. We want him to be cured. But we know he won't be.

If you know where to look, American Werewolf is full of little in-jokes, like the prerequisite Landis See You Next Wednesday reference, and the appearance of Frank Oz in dual roles as an impatient bureaucrat and as Miss Piggy. The jokes aren't pushed too hard and don't call attention to themselves. American Werewolf is exceptionally light of spirit it reaches towards life (think of that phone call) even in the midst of death. Landis wrote the first draft at age 19, and had years to fine-tune it while keeping the essence of what drew him to the material the contrast between modern sensibilities and ancient superstitions. As it turns out, old-school wins.

'American Werewolf' gets in and out in 97 minutes, finding time for digressions that bring us closer to the characters (David riding the bus and making bizarre faces at the mohawked passengers) but covering the gamut of emotion. It's a full package. If Landis is acclaimed as a master of horror on the basis of one film, this one film is more than enough to qualify him for the pantheon. It's an achievement I've always wished he could repeat, but maybe this kind of lightning only strikes once.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=1001&reviewer=416
originally posted: 02/04/07 13:42:17
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell good werewolf flick great oscar winning effects 4 stars
9/06/17 Ken Very great film! The ending was sad, though. 5 stars
1/22/15 Jeff WIlder Weak ending. But the film manages to get the perfect blend of horror and comedy down. 4 stars
9/19/13 Annie G When werewolves were still scary - effects are a little lame, but still a great film. 4 stars
3/14/13 PAUL SHORTT SORDID BUT ODDLY ENDEARING MIXTURE OF HORROR FILM AND SPOOF 4 stars
12/11/12 Lisa THE werwolf movie!!! 5 stars
9/07/12 Jeanie One of the great horror classics - set the werewolf standard! 5 stars
4/08/12 keith miron This movie beets the howling in entertanment 4 stars
11/17/10 richard ward a landmark in film, 5 stars
12/01/09 art I SAw this movie in a moviehouse when it came out in 1981,IT MADE ME SICK! 1 stars
11/20/09 Evan Beats The Howling by a (wolf) hair; ending was WAY too abrupt. 5 stars
11/10/09 marina Fabulous for so many reasons, its also curiously moving 5 stars
9/27/09 action movie fan good story unbeatable special effects but too much humor 4 stars
5/05/08 art A HORRIBLE MOVIE WITH A WARPED SENSE OF HUMOR 1 stars
4/20/08 Philip Scary and entertaining. One of John Landis' best films. 5 stars
7/31/07 e541- this movie is seocnds on my list the best is ginger snaps a kik ass canadian movie 5 stars
5/02/07 fattyjoe37 Best werewolf movie of all time and my favorite horror film ever 5 stars
4/19/07 Stevo UK The british characters remind me of people in our pub. Cracking film. 4 stars
2/28/07 CARLENE HAYTON I liked it! 5 stars
2/17/07 G Sherfy I prefer The Howling; this is the next best werewolf movie ever made (The Wolf Man=3rd) 4 stars
2/15/07 I Gluck Gore, Humor, violence, sex...what else do you need ? 5 stars
2/06/07 David Pollastrini good gore. 4 stars
2/05/07 AJ Muller Scared the SHIT out of me when I was a kid(was 6years old)now character/style get me. 5 stars
9/13/06 David Cohen Good transformation scenes, you can keep the rest, especially the "comedy" 3 stars
8/09/06 Dragon The Artist Awesomely depicted werewolf, perfect FX for its time& sex scene was'nt gratuitious,COOL!! 5 stars
5/07/06 Fatty Bombare smelly Bill Horrific and the best effects of early 80's 5 stars
10/11/05 Indrid Cold Humor and FX elevate it above other horror movies of the time, but that's not saying much. 4 stars
10/03/05 K. Sear This is supposed to be the best werewolf movie ever? 3 stars
9/02/05 Eden Good black comedy, but the more I watch it the weaker it gets 4 stars
8/19/05 ES Fantastic, great story, FX for the time, scary parts too 5 stars
2/26/05 Dave A good movie with a lot of humor added to the horror, but the ending seemed rushed. 4 stars
2/21/05 Angolmosi It has just the right amount of gore and humour, without mocking the genre. 5 stars
1/05/05 magaafi THE ENDING SUKD CRAP & THE HOWLING WAS WAY BETTER 3 stars
11/02/04 Lord Durvok 2 Why am I the only one who does really like this? 3 stars
10/31/04 JOE KENNEDY WAY UNDER RATED. THIS IS A MUST SEE 5 stars
10/24/04 Samuel probably the greatest werewolf movie ever. 5 stars
8/24/04 Kyle Best werewolf movie! "The Howling" is 2nd. 5 stars
8/14/04 magaafi RAINS KING WITH THE HOWLING!!!!!! YEAYA 5 stars
4/10/04 American Slasher Goddess Along with The Howling,one of the best werewolf movies ever. 5 stars
1/20/04 jnijf Definitely on my film shitlist. 2 stars
1/08/04 John very original horror film - thourohgly entertaining and surprising 4 stars
11/16/03 AshFan The abrupt and touching ending followed by "Blue Moon?" I CRIED. 4 stars
9/04/03 eddie it is shit next to the mighty HOWLING- rob bottin is a god. I have spoken - now go die. 1 stars
8/29/03 DARREN DAVID NAUGHTON DESERVES KUDOS FOR BEING THE ONLY ACTOR TO BE UPSTAGED BY A CORPSE 2 stars
7/05/03 Dave Hopman Great werewolf movie. Great mix of horror and humor. Ginger Snaps is much better though! 4 stars
6/14/03 Alice the greatest werewolf movie ever. 5 stars
6/11/03 Rocky The reason why it's bad because you total crapers suck 5 stars
5/12/03 Kyle Fuck you, Andrew Carden - this was all great. 5 stars
11/05/02 Vicious The best werewolf film in memory. A gret fil in itself. 5 stars
3/21/02 R.W. Welch Always thought werewolf movies were dopey but this is really the exception. 4 stars
1/01/02 Andrew Carden It Was All Great Except For It's Blown-Apart Stupid Ending. 4 stars
12/31/01 Mr. Hat (formerly Joe Zappa) Fucked up. What happened to you, John Landis?! 2 stars
12/18/01 Keith Great! My favorite werewolf movie. Blends horror and humor excellently. 5 stars
10/27/01 Jim So THAT'S what a walking meatloaf looks like ... 5 stars
9/12/01 Butterbean A very cheezy and lukewarm movie that rapped up quickly and stupidly at the end 3 stars
8/06/01 E-Funk The definitive werewolf movie. The perfect blend of horror and comedy. Flawless. 5 stars
7/28/01 Turtle A terrifying, hilarious movie that is irresistible! 4 stars
6/14/01 Gary Hilarious & thrilling in equal measure. Naughton is fantastic. Ending was too abrupt, tho. 4 stars
4/07/01 The Knowby Warrior Great. Words can't describe this movie. A love story ? Maybe the greatest ever seen. 5 stars
3/28/01 Jesse L Great blended film. Horror, comedy, romance, music. too multidimensional for some 5 stars
2/10/01 KyLe*BrOfLoVsKi One long, gory, hilarious trip. Straight-up fun. 5 stars
1/26/01 Bodhi Hilarious,scary and moving all at once,this si horror comedy done right.Fuck Scream... 5 stars
5/13/00 Steve Layne some of the jokes are funny, but the story in my opinion isn't that interesting. 3 stars
4/04/00 jake m not too gory needs more deaths 5 stars
3/28/00 Richard Wright A horror film that can be witty and gory simultanously? Surely you jest..well, no actually. 4 stars
12/03/99 perpetual loser better than ANY modern day peice of horror crap. What were you watching, Bozo? 5 stars
12/02/99 Bozo I would rather cut my arms off than watch this sadistic shit again 1 stars
8/21/99 Dave Amazing film. No cheap scares/jokes. Expertly paced and structured. Great comedy/horror. 5 stars
6/14/99 Dylan vastly over - rated. 2 stars
4/20/99 jimmy jam Classic movie. 5 stars
4/15/99 Jon Jackson fun for the fam 4 stars
4/13/99 Go Swans Contains the scariest moment committed to celluloid (all the dream sequences). 5 stars
3/18/99 Madcap the best werewolf transformation EVER, great humor, awesome chills 5 stars
12/03/98 Brian stupid 1 stars
11/25/98 Fred Love this move. LOVE it. Funny, and scared the hell out of me. And Jenny didn't hurt 5 stars
11/16/98 Jules Landis' best! Unpretentious and fucking scary! 5 stars
11/16/98 Lord Of The Dunce Awesome effects for it's time, some funny moments but it dragged for me. 4 stars
10/27/98 Silent Rob A good, not great, MODERN horror film. See you next wednesday! 4 stars
9/24/98 katherine totally awesome. i luv it, it's nice and scary. 5 stars
9/16/98 Negative Creep Who can forget the scene where David has a suicide chat with his victims? It's still great! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  21-Aug-1981 (R)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2001

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Feb-1982 (R)


Directed by
  John Landis

Written by
  John Landis

Cast
  Joe Belcher
  David Naughton
  Griffin Dunne
  David Schofield
  Rik Mayall



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