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Overall Rating

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 MP Bartley

"Insert obligatory pop song with the word 'moon' in the title here."
4 stars

I'm an avowed hater of humour in horror. It may have seemed clever at first, but being ironic and winking at the audience while saying "See what we're doing? It's like the characters KNOW they're in a horror film!", ultimately became annoying. There is no more guaranteed way to drain the horror out of a horror film, than to laden it with bad, corny jokes. But when humour does actually work in a horror film, like the recent 'Shaun of the Dead', the result can be something quite brilliant. 'An American Werewolf In London' shows just how it should be done.

'An American Werewolf In London' starts off like so many horrors, with two students on a hiking trip across the Yorkshire Moors. Jack (Griffin Dunne) and David (David Naughton) are on a Europe-wide holiday and are currently stuck in the wet and windy Moors with night fast approaching. They seek temporary refuge in a pub full of hostile locals practically growling "We don't like strangers 'ere zurr", before hitting the wilderness at midnight and quickly getting lost.

To make things worse they're quickly attacked by a savage beast which kills Jack and wounds David. He recovers in a London hospital and falls in with the posh-yet-naughty nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter). David however is being haunted by visions of a decaying Jack who tells him that he is a werewolf and come the next full moon will be on the prowl for victims.

John Landis is clearly someone who loves movies. And not someone who loves special effects, but someone who loves atmosphere and even the cliches, but knows how to turn them on their head and come up with something fresh.

His love of the Universal horror films of the 30's and 40's is clear in his introduction on the shadowy and fog-bound moors. This is clearly the work of someone who knows that the best aspects of the 30's 'Dracula' and 'The Wolfman', aren't the make-up and special effects, but the atmosphere that they're shrouded in. The isolated foggy countryside at night may be a cliche, but Landis crucially approaches it with reverence and not irony, making it an opening thick with tension and creepy howls in the midnight sky. It's an opening that still urinates heavily on 'Scream's' much vaunted opening.

He also makes his protagonists interesting and very likeable, which usually doesn't happen in horror films about teenagers where you usually end up hoping that they'll bite the big one. Jack and David are funny and easy to watch however and played with lots of subtlety by Dunne and Naughton, drawing you into their predicament easily, and giving the film the tragic undercurrent that every werewolf film needs. Agutter is also fine in her role, rounding out the human element of the film.

This film is a clear labour of love for Landis, who loves his characters and loves the idea. His direction is fast and full of invention without being overly 'look at me!'. There's a nightmare sequence that completely wrongfoots you every time. He captures the scruffy essence of London without resorting to the usual American cliches, and the werewolf itself is used sparingly but effectively. The werewolf attacks are brutal and grisly from the opening attack on the Moors to a final werewolf on the loose/car pile up in the middle of London, that's a masterpiece of editing and location action.

The humour is a major factor as to why 'American Werewolf' is so beloved to horror fans, and Landis never lets it unbalance the horror. It's humour that's not smug or crude, it's humour that's grisly and black, as an increasingly decomposed Jack comes back to warn David what's going to happen to him. It's the matter of fact way that dead Jacks first words to David are "Can I have a piece of toast?". It's the way that the ghosts of David's victims gather in a porn cinema to suggest just how David should kill himself. It's the increasingly witty soundtrack peppering allusions to the moon throughout the film. It's still the benchmark of how comedy can be wove throughout a horror without lessening the impact.

And no review of 'An American Werewolf In London' would be complete without paying tribute to Rick Bakers astonishing make-up and specifically, the werewolf transformation scene that takes place in a well-lit room with nothing to hide behind. There's no rapid cutting-away, and it's a jaw dropping achievement of imagination and talent that beats seven shades of crap out of Steven Sommers' CGI bucket of shit that was the cartoon Wolfman in 'Van Helsing'.

It just skims past the full five stars, because it's not quite terrifying enough and there's arguably room for a little more wolf action. But nevertheless, 'An American Werewolf In London' is an 80's horror flick that still has the best werewolf transformation scene and still beats down all young pretenders who try to mix horror and humour and usually make an unholy balls up of it. For a Friday night in with pizza and beer, 'An American Werewolf In London' may be the best film of the last 30 years.

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originally posted: 10/27/04 00:14:06
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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
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
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
11/02/04 Lord Durvok 2 Why am I the only one who does really like this? 3 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
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
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  21-Aug-1981 (R)
  DVD: 18-Sep-2001


  02-Feb-1982 (R)

Directed by
  John Landis

Written by
  John Landis

  Joe Belcher
  David Naughton
  Griffin Dunne
  David Schofield
  Rik Mayall

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