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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 Marc Kandel

"The perfect horror movie."
5 stars

From the very start we notice something odd and unsettling. The white, overly formal typeface of the opening credits puzzles; more at home on a museum placard, juxtaposed against the stark, rain-swept moors of the English countryside as a Bobby Vinton crooned “Blue Moon” echoes across muddy, mist-strewn hills. The images are still, silent in spite of the music, as we are allowed a few moments to explore this sparse, countryside before our principals appear. It dawns on us that for these few moments, we are given a personal tour of the cold, quiet killing ground of a monster. This is a true haunt, a feeding place, and the film takes our hand and pulls us in for a brief solitary stroll, the familiar song perhaps allaying our fears just a little... or does it actually make things worse?

And then we have Jack (Griffin Dune) and David (David Naughton), two intelligent, approachable, nice Jewish boys from NYU, yukking it up, innocently blathering about girls they’ve got no chance with, and stumbling through probably the most clumsily executed backpacking tour of Europe ever. And then it all goes so very horrifically, delightfully wrong.

Many people consider this a horror-comedy, the direct precursor to Scream. That isn’t how director John Landis plays it though. Sure, David and Jack are funny guys, and many of the situations (as the infamous “Balloon Thief” scene and David’s confrontation in the movie theater by his slain dead) are hilarious, but they’re funny because they are played straight- there’s no winking, no sub-referencing, we have established characters reacting to events as normal people would- even if a few of them happen to be corpses. The only deliberate comedy to be found is in the slapstick engaged in by the hapless Scotland Yard Sergeant McManus, playing buffoonish Costello to Inspector Villiers straight man Abbott throughout the proceedings. But where are the laughs when David can’t even tell the difference between when he’s awake and asleep? When he dreams of running and stalking through moss carpeted forests or a non-sequitur vision of the slaughter of his family by Nazi beasts? When dead Jack’s attempts at cheering David up turn to sobering pity as he delivers grim news? When David must say his final goodbye to his entire family through his kid sister over a pay phone?

You’ll notice I still haven’t made reference to Rick Baker’s stellar effects work or even said the word “werewolf” yet. There is a surfeit of scenes and moments worth discussion, but the beauty is in the lavish amount of sublime details that exist to pore over- more appearing in each viewing. The picture is a wonderful, intricate mishmash of disparate elements- superstitious villagers versus ugly Americans, the quiet countryside versus the bustling cityscape, the British tight upper lip versus American flippancy, dreams versus reality, classical “horror” versus modern sensibilities, even the soundtrack is as fractured as David’s identity between man and wolf, half bouncy, contemporary Creedence Clearwater Revival and half delicate, stirring orchestral flair from Elmer Bernstein.

John Landis stakes his tent square in genius territory. Not even Blues Brothers 2000 can take this away from him. It tries very hard, but I won’t let it. I am An American Werewolf’s Horatius. I will hold the bridge for John Fucking Landis.

God’s teeth, this is the film that dares to show us an entire montage scene of nothing happening. An entire day, sunup to sundown of watching David Kessler, bored out of his mind, anxious, impatient, lonely, crawling up the walls (and outside them) in a tiny London flat, finding nothing good on television, no attention span to read, too far from London proper to sightsee (and penniless), his only brief company a hissing cat (and nothing strange about that right? Cats hiss all the time…), cast into an unfamiliar, unremarkable little tan-walled box where all he can do is wait and wait and wait…

And it’s simply magnificent, riveting buildup to moonrise- and just like that- all hell breaks loose and we are treated to a fully lit, no flinching, no abrupt cut or dissolved shot transformation- a painful, agonizing contortion of the human body such as we have never seen. And because we know David is a funny, jocular guy, that his wit and humor is part of his way of coping with situations, we have no problem believing this is a man who, in severe pain, a third of the way to becoming animal, would spend his last seconds of intellect apologizing to his dead friend for calling him a meatloaf.

This is Landis’ best. His funniest? No. His most classic? No (the answers to both of those by the by, are Animal House. An American Werewolf In London is his best, the same way I see Jaws as Stephen Spielberg’s best: films that raise the bar for their genres, have a different feel than anything else their makers have ever accomplished, effortlessly drawing the viewer into a complete world populated by vividly drawn characters set against what our minds tell us must be impossible. All that and it’s a damn good time to boot.

An American Werewolf... makes for such a unique experience, one forgets this is a clever retelling of an old Universal film starring Lon Chaney Jr. playing an affable, level-headed American who comes to a foreign land only to fall prey to an ancient evil, forced to live with the knowledge that everyone he loves is in grave peril, unless he can find a way to control his affliction- which of course he cannot, leading to tragedy. It’s the same movie, but it could be an apple against an orange for all the ways Landis chooses to play with the concept, making everything old new again.

I could write an entire book on this film. But I’d much rather settle in on a dark night, pop this in, and unleash the beast.

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originally posted: 10/31/08 08:01:50
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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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