Inspired by the poster featured in my previous blog post, I am reviewing the 26 movies depicted; some I have seen before, some not. Surprisingly, this is one that I have not seen, or if I did, it was so long ago that I don’t remember it.
Werewolf movies–and the terrible man to wolf transformations therein–have existed for almost as long as the movie industry itself. Probably the coolest transformation n recent memory is the one that takes place in the Netflix series Hemlock Grove:
What I like about the Hemlock Grove version is the same thing I like about the American Werewolf version, which is that it looks real. Not real, as in reality versus fantasy, but real in a physical sense. With skin tearing away and pain and body parts twisting and changing. It’s not pretty but it makes you feel like it can be explained by science, not magic. Unlike this terrible, “he’s a boy, now he’s a wolf” version from Twilight: New Moon:
Ugh, sorry I made you watch that. If you didn’t, smart move.
While special effects have come a long way since 1981, the transformation in An American Werewolf in London still ranks among the best:
Part of the appeal of the werewolf as a monster is that it can be morally complex. If you kill the monster, you kill the man. In An American Werewolf in London, there is an incentive for the man to take that burden from others and take his own life, in the form of the main character’s best friend, who happens to be dead for most of the movie.
This movie was released in 1981, so I am assuming the time for *Spoiler Alert* has passed but just in case, “Spoiler Alert!”
David Naughton and Griffin Dunne play David and Jack, two American teenagers who are backpacking across Europe, because that’s what all teenagers did after high school in the ’80’s. They start out in Northern England because they like the cold and rain (I can only assume.) They are dropped off in the middle of nowhere on a lonely road and come across a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb. They seemed a bit horrified by the name but I was more upset that they didn’t actually serve lamb…or any food. “Spirits and Beer,” according to the barkeep, although she did begrudgingly offer to make some tea.
The boys immediately suspected something was not quite right when they saw a pentagram drawn on the wall with two lit sconces on either side, and when they finally asked about it (after whispering frantically back and forth like siblings, “you ask!”, “no, you ask!”) the room got deathly quiet and they decided to leave. The barkeep begged the others in the pub not to let them go as it was too dangerous, but the locals seemed more concerned with keeping their secret safe than keeping the American strangers safe.
Ultimately, they did go after the boys, but it was too late. Jack had been viciously mauled to death, and David had suffered scratches across his face. David passed out from his injuries, but not before witnessing the townspeople gun down the wolf–which turned back into a man upon its death.
He woke up three weeks later in a London hospital, where he was told that he and his friend had been attacked by a man and saved by the people of the town, who brought him to the hospital after dressing his wounds. Although he protested that it was a wild animal, the doctor said he had no reason to dispute the policemen’s statements, especially not on the basis of what sounded like a crazy werewolf story.
Before long, David starts seeing crazy visions and having lunatic dreams. HIs primary vision is that of his dead friend, Jack, who looked as he had post-werewolf attack, with his face and body scratched and mauled. He told David that people killed by werewolves were left in limbo as long as the bloodline remained alive, and now, David was the last of that bloodline. In order to give Jack peace and to save David’s potential victims, he insisted that David must kill himself before the full moon in a few days.
David very quickly develops a relationship with his pretty nurse and stays with her while recuperating before going home to New York. During this time, he continues to see visions and be plagued by nightmares until the inevitable occurs. In a classic film scenario, he has no memory of his change or what he does, but he awakens, naked and bloody, having killed several people, who join Jack in requesting that David free them from limbo.
The movie ends in a climatic scene in the middle of the city with David as a werewolf being chased through the streets as cars and buses crashed around him until he runs down a dead end alley, where the local policeman do what he couldn’t and saved David from his life of torment and all the undead from their limbo.
While the plot had a couple of stereotypical tropes and the whirlwind romance was less believable than the existence of werewolves, this was a fun movie. Although Shaun of the Dead is remembered as being one of the first films that was equal part comedy and horror, An American Werewolf in London beat it by more than 20 years and is just as good. If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. It’s streaming free on Amazon Prime right now, so it’s a great time to watch!
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