James Voller reviews a great classic from the archives but was it a howler?...
"Keep off the moors - stick to the road" warns a Yorkshire farmer as he drops off two American backpackers as they travel England en route to Italy. The pair make there way to a small village with some rather unfriendly locals, the two American backpackers Jack (Griffin Dunne) and David (David Naughton) soon leave the village and find themselves walking alone on the moor's but they soon find they are not alone when they attacked by someone, or something. Jack is horribly killed by what the locals believe is a werewolf. The police in London, where David wakes up in hospital, think it was an escaped lunatic.
The brilliant opening scene shows witty humour, stunning scenery and gives us quite a shock. We are introduced to these characters from the very start, we expect to stay with them but Jack dies after ten minutes. Hitchcock first employed this tactic when Janet Leigh dies after half hour in Psycho. Very shocking but Landis, who wrote and directed the film, employes the same trick and its still shocking. What else will happen in this film? Is anybody safe?
David, now in a London hospital, is quizzed by Scotland Yard, his doctor and strangely Jack who is stuck in limbo until the blood line of the werewolf that killed him is killed off, the blood line that now runs in David.
David's nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) ask's David if he would like to stay with her when he is discharged from hospital, having nowhere to stay he agrees and soon the pair start a relationship, very soon actually. The pair start to grow closer and this is clearly visible to us as the audience. It could be possible Landis wanted Alex to replace Jack as the main supporting character and it does work very well.
David soon realises he is a werewolf when he wakes up naked in a zoo, more specific the wolf inclosure, and finding out six people were brutally murdered the night before, which funnily enough had a full moon.
One excellent scene see's David sat in the back of a adult cinema screening talking to a ever decaying Jack and David's murder victims (All of whom are stuck in limbo) about how he could kill himself, all the murder victims chipping in with various suggestions. This scene demonstrates the perfect mix of horror and comedy that Landis employes in his script.
The film features Academy award winning special effects that would not look out of place in horror films today. The transformation scene was as shocking as it was awe inspiring when it was released in 1981.
The film concludes with a heart breaking ending that leaves Alex alone down a dark alley with what can only be described as a police firing squad at the entrance to the alley.
John Landis created a true horror masterpiece in 1981 that, just like it's special effects, has stood the test of time. An American Werewolf in London was released in a time when horror films were not copied by other studios. There was no rival to this true horror masterpiece which helped it stand out above the competition.
Did you know? - At the close of the credits is a congratulatory message for the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana (as Lady Diana Spencer). It was included because during the scene when David is trying to get arrested, he shouts, "Prince Charles is gay!" The film was shot months before the preparations for the couple's July 1981 wedding.
Image from Amazon
YOU CAN BUY AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON HERE: