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  • Writer's pictureAllan Major

An American Werewolf In London 1981 Reviewed

Featured Image For An American Werewolf In London 1981 Reviewed.  Poster for "An American Werewolf in London" showing two men on a foggy night with a full moon above, movie information and a tagline emphasizing the horror element.
Under the glow of the full moon, the beast within is unleashed in 'An American Werewolf in London'

In the cinematic symphony of horror, there are films that linger like discordant melodies, notes that pierce and chill well after the final credits have rolled. "An American Werewolf in London" is just such a masterpiece; a monstrous howl echoing through the decades. It's a film that claws at the line between terror and raucous laughter, where nightmares and punchlines intermingle.

An American Werewolf In London 1981 Key Takeaways

  • The power of practical effects: The film showcases the incredible impact of practical special effects, particularly the visceral and unforgettable werewolf transformation scene. It's a reminder that even in the age of CGI, there's a unique and tangible horror achieved by well-executed practical effects.

  • Horror and comedy can be a potent mix: The film skillfully blends elements of both horror and dark comedy, creating a unique and unsettling viewing experience. It's both terrifying and humorous, often in the same scene.

  • The duality of the monster: The werewolf isn't just a bloodthirsty beast. The film explores the humanity within the monster through David's struggle. His transformation is both a physical horror and a metaphor for inner turmoil and hidden desires.

  • The inevitability of fate: Despite his efforts, David's fate is sealed from the moment of the attack. The film plays with the idea of inescapable destiny and the tragic consequences of actions.

  • The transformative power of loss: The trauma of Jack's death haunts David throughout the film. His friend's spectral visits act as a grim reminder of the beast he will become. This loss and the guilt it brings fuels his desperation and despair.

  • The allure of the moors: The desolate and eerie beauty of the Yorkshire moors plays a crucial role in creating a sense of isolation and impending doom. The landscape reflects the characters' inner turmoil.

Woman watches TV in horror, a werewolf's elongated snout and claws reflected in her wide eyes.
Some nightmares are howls at the moon and screams in the night.

Somewhere in the foggy heart of England, two young American travelers, David and Jack, take a detour into darkness. The wind bites their ankles on the bleak, desolate moors – a symphony of rustling shadows and unseen danger. Under a sickle moon, myth becomes bloody reality. An ancient curse ignites, a bestial transformation severs innocence and sets something horrifying free upon the cobblestone streets of London. This wasn't on their itinerary.

John Landis, horror comedy's maestro, takes the helm. Known for the madcap energy of "Animal House" and the joyous mayhem of "The Blues Brothers", his touch adds a strange, dissonant energy. "An American Werewolf" is not mere jump scares and buckets of gore. It is a fever dream caught on celluloid; a chilling tale that's also strangely, gut-bustingly funny. Think of the film as a jagged scar you can't help but chuckle at.

David Naughton, his eyes pools of bewildered terror, is the heart of this strange beast of a movie. Wounded and carrying an impossible secret, he is adrift in a world increasingly hostile. He seeks refuge in a London hospital and with Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), a woman at once fiercely practical and achingly tender. But with every full moon, the beast within him stirs, a maddening itch under his skin. And the waking nightmares of his murdered friend Jack, now an animated, decaying corpse, serve as grotesque reminders of the horror that awaits.

In a realm usually dominated by snarls and howls, the humor here is a wicked surprise. Landis paints with broad strokes, yet there's a slyness in his touch, a wink at the absurdity of it all. From dry British wit to the absurdity of a bloody werewolf attack in a Piccadilly Circus filled with nonplussed Londoners, "An American Werewolf" gleefully blurs the lines, asking whether you should scream or laugh. Or perhaps both at once.

Man stares at the TV in abject horror, his eyes locked on the iconic werewolf transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London.
He came for the laughs, stayed for the nightmares.

One of the Best Horror Movies Ever Made

But oh, those special effects! Rick Baker, the sorcerer of movie monsters, earned an Academy Award for his transformative work. David's metamorphosis is a ballet of gore and latex, bones snapping and tendons stretching, culminating in an iconic four-legged creature both terrifying and oddly tragic. In an era before CGI, every visceral detail is handcrafted — the artistry shines through the schlock. It's a testament to the raw power of practical effects, the kind that can make you squirm and be awestruck at once.

And yet, for all its moments of gleeful absurdity and creature feature brilliance, "An American Werewolf in London" isn't just a fun ride – there's darkness under the manic energy. David's transformation is both spectacle and tragedy. His plight is a monstrous metaphor for the beast within us all, the things we suppress until they can't be contained any longer. The horror is real, even when Landis cuts it with a wry joke.

Like classic werewolf stories, there's a melancholy undercurrent to this film. David is doomed from the start. This is less about whether the curse will consume him, rather how. The ending, though divisive, delivers a shocking gut punch of tragic inevitability. It lingers in the mind, a lingering question – what's more monstrous, the werewolf, or the choices that create it?

"An American Werewolf in London" isn't a perfect film. It's messy, disjointed at times, the balance of horror and comedy occasionally thrown off-kilter. But, like those enduring scars, the film's flaws enhance it, creating a strangely beautiful and haunting tapestry. It's a classic, a film horror aficionados revisit again and again. A beast that, after all these years, still bites with ferocious charm.

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If You Liked An American Werewolf In London 1981 You Might Also Like These Films

  • The Howling (1981): Another classic werewolf film released in the same year, "The Howling" focuses on a news anchorwoman sent to a secluded retreat after a traumatic encounter. She soon discovers the retreat is populated by werewolves. Fans of "An American Werewolf in London" might enjoy its blend of horror, dark humor, and impressive practical transformation effects.

  • Ginger Snaps (2000): A unique take on the werewolf myth, this Canadian horror film follows two outcast sisters who become entangled in a werewolf curse. Its focus is on the female experience of transformation, with themes of adolescence and burgeoning sexuality. Fans who appreciate the tragic monster element of "An American Werewolf" will find a similar thread here.

  • Dog Soldiers (2002): This British action-horror blends werewolf lore with a squad of soldiers facing off against a pack of werewolves in the Scottish wilderness. It's a more action-packed and adrenaline-fueled film, but retains elements of gruesome transformations, bleak landscapes, and a healthy dose of humor.

  • Shaun of the Dead (2004): One of the pioneers of the horror-comedy subgenre, "Shaun of the Dead" brings the British wit seen in "An American Werewolf in London" and drops it into a full-blown zombie apocalypse. If the absurdist humor in "An American Werewolf" appeals to you, this film amplifies that tenfold.

  • What We Do in the Shadows (2014): A mockumentary-style comedy from New Zealand focused on a group of vampire flatmates. It offers a refreshingly hilarious perspective on supernatural creatures. This is for viewers who loved the way "An American Werewolf in London" balances classic horror tropes with a sharp, satirical humor.

An American Werewolf In London 1981 Reviewed FAQs

Q: What is "An American Werewolf in London" about? 

A: "An American Werewolf in London" follows the story of two American college students, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, who are backpacking through England. While wandering off the main road in the Yorkshire moors, they are attacked by a werewolf. Jack is killed, and David is injured, carrying the curse of the werewolf. The film explores David's terrifying transformation into a werewolf, his struggle with the curse, and the horrific consequences.

Q: Who directed "An American Werewolf in London"? 

A: "An American Werewolf in London" was directed by John Landis. He is known for other popular comedies like "Animal House" (1978) and "The Blues Brothers" (1980).

Q: What are some of the best features of this movie? 

A: "An American Werewolf in London" is often praised for:

  • Groundbreaking special effects: Rick Baker's work won the first-ever Academy Award for Best Makeup in 1982. His detailed, realistic werewolf transformation is a hallmark of horror cinema.

  • Genre-bending horror-comedy: The film expertly blends genuine scares with dark, absurd humor, creating a unique and unsettling experience.

  • Iconic status: It's widely considered one of the best werewolf movies ever made, influencing countless horror films that followed.

Q: Are there any notable reviews of the movie? 

A: Yes! The film has garnered significant attention:

  • Critical Acclaim: Roger Ebert, the renowned film critic, praised the film's blend of horror and humor, calling it "a movie with a sense of humor about its own absurdity."

  • Fan Favorite: It holds a high approval rating on sites like Rotten Tomatoes and IMDB, and is often considered the greatest werewolf film of all time by horror fans.

Q: What happens to the main character during the next full moon? 

A: During the next full moon, David Kessler painfully transforms into a werewolf for the first time. He loses control and wreaks havoc, leading to terrifying dream sequences and a horrifying rampage in London.

Q: Is "An American Werewolf in London" more of a horror or a comedy film? 

A: It's a true hybrid – a horror-comedy. The film skillfully balances genuinely frightening moments with a darkly comedic tone that sets it apart from traditional horror films.

Q: How does the main character end up turning into a werewolf? 

A: David Kessler becomes a werewolf after he and his friend Jack are attacked by a werewolf while they are backpacking across the moors of England. Jack is killed in the attack, while David survives but is cursed to become a werewolf himself.

Q: What is the significance of Rick Baker's special effects in the movie? 

A: Rick Baker's special effects in "An American Werewolf in London" are a landmark in cinema history. His innovative and graphic werewolf transformation scenes were revolutionary for their time. The visceral realism of the effects adds to the film's powerful horror elements, further cementing its iconic status.


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