An American Werewolf In London

cast: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, and Brian Glover

writer and director: John Landis

97 minutes (18) 1982
widescreen ratio 16:9
Universal DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Christopher Teague

Horror and humour are two genres which very rarely work together in the same film – apart from the horror spoofs, which are basically just comedy flicks with blood: you only laugh, never jump with fright. An American Werewolf In London is probably one of the very few that actually makes you laugh as much as it makes you jump, and that’s all down too Landis’ script and direction, and as a result this is probably his finest film.

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Starting with two American students, Jack and David, backpacking in Exmoor (actually mid-Wales) they come across the Slaughtered Lamb, a stereotypical and quintessential village pub, filled with the eccentric characters that Americans firmly believe exist in these small villages. When Jack enquires as to why they have a pentacle etched in the wall, they’re quickly asked to leave, but given one bit of advice: “Stick to the road, keep off the moor.”
Naturally, they don’t realise they’ve strayed off the road, and the howling begins… disorientated and scared, they lose themselves even more, and howling continues. And the wolf strikes!
The film then transfers to London, where David learns that he survived an attack from an escaped lunatic, who tragically killed Jack. He discounts this ‘truth’ – especially when Jack returns from the dead, and tells him that when the next full moon appears, David will turn into a werewolf, and the only way to stop even more carnage is to kill himself…
American Werewolf is such a classic film, even though it is dated in its portrayal of London, but the performances from David Naughton, Griffin Dunne and Jenny Agutter make the film a joy to watch, and Landis enables his actors to breathe life into their characters, with the minimal of effort. His script is also inventive, with wildly surreal dream sequences that pack a real punch. The supporting cast is also well chosen, with engaging cameos from Brian Glover, John Woodvine and an early role for future B’stard, Rik Mayall.
Any review of American Werewolf, though, has to highlight Rick Baker, who designed the superb make-up (and so impressive were they that the AMPAS had no choice but to create the ‘Special Make-up’ Oscar which Baker won that year). What is also is so superb about the transformation sequences is that they were shot on location, and in natural light – a fact that highlights the horror and agony of David, which no doubt the actor had to endure also.
The music score, too, is of notable exception, with quite possibly the most complete grouping of records that refers to the moon – I dare you to listen to ‘Bad Moon Rising’ without thinking of this film!
On the DVD side of things, you get a pristine widescreen print and sound transfer, an informative and funny commentary from Dunne and Naughton, and the usual crop of documentaries on the second disc. Overall, this is a film that any self-respecting horror fan should own.