Saturday, October 10, 2009

Bald Mountain Night 10: An American Werewolf in London

Each day in October, intrepid blogger Alex Boivin will watch a horror movie. These movies are all new to him and are part of his month-long effort to fill in his gaps in the horror canon. If he doesn't die from fright, you just might get to read about about his exploits in cinema during the Halloween season.

When I was growing up in the mid-to-late 1990's, I was obsessed with werewolves. You know this ridiculous vampire craze that the nation is experiencing? Well it was like that for werewolves, but just for me and no one else. I had books upon books of werewolf stories which I read without end. My dad rented me the original Wolfman (stoked for the remake, btw) and I even did a book report on Goosebumps #14 the Werewolf of Fever Swamp in fourth grade. With all this werewolf madness swirling about in my pre-adolescent mind it's a wonder I missed out on An American Werewolf in London.

Maybe it was the R rating but this is a movie that just never popped up on my radar. For those of you unfamiliar, it's a 1981 John Landis (of Animal House and Blues Brothers fame) film dealing with a couple of NYU guys, Jack and David, on a backpacking trip across Europe. One night, after repeated warnings from the spooky locals, they take a shortcut across the moors under a full moon. Bad decision. Soon they are attacked by a large, dog-like creature (spoiler warning: it's a werewolf) killing Jack and wounding David. Soon, David is transforming at the full moon and Jack's rapidly decaying spirit is haunting him, urging him to kill himself before he kills others. All of this is brought to life by the master of makeup effects, Rick Baker; the transformation sequences in this movie practically invented the Best Makeup Oscar, as a matter of fact.

Werewolf could best be described as something of a horror-comedy, taking its place among the storied ranks of Evil Dead and the like. However, unlike movies such as Dead, Werewolf's comedy manifests itself less in over the top gore played for laughs than it does in being a horror movie with funny protagonists. The scenes of werewolf-related violence and terror are played relatively straight as a matter of fact, but when David's in human form, he's a fairly humorous guy, he wouldn't be out of place in any other John Landis picture. Jack's decomposing ghost and the wayward spirits of David's accursed victims are grimly comical and account for some of the biggest laughs in the feature, but all things considered this is a horror movie about lycanthropy first a foremost.

Final verdict: 64 Congos