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An American Werewolf In London

Director: John Landis / ScriptJohn Landis / DoP: Robert Paynter / EditorMalcolm Campbell / Music: Elmer Bernstein.

CastDavid Naughton / Griffin Dunne / Jenny Agutter / John Woodvine

Year1981

 

You take the high road and I’ll take the one over the err, moors…

 


W
riter/Director John Landis had wanted to pay homage to the classic Universal horror properties for years, but only once The Blues Brothers had made enough money, could he get a budget big enough to see it through.

Taking advantage of UK tax breaks, meant we got a Werewolf in London, as opposed to Hollywood but, in retrospect, it just made it all the more striking & unexpected, paying incidental homage as it did, to the Hammer classics.

Of course, it was Rick Baker’s transformative prosthetics that, err, transformed the film, lifting it beyond Lon Chaney’s shaggy masque and taking it to a new level that would inform body horror and popcorn schlock for years to come.

Landis directed his own script with a geeky comedic touch that leavened the mood; don’t forget that the mythological origins of the Werewolf stems from a belief in Satanic possession and the fears that snowball out of that. Scattered moments of black comedy give us permission to laugh at such fears. Understand that principle and you can literally get away with murder…

The leads? Jenny Agutter. Name me anyone else of the period, who could’ve lent Alex any more nuanced tenderness? That she grows to love David Naughton’s David Kessler is without doubt, such is the truth in her performance. David and undeniably dead chum, Jack (Griffin Dunne) seem just ‘okay’ against her; one might almost say ‘stiff’, but not I. Oh, and a nod to John Woodvine as her inquisitive boss and eventual saviour, Dr. Hirsch. After all, it’s Hirsch, who organises the posse that eventually rids London of its curse…

Now vindicated, Landis followed this up with Trading Places (bona-fide classic), Spies Like Us, Three Amigos and Coming to America (thus proving you can’t win ‘em all).

A Parisian-set sequel starring Julie Delpy appeared back in ‘97, deftly answering an unspoken question. If and when I find myself both at a loose end and in possession of the doings, I might tear its heart out. Just for you.

A naked American man stole my balloons.

Triple Word / Score:   Essential / Nuanced / Breezy / Eight

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