John Landis’ (Animal House, Coming to America) passion project An American Werewolf in London is a comedy/horror hybrid known for its graphic, drawn out werewolf transformation scene. It also is known for shooting practical effects artist Rick Baker into stardom. In fact, Baker won the first ever Oscar for Best Makeup with his contribution to the film. Those things aside, I was a little let down with the overall package.
AAWIL feels underdeveloped from start to finish. There are parts that are adequate but needed to be fleshed out. I’m thinking I would have enjoyed more of a serious tone. Some of the jokey scenes are OK, but others are oddly timed and awkwardly fall flat. There is plenty of action and mutilation. Unfortunately, you don’t get to see much of it as 90% of the time it cuts to black. This happens even during some non-scary parts bafflingly enough.
Hell, the last shot of the movie pretty much does this. No reconnection with the lost friend. No resolution for the townspeople. No closure. Just a jump cut to credits. This leads me to believe Landis could have spent even more time expanding his already prolonged final draft. It’s not like the movie was super long, it clocks in just over 90mins.
Speaking of expounding upon, the werewolf itself looks great, but it used extremely sparingly. The Howling, the other cult classic werewolf film that also came out in 1981, might have been a lesser title, but at least we got to see the monster bipedal and fully articulated. AAWIL‘s creature is only ever shown on all fours from its chest up, its back legs clearly on a dolly for convenient movement. There was only one convincing shot (looking up the escalator in the subway) where I said to myself, “Now that’s a creepy image!”.
There are plenty of false-flag gag filler sequences throughout the first hour (to pad out the time before they had to use the real wolf) that might have been hilarious back in the day but are mostly quite embarrassing nowadays. Still, I appreciated the charisma between the lead and his deceased counterpart. I liked how the unlucky mate’s decomposition progressed along with the main character’s mania. The initial attack scene is brutal, especially with the scoreless backdrop. Conversely, I was not expecting the comical use of one of many vibrant songs about the moon to accompany the iconic transformation spectacle. This is the movie for you if you can’t get enough of “Blue Moon”. The climax of chaos in the streets of London is great, but also disappointingly short-lived.
To reiterate, I think Landis would have really knocked it out of the park if he came up with something more emotional rather than throwaway. An American Werewolf in London might be getting a little bit lost with the times, but it remains a staple of the horror genre for the time being. Make sure you see it at least once, if only to track the roots of films macabre.
3 crawlwolves out of 5
BONUS REVIEW (MM 2018)
What do you get when you pair a legendary wrestler with future Judge Dredd? A badass video game adaptation that knows how to have fun. In the age of Resident Evil, Doom provided another corny yet worthy take on violent horror games. The Rock (Every Action Movie Since Ever) and Karl Urban (The Boys, The Chronicles of Riddick) tag-team monsters on Mars. The movie tries to lay plot over the mindless killing of the original game, sometimes in ham-fisted ways. The space demons aren’t to 1:1 scale either, but don’t let these things stop you from chilling out with this harmless action-horror flick. Shout out to the superb first-person sequence!
3 pinky demons out of 5
BONUS REVIEW (MM 2019)
As cute as it is to see innocent little Stephen Dorff (True Detective, Blade) before his meteoric rise to superstardom, The Gate is a meek reminder of movies that tried to steal thunder from The Goonies. Its claymation creatures go bump in the night but usually not in a good way, particularly the final boss. The Gate has some heart at least, although occasionally features problematic vibes. One could argue the film has some merit as a guide on what not to do if a sinkhole opens up in your backyard, but I will save you your time: DON’T FUCK WITH SINKHOLES!
3 gaping maws out of 5