AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON
US, 1981, 92 minutes, Colour.
David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Rick Myall.
Directed by John Landis.
An American Werewolf in London has become something of a horror classic. It was directed by John Landis in his heyday, the years when he made such films as The Blues Brothers. During the 80s he was to continue making comedies, especially Trading Places and Coming to America. However, during the 90s his films were much less impressive.
The film takes the familiar story of the werewolves. However, it shows two American friends in England who are transformed into werewolves, David Norton and Griffin Dunne. The transformation of the men into werewolves is very striking, especially that of Griffin Dunne, and Rick Baker won an Oscar for his make-up skills.
The film is in many ways very serious, showing the men as victims of this lycanthropy. However, Landis gives it the comic touch and there is even parody of the werewolf genre in its presentation of characters and themes. It is also an interesting perspective on Britain by an American writer and director. The film has a supporting British cast led by Jenny Abutter.
There was a sequel in the 90s, An American Werewolf in Paris, a rather dire horror comedy with Tom Everett Scott, directed by Anthony Waller. However, it was a particularly uninspired venture.
1. A satisfying blend of the serious and the comic? How serious, how comic? The parallel of the serious and the comic, their contrasts? Response on the level of amusement? Response on the level of being disturbed?
2. The tradition of horror films: the visualising of nightmares, horror stories, scares, shocks? Fantasy, what if... ? The visualising of fears and the facing of fears? The visual techniques, sound techniques? The use of horror films throughout the decades? Their classic status? Popularising old myths, monsters? This film's references to the traditions, references to cinema classics and echoes of these?
3. The role of monsters in nightmares and horror films? Folklore and long traditions? Superstition and religion? Contemporary psychology, symbols of evil? Monsters from the outside which rampage and destroy? monsters symbolising interior shadow? Destruction, persecution, death? Blood and gore associates with the horror? Cannibalism, the fierce animals and symbolism of passion and aggression? The wolf symbol: superstitions about the moon, the seasons? Humans being turned into wolves, an alternate form of the Living Dead? The use of the wolf in iconography? In cinema? The Wolf Man films? The audience response to the wolf? The change of man into wolf? Enhanced here by the Oscar-winning special effects? The horror for the person transformed: suffering, killing? The range of victims? How well did this film draw on these traditions?
4. The title and its reference to past Wolf Man films? The importance of the relationship between Britain and the United States? The long traditions of American innocents abroad in old Europe? This film a modern variation on that theme? The young college students and their wandering, encountering the old world, the different styles and manners of the English to the Americans, the European traditions? The innocents abroad being victimised by the old world and its hostility? The old world trying to help but unable to? The pessimism in the destruction of the American innocents?
5. The film's reliance on music: the variety of versions of 'Blue moon', especially during the credits, the more upbeat version during the final crashes and deaths, final credits? The range of songs? The background music?
6. David and Jack as contemporary American types? Their friendship, banter, ordinariness, crudity etc.? The discussions about being in Italy and the irony of their being lost in North England? The eeriness of the atmosphere? The arrival at the village and the overtones of traditional hostile villagers and townsfolk? Suspicion? The jokes? David and Jack leaving? Wandering, lost, the sounds of the wolf. the sudden violent experience even to Jack's death? To David's ultimate destruction?
7. The portrait of the village and the village types: their inhospitable attitudes, the reactions about the telling of jokes. the cup of tea? Whether they wanted to save Jack and David or not? Their fears? Their behaviour after the death and the cover-up? The doctor's visit later to the village and the explanations? The threats? The atmosphere of evil living in old English villages?
8. The transition to the hospital? The doctor and his treatment, the incidental atmosphere of his running the hospital strictly, the nurses? His visits to David? The American representative and the satire by Frank Oz of the insensitive bureaucrat? The doctor's help? The nurses and their service? David and his illness, inability to eat meals, his reading, nightmares?
9. The suggestions of horror: the location photography in Wales. the nightmares and his running through the forest, the bed in the forest and the horrible face? The nightmare about the ordinary American family watching the Muppets and suddenly the invasion of cinema monsters and their destruction and mayhem? Alex and her presence in the dream. the stabbing and his waking up from a dream from a dream? The ominous reality of Jack's visiting David ? not in dream? His warnings? The explicit spelling out of the living dead and the wolf man theories? Jack's being seen to be dead. the living dead? His worsening throughout the film with his apparitions? Audience disbelieving with David yet believing? The credibility of Jack's visits? The visit in the hospital, in the bathroom at Alex's house, in the porn theatre?
10. Jack's expecting David to change, warning him about the full moon? David's fears, staying at home? The vivid reality of the change, gradually becoming hairy, his limbs elongating, the agony? His going on the rampage? His slaughter of the three old men, the massacre of the visiting couple, the ominous tube chase and the desperate man being killed? His finally going to the zoo and waking up? The horror of what he had done? His encountering the dead in the theatre and his disbelief? The style of their presence ?representing their deaths? Their arguments with him? Their urging him to commit suicide? The sadness of David's phone call to America and his realisation that he must kill himself to save others? The ugly transformation in the theatre and changing ultimately for his death?
11. The final chase, the killings in the theatre. the killing of the obtuse police inspector? The spectacular smash and violence in central London? Its sense of reality as people were actually killed ? with the overtones of comic accidents? The dislocating blend of violence and humour? Alex and the doctor hurrying for the confrontation? Alex and the pathos of her final appeal to him, declaration of love, the monstrous wolf's eyes saddening? His being shot and coming back to himself? The dead innocent in London?
12. How well was the character of David drawn: in himself. friendship with Jack, in hospital, the wisecracking American, the dreams. the disbelief about Jack's visits, growing friendship with Alex, going home, the sexual relationship and his falling in love. staying at home for the day and the mishaps e.g. getting in the window after being locked out, the transformation and his waking up in the zoo, his happiness at being back, the ugliness of the truth, his call and talking to his sister in America. the final meeting with Jack and the arguments with the living dead, his death? victim?
13. Alex as heroine, her work as a nurse, care for David, taking him home, wanting to help? Sexual liaison? Leaving him at home? Collaboration with the doctor? Knowing the prospect of having to kill him? Her gesture of love? The end and her grief?
14. The doctor and his help, visiting the village, discovering the truth? The obtuse policeman and his disbelief, his assistant and the mistakes? The hospital staff?
15. The audience caught up in the situations presented whether plausible or not? Laughs and fear? Reliance on the genres and homage to other films? Material to reflect on?
16. The comic background of the film - the director's work on Animal House, The Blues Brothers etc.? His humorous interludes e.g. Nina and her television personality, the sex film showing at the porn theatre. the comments about the Royal Family and the final dedication to Prince Charles and Princess Diana?
17, An interesting exploration of film genres, playing with audience emotional response, probing mythic and folklorist themes in popular entertainment?