An American Werewolf in London

David Naughton > Taylor Lautner. This much is obvious. Hell, David Naughton > Joe Mangianello. This movie is fantastic, and it’s because of Naughton.

I mean, it’s also because of John Landis, but I’ll get to him in a moment. I’m about 31 years too late in pointing this out, but what a fantastic, thrilling 90 minutes. Naughton is so much fun to watch, mostly because he’s adorable but also because he’s unknown, innocent, unbridled, a believable, likable guy who doesn’t really understand what’s happening to him. And neither do we, in the audience. Even at the end of the movie, when [really obvious spoiler alert] the werewolf is shot dead and turns back into him, we feel like we’ve been blindsided along with him. How could something so extraordinary happen to someone so regular? That’s mostly where the horror lies. And seeing Nurse Alex’s (the beautiful Jenny Agutter) face well up with dread made the moment that much more tragic.

John Landis is an obvious horror master, because he withholds just enough information. I avoid most horror movies, especially all the modern ones, because I feel like they’re easily categorized into following-the-girl-into-the-dark, shaky-camera-jump-cuts, or lots-of-screaming shitpiles. I just don’t want to get scared by something that sucks. But Landis is tasteful and modest with his scary images. Of course, it helps that the storyline permits Landis to be sparing in his use of gratuitously gross imagery; Naughton’s character, David, has these random gruesome images that pop into and out of his head instantaneously, so the quick-cut works a charm in those cases. But he’s subtle in other ways. Griffin Dunne’s character, Jack, who dies early on, reappears to David in increasingly rotted forms, and Landis encases him in darker shadows each time. It’s really creepy. Even though Jack is David’s friend, and is watching out for him as an undead person, he’s also telling David to kill himself because he’s a monster. It’s extremely morose, and extremely well done.

And the makeup. I suppose this is the most famous accomplishment from the movie, but I was most impressed by the aforementioned undead Jack’s shredded face. Whichever bloody look you prefer, this movie goes to show that we don’t necessarily need hours of CGI to be entertained and shocked. Good old fashioned humans applying makeup to other humans works just as well.

I had the fortunate chance to see this movie at Oakland’s Paramount Theater, which made the whole experience even better; for that night, the normally-majestic art deco walls of the venue became the looming walls of a haunted house, and the demonic werewolf reigned supreme. It’s the only way to see a movie, especially a spectacle like this one.

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2 comments

  1. Matthew Petty (@muteboy) · September 10, 2012

    I love this movie. When the guy on the tube is running up the escalator, and you just see a glimpse of the beast appearing at the bottom – very effective. Plus the scene on the moors of course. I love the very real response to hearing the howl close by.

    And the fantastic Brian Glover as the joke-teller in the pub.
    “- It’s murder, then!
    – Then murder it is.”

    Plus Rik Mayall in an early role!

  2. stef · September 10, 2012

    Yes! The tube scene scared the crap out of me. I was particularly thankful to have a ride back home that night… taking BART would have been especially terrifying.

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