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Friday, October 16, 2009

An American Werewolf In London

     1981 was a great year for werewolves. Not only did we get "The Howling" and "Wolfen", but we were treated to one of the all-time greats, "An American Werewolf In London"- a film that brilliantly mixes humor and horror to create a great monster movie.

      Dr. Pepper's David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are two American students on vacation in England.  While lost in the foggy Yorkshire moors on a full moon, they are attacked by a vicious unknown animal.  In shock after the death of his friend, David Naughton is wounded and hospitalized.  Plagued by bad dreams, he begins to see his dead friend's corpse urging him to commit suicide before the next full moon.  Dunne informs him that he will soon become a werewolf and kill others.  A nurse, Jenny Agutter, ends up taking Naughton home to nurse him back to good health... which leads us to one of the most astonishing transformation scenes in movie history.

     Featuring legendary, still impressive transormation effects (and male nudity...), "An American Werewolf In London" is an almost perfect werewolf movie.  Rick Baker's special effects were so impressive and astonishing, in fact, that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences created a specific category at the Oscars for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup.  Hard to believe that before this movie, there was no category for best makeup or special effects in the Oscars.  This was back when special effects people actually earned their paychecks without the help of computers and CGI- and one only need to look at the atrocious sequel, "An American Werewolf In Paris" to see the difference between the two. Michael Jackson was so inspired by "An American Werewolf In London" that he based his iconic "Thriller" video on the movie.

     Blending a wicked sense of humor with the horror, it's an unforgettable creature feature with effects that look more realistic than a lot of CGI used today.  And what other film you can think of that merges gut-wrenching black comedy with gruesome horror so well?  In the hands of a less-talented director, this could have come across as nothing more than a horror spoof ("Scary Movie", anybody?)  or cartoonish like "The Evil Dead", but John Landis handles the material with definite ease.  Ignored by audiences back in 1981, probably because audiences just weren't ready for something like this, it's now widely considered a bona fide classic of 80's horror.


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