An American Werewolf in London (1981)


Directed by: John Landis

Written by: John Landis

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne

“The undead surround me. Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring! I’m lonely! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others.” — Griffin Dunne as Jack

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My barometer for horror films directly correlates to a scene in the movie Juno in which Ellen Page and Jason Bateman argue over who is the “ultimate master of horror.”

“We’re talking about buckets of goo. I mean, there’s red corn syrup all over the place. There’s fake brains comin’ out the yin-yang,” Bateman says about Herschell Gordon Lewis’ The Wizard of Gore.

That’s what I want from a scary movie. The more over-the-top and outrageous the blood and monsters appear, the better. And boy, do we get over-the-top in An American Werewolf in London.

The movie’s plot is simple enough: Two Americans traveling in the English countryside are attacked by a werewolf. One survives (David Naughton as David), but the other (Griffin Dunne as Jack) sticks around from the afterlife to try and get his friend to kill himself before the next full moon (which, of course, he doesn’t).

Makeup mastermind Rick Baker (Men in Black, A New Hope, The Ring) more than earned the Academy Award he received for working on this film. There are plenty of simple delights from the makeup department, such as the tiny flap of skin that dangles from the undead neck of Jack the first time he visits David from beyond the grave.

There’s also the pleasure in seeing how David continues to decompose each subsequent time he appears on screen. Baker takes real care in simultaneously making you nauseous and giggle.

But the master stroke of this movie comes when David finally transforms into the werewolf. Actor David Naughton had to sit in the makeup chair for 10 hours a day for an entire week of filming to pull the scene off. It was worth it, as Naughton releases blood-curdling screams when each part of his body extends with the skin-crawling sound of bones cracking and stretching. When you watch the scene you can actually see the labor that went into it, as this isn’t a computer-made transformation. All the work is manual, and it’s absolutely remarkable.

An American Werewolf in London is capped by a top-notch soundtrack that features only songs relating to the moon. “Bad Moon Rising” by CCR plays the scene before the transformation, and the doo-wop classic “Blue Moon” keys up as the end credits begin to roll. Each song adds just the perfect spice to the bizarre horror-comedy that unfolds before you.

It’s almost October, which means that there will be a lot of horror movies I need to watch in the next month. Stay tuned, and let me know if there are any favorites you have that should be added to my never-ending list of Films I Should Have Seen By Now.