19 February 2011

OMENS: An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London

Starring David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter
Written & Directed by John Landis
Release: 21 August 1981
Universal, 97 mins., Rated R

Werewolf movies. Difficult to make a good one, it seems. Not like I’ve had a helluva lot of experience outside those paranormal teen romance things, but I haven’t seen anything quite like AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. And that’s a compliment. The movie is quite impressive, and not only just because of the werewolf make-up and all that jazz. AMERICAN WEREWOLF works on multiple levels.

First and most obviously, it works exceptionally well as a horror movie. The scene near the ending in the subway will continue to haunt my brain for many weeks to come. Not as terrifying as the Nothing from NEVERENDING STORY, but nearly at that point. Director John Landis excelled at creating and maintaining atmosphere. The opening twenty minutes when David and Jack are walking around the Yorkshire field and are surrounded by this strange beastly noise until (HOLY SHIT!) it attacks. The speed and suddenness of the attack, complimented by the frakking horrifying sound of the werewolf, literally made me jump in my seat, and that successfully happened at multiple instances later in the movie when Jack’s transformation is complete. So, yea, the scares definitely succeed in the jump category. Anyway, back to atmosphere, that good ol’ sense of dread and the expectation of something really shitty about to happen is absolutely abundant in nighttime scenes (the movie almost takes a 360 turn into the world of, dare I say, comedy during daytime sequences), and the tension when an character, no matter who, is in a desolate place and we just know the wolf in getting ready to pounce on its prey. Kudos John Landis, you sucked me into this movie and literally wouldn’t let me go.

That thing I said about a comedy tone – yep, not lying. David is a bit of a funny guy, either through actually saying a joke or just being honest or his dumb interactions with people, laughter and smirking will ensue. Another unforgettable scene that happens later in the movie that’s so bloody funny and weird and so perfectly British at the same time is when Jack is confronted by the people he killed the evening prior in his wolf state at a porno theater. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and the dialogue is just as brilliant. I’ll just say it now: the script, also by Landis, is top-notch. Dimensional characters (give or take), got that. Good if not great werewolf bits, absolutely check. Nudity, oh yes. Actually succeeding as a horror movie: check again.

Hell, even the human side of the movie – the part everyone, including myself, expects to drag and just waste running time – is just as compelling as the werewolf. They may not be the most realistic couple (moving into her flat, professing his love two days later, etc.), but David and Nurse Alex are freakin’ adorable and lovable. All the scenes with the two of them are highlights of the movie, I kid you not. I loved their relationship, and if I have one complaint about the final seconds, it doesn’t allow either Jack or Alex to have that letting go moment, or a few seconds of grief. Bahg! And thanks to the casting of David Naughton as, ahem, David, and the very clever script by Landis, David becomes an awesome, relatable, funny guy, and the inevitability of the film has a certain sadness and tragedy because you actually like the guy. Sorry if I seem so astonished by this fact, but I can’t say I’ve been too in love with the human part of werewolves from what little experience I’ve had. Just last year, Benicio del Toro’s Lawrence Talbot was utterly flat and carried zero dimension. His fate – couldn’t care less. David’s – it was like I was watching a friend’s life go down the bucket.

Other fantastic elements of the movie already highly remarked on is the ironically upbeat soundtrack that is just so perfectly juxtaposed scenes of great horror and pain and the make-up effects by Rick Baker. David’s transformation exactly an hour in is awe-inspiring and beautiful. As for the wolf face, it’s still very impressive, but Baker will successfully outdo himself years later with 2010’s WOLFMAN, displaying some absolutely gorgeous wolf makeup. But as far as transformations go, I find myself more in love with this 1981 take over the digital effects heavy 2010 version.

AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON is about as close to perfect as I can imagine for a werewolf movie. I loved it, and I plan on owning it in the immediate future. Watch it now.

Netflix Rating: Loved It

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