Let’s take another trip down memory lane and begin our review with two American students backpacking across the gloomy, storm drenched plains of East Proctor, England. In this visceral black comedy, our two estranged Long Islanders–David Kessler and Jack Goodman (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, respectfully) — stumble on to a pub in the middle of nowhere called The Slaughtered Lamb. Awesome. The two are greeted with stares from the clearly agitated, strange local crowd. The unhelpful bunch begins to lighten up after learning the boys are American and the jokes begin to fly. The room goes ice cold when Jack makes light of the blood painted, upside-down pentagram on the far wall. Quickly wearing out their welcome, the two take back to road. When making their exit, a semi-concerned voice from the back of the bar tells the two to stay on the road and stay out of the marsh. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is heading.
Writer-director John Landis received the creative nod after scoring big with such hits as Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). The biggest achievement in the film is the “coming out party” for the special effects Godfather, Rick Baker. Everything from the transformation scenes to the ghostly revisits David has from his departed and rapidly decaying best bud, the make-up and effects are light years ahead off it’s time–earning Baker the well deserved Oscar.
Many critics did not review Werewolf at the time, due to it’s graphic nature and some even lobbied for it to be rated X. Well, shame on them! What they missed, my little fright fiends, was the birth of the true horror-comedy. These type of films are now “a dime a dozen” delivering watered-down returns. You see, what made Landis’ blood splattered masterpiece so special in the early eighties was it’s extremely rare, yet perfect mix of gore and giggles. Every aspect, down to the kick-ass soundtrack was carefully planned and executed. Sam Cook’s version of the classic song Blue Moon will invoke a different feeling inside after viewing this film, guaranteed.
What little the film lacks (direction at times) is vastly overshadowed by perfectly pitched jokes mended into grizzly, head turning scenes (remember this during the movie theater sequence). Landis wrote the first draft at 19 years of age (amazing) and kept material light in nature. The script’s success was due to the coveted director not taking himself too seriously, even after mass notoriety. He achieved this by sticking to the basics: the story of a modern man who is left to battle an ancient curse.
What drew John Landis back to the story time after time, draft after draft, is what draws us all in: the superstition of the werewolf. Sorry Lon Chaney, An American Werewolf in London is the benchmark of all Lycan flicks.
Rating: 9 out of 10 Ghouls