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An American Werewolf in London

An American Werewolf in London
Director and screenwriter John Landis almost knocks it out of the park with a contemporary thriller from 1981 called An American Werewolf in London that is meticulously directed, featuring some first rate visuals, but suffers from a fuzzy screenplay that isn't sure if it's a lampoon of classic werewolf films or an homage.

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are American college students hitchhiking through London when their are attacked by a rabid wolf, that bites David and murders Jack. While recuperating in the hospital and attracting the attention of a pretty nurse (Jenny Agutter), David begins having a bizarre series of nightmares, climaxing with a visit from Jack's spirit, warning him that the bite he suffered will turn him into a werewolf the next full moon and that the only way to save himself from this fate is to kill himself.

Landis' concept of a contemporary horror thriller is okay, but he could have gone a couple of different ways with it. He could have presented a serious valentine to classic werewolf movies, which would have worked if he had committed to it completely. Production values and the direction are detail oriented and seem to imply an homage is coming. On the other hand, certain storytelling elements imply an almost lampoon feeling to the proceedings...most notably, a song score consisting of every song ever heard of with the word "moon" in the title, that seems to imply a more tongue in cheek story coming our way. The uneasy mix of both kinds of movies never really gels into common ground, making us wonder whether or not we're supposed to be laughing. This reviewer found some humor in this story that I'm not sure was intentional.

There were other things that went on here I found troubling and illogical. That opening scene in the pub where the locals are clearly aware of the dangers these guys were going into yet they were all trying to cover it up. Or when authorities actually believed that Jack was brutally murdered by a man and not an animal? No unarmed man could have caused the carnage to Jack's body that occurred. Not to mention the fact that this nurse was dumb as a box of rocks. It took her way too long to figure out what was going on, leading to that silly finale, which I have to wonder might have played differently if she had been alone instead of her being backed up by the torch wielding villagers.

Landis' direction is taut and detailed though, with grand assists from his editing, visual effects, and makeup teams. That first transformation of David into the werewolf is flawlessly executed, genuinely frightening, and just a little heartbreaking watching poor David try to fight it. The makeup effects in this movie were so spectacular that the Academy created a new category that resulted in this film winning the first Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. The film is technically very competent, but the story should have been more committed in its style of execution.