Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Draw Blood

A post at Mr. Peel's Sardine Liqueur lead me to queue up John Landis' An American Werewolf in London (1981). It fit right into our not-hardcore horror season, and makes a good follow up to The Howling. What was it about the early 80s and comedy-horror werewolf movies? Other than makeup artist Rick Baker, who started working on The Howling, but left to work with his buddy Landis on American Werewolf.

It starts with two American students (graduates?) bumming around Europe. Griffin Dunne wanted to go to sunny Italy, but David Naughton convinced him to hike around on the moors of England first. So we meet them freezing in down parkas in the midst of lovely, forbidding landscape. The pub they stop in, the Slaughtered Lamb, is none too hospitable, either. Downright sinister in fact, so they head back out into the dark and rain, wander off into the moors (although they were warned to stay on the road and "beware the moon"). They meet something horrible. Dunne winds up dead.

Naughton is luckier. He comes to in a London hospital under the tender care of Dr. John Woodvine and especially nurse Jenny Agutter. He is released more or less to her custody - she is strangely drawn to him. But first he has a visit from Griffin Dunne in an advanced state of decay, who explains the mythos to him. And so it unfolds.

For a little while, you could think that the whole thing is in Naughton's mind - then you get the awesome transformation sequence. As I understand it, a werewolf picture stands or falls on the transformation. Sometimes it's a lame time-lapse, sometimes it takes place off screen. This one really satisfies.

Like The Howling, this isn't a jokey comedy - although there are few set pieces that night make you laugh out loud, like the pile-up in Piccadilly. But it isn't social comedy like The Howling. It takes place on a more personal level. Naughton and restless dead Dunne seem like real, rounded characters. I'm betting they are from Landis' personal history. Or maybe they were brothers at Delta Tau Chi back at old Farber College.

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