An American Werewolf In London

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne Directed by: John Landis

Being a “child of the 80s” doesn’t really mean remembering the 80s all that fondly.  I was only three when the 80s began, twelve when they were all said and done.  The first movie I can remember seeing in the theatre was Gremlins.  It scared me pretty bad when the Mogwai turned in to those slimy pupal stages.  Actually, I remember being a lot more scared of those than the actual Gremlins.

It’s probably unnecessary to point out I did not, at the ripe age of four, catch An American Werewolf in London during its original theatrical run.  The problem with films in the 80s that tend to be classified in the “cult” niche is a healthy amount of how much you enjoy the film is based on nostalgia.

An American Werewolf is about two friends, Jack and David, who are assumedly on a trip around Europe.  I say assumedly because they start in England and talk much about their future stop in Italy.  This never comes to fruition as Jack and David are attacked by a werewolf in Yorkshire.  Jack is killed.  As David is playfully scratched on the chest and face by the lycanthrope, the local constable shows up and shoots the beast dead.

David falls in to a shock-induced coma, waking three weeks later.  Scotland Yard informs him that, according to local police and a few eye-witnesses, he and his friend were attacked by an escaped lunatic, not a wild animal.  David refuses to believe his memory of the events could be so incorrectly skewed.  He is plagued by bizarre nightmares.  The mauled corpse of his friend Jack shows up to inform him he was, indeed, murdered by a werewolf and is stuck in limbo as a decaying corpse until the last werewolf of the bloodline which mauled him can be killed.  Unfortunately, it happens to be David himself.

As there must be in a film of the werewolf ilk, there is much of what I like to refer to as Wi, or werewolf incredulity.  The police don’t believe there is a werewolf.  David’s doctor doesn’t believe there is a werewolf.  David’s nurse, and soon to be lover, Alex, doesn’t believe there is a werewolf.  David is inclined to believe he’s a little more crazy than werewolf.  I understand the need for this sort of device in a werewolf film….after all, if somebody told me they were a werewolf, I might be a little on the incredulous side myself…but the amount of time spent on this particular device to flesh out the run time of the film seems a bit excessive

The film is touted as a dark-comedy-horror.  I failed to see the humor.  There is some friendly prattle between Jack and David at the beginning of the film which is mildly humorous, but this is more to establish their friendship than anything.  One of the Scotland Yard Police is a bumbling Inspector Clouseau.  This slapstick seems out of place.  The one funny bit?  There is a running gag wherein every time Jack shows up his walking corpse is a little more decayed.  It’s subtle and dark, just how I like my humor.

At best, the film is uneven.  There is too much downtime.  Too much time in the hospital, more time with David sitting around Alex’s apartment doing nothing, a completely unnecessary and out of place sex scene.  When David finally does become a werewolf, there is a pretty impressive metamorphosis scene, especially considering the time period, but most of what happens when David is actually a werewolf is anti-climactic.  A close-up of a victim followed by a snarl or a short (and slow) chase in a subway shown from David’s point of view so the werewolf doesn’t have to be in view of the camera.

What is most frustrating about Werewolf in London is the potential.  The nightmare scenes are suitably random and nightmarish.  There’s a walking corpse/zombie.  A giant werewolf, of course.  Unfortunately by and large it is slow and plodding, and even when Jack shows up for what you originally think will be comedy relief, every time he simply repeats his mantra, telling David to “kill himself” so he can be freed from purgatory.

If you saw this film when you were young you may have some fond memories of it, but seeing it for the first time in 2010 it feels dated.  It has some good ideas, unfortunately its many parts just never quite congeal, causing it to fall a bit flat.

Written by Ryan Venson