An American Werewolf in London (1981) **1/2
D: John Landis
C: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye
Plot Synopsis: Two American college students, on a walking tour of Britain, are attacked by a werewolf. One is killed, the other is mauled. The werewolf is killed, but the surviving student finds that he is now cursed with turning into a werewolf during the full moon.
Review: In An American Werewolf in London, two backpackers are attacked by a wolf like creature. One is killed, the other awakens several weeks later in the hospital. The one who survives is played by David Naughton. After being discharged from the hospital, Naughton is token to his nurse's apartment for a little rendezvous in the shower, the bedroom, etc. It's there that he's warned by the rotting corpse of his fellow friend & backpacker that he'll turn into a werewolf. Guess what happens?
Our hero, so to speak, turns into a werewolf and kills a bunch of people. After returning to human form, Naughton is haunted by the ghosts of his victims in a porn theater of all places. It's there that he turns into a werewolf, yet again, and stalks the streets of London before being gunned down. The end. That's it. The credits roll.
This is a film that is in service of technique versus storytelling, nuance or any kind of context. There's a scene in which our backpacking characters walk hurriedly along a lonely stretch of road, in the middle of the night, after hearing a wolf like howl. The use of sound is effective. It's atmospherically shot. There's tension. Overall, it's a well staged scene.
Another scene, taking place in a porn theater, features gruesome imagery, but also has a cheeky sense of humor. It's the perfect balance of humor & horror. Or, in another instance, there's a werewolf transformation. The makeup & special effects utilized are, for lack of a better word, simply amazing. So amazing that they won Rick Baker an Oscar. And to this day, these effects hold up quite well. Heck, they're better then a lot of the CGI work we see in the films of today with $50 million plus budgets.
However, when it comes to watching movies, do we watch films strictly for special effects and directorial technique? The answer is a resounding no. In regards to David Naughton & Griffin Dunne's characters, they aren't so much characters, but props that are utilized. They recite funny dialogue and don various makeup & prosthetic effects, but there's no dimension to their characters. Jenny Agutter looks as beautiful as ever, but other then making some polite chit chat and having sex with Naughton's character, she serves no distinct purpose.
There's a scene that takes place in a zoo. I don't want to spoil the scene for anyone that hasn't seen this, so I'll just say that it's a funny scene with a clever punch line. It demonstrates Landis' ability to stage comedy, but for those that have seen the film and know what scene I'm talking about, ask yourself this. How does this scene tell the story at hand? I'll answer that for you. It doesn't.
This production is a lot like junk food. It contains plenty of filler & additives. Heck, it even tastes good going down, but it isn't particularly nourishing. An American Werewolf in London is junk entertainment. It has no real depth, but it'll satisfy your immediate cravings for 97 minutes of entertainment. [R] 97 minutes.
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