An American Werewolf in London (1981)

17 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: **1/2

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Have you ever seen a movie that has you invested for the first hour-and-a-half, but then a completely lackluster ending totally lets you down? “An American Werewolf in London” is an example of that kind of movie for me. It started and continued in an intriguing, entertaining way with a divine story and script, but the anticlimactic ending keeps me from recommending this movie. It’s as if the movie wasn’t finished and the filmmakers just made do with what they had.

That’s a real shame because director John Landis had something good going here. It’s as if he spent too much time on sequences and special effects that he didn’t think to create a better resolution. Just when the last shot shows a quite unexpected anticlimactic image, boom! The credits roll! Why?

Landis has made better movies, such as “National Lampoon’s Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers.” He had something good here- a “horror-comedy”; part comedy, part horror. The movie’s plot features two young American men, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), who go backpacking on the English moors in London. They run into a pub with strange locals with weird behavior. One of them warns the fellows, “Beware the moon and stick to the road.” They don’t. That’s when the howling is heard. A werewolf attacks the two—Jack is dead and David is severely injured.

A few days later, David wakes up in the hospital where he falls for an attractive nurse (Jenny Agutter). But things go bad when Jack, now a decomposing “undead” corpse, visits David and warns him that on the next full moon, David will become a werewolf and kill people. He advises him to take his own life, and David doesn’t want to believe or listen to him.

As the movies goes along, David is released from the hospital, moves in with the nurse, and keeps receiving warnings from Jack, who is not looking real good every time he visits. He keeps advising David to commit suicide. But David doesn’t, and wouldn’t you know it—on the full moon, David does turn into a werewolf and runs around London, taking lives, and wreaking havoc among Piccadilly Circus. If only he had listened to Jack…

Some of the best moments in this movie belong to Dunne. Despite decaying in his corpse form, he still acts and talks like a college student. The very best things about this movie are Rick Baker’s spectacular and convincing makeup and effects. His creature effects and makeup help make for a terrific and horrifying scene in which David slowly but surely morphs into a werewolf. First, his hands grow into claws, then his feet become paws, and finally, his face changes into a face of fangs and a snout. It’s just so painful and it looks so convincing. The special effects here are definitely first-rate.

“An American Werewolf in London” starts out with a neat idea, a good script with some witty dialogue, and a nice cast. But when the movie ended, I was very disappointed. I won’t give the final act away, but when it arrives, there’s not a feel that the movie is over. And at no point did I feel there was any sort of dramatic (or even any at all) resolution. It’s just so sudden, so anticlimactic, and so frustrating to me. What a shame too, because I really wanted this to continue. It’s a huge letdown, and unfortunately it kept me from recommending “An American Werewolf in London.”

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