An American Werewolf in London (1981) Review

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(An American Werewolf in London - 1981 - CC. Universal Pictures)
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“Queen Elizabeth is a man! Prince Charles is a faggot! Winston Churchill was full of shit! Shakespeare’s French!” – David, An American Werewolf in London (1981)

You know, the one reason I wanted to watch this film was because Rik Mayall has a cameo like role in it. Hell, it was early on in the film so whatever the case, I was looking forward to it. What I have noticed quite frequently is that, I haven’t watched all that many older films. Time to fix that with a few classically older film reviews. What better way to start than with a John Landis classic. So aside from the Rik Mayall cameo and the need to watch other films, what was I really watching this film for? No bloody clue. Oh yeah, I spotted good old reliable Brian Glover in this film too, that guy from Alien 3 (1991).

See, I say a John Landis classic, but to be quite honest I’ve not ever watched a John Landis film before. Not that I know of anyways. Turns out this is in fact the only John Landis film I have ever seen. I’ve not seen Animal House (1978) or the infamous Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983). To be fair, at this point in time given my current DVD collection, I have no interest in watching them. Maybe I should work my way through the DVDs I already have before I go out and buy Trading Places (1983). Just checked my collection, I’ve bought Trading Places recently.

But that is quite wildly not the point whatsoever. What I like about this film the most is its simplicity at the beginning and how it swiftly devolves throughout. Two hitchhikers from America head to England and are warned not to stray off the path. Because Americans are stereotypically stupid, they stray off the path. David is the only survivor, and he wakes up three weeks later to find himself slowly turning into a werewolf. Now I always thought this film was going to focus on the chemistry between the two hitchhikers, but David is the only one that doesn’t die so what do I know.

Landis’ direction throughout is fantastic (An American Werewolf in London – 1981 – CC. Universal Pictures)

One of the biggest problems for me is the chemistry between David and Alex Price. I presume a romance arc is integral because it gives that wild feeling of werewolves or something. Obviously that doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. Romance plots were extremely popular in the 80s and no film makes that clearer than this. Honestly I did think it was quite bad, I didn’t enjoy it whatsoever. I was there for the werewolves, not for the bloody love plot which was stapled on so poorly.

To give credit where it’s due, the chemistry in the early portion of the film and the big twists and turns later on are phenomenally well done. My main issue however is that the majority of the characters, beside David, are very dull. They’re almost 2D at times. Quite honestly any character that isn’t David is just not worth engaging with. For the most part they’re just there because you can’t base a film off of one person. Still, David Kessler gives a brilliant performance with some truly memorable scenes throughout. Yes, I do mean that Werewolf transformation scene.

See, there are a lot of scenes in this that are remembered as being classic bits of film. On the other hand, there are some other bits of the film that are completely useless. A lot of the scenes in the hospital were pretty useless and some of the actors were genuinely quite terrible. But that being said, when Landis builds a scene, he really takes the time to carefully craft it. I remember being genuinely terrified by the build up to the first sighting of the werewolf. Not many horror films can get me to look away from the screen, but An American Werewolf in London managed it twice.

I genuinely forgot this scene actually happened (An American Werewolf in London – 1981 – CC. Universal Pictures)

Visuals is where An American Werewolf in London is truly able to shine. I can’t really talk about it without spoiling the film, but to be fair, this film is almost forty years old at this point. Jack dies however is integral to the plot over the course of the film, constantly popping up to David and telling him to kill himself. No, I’m really not joking this actually happens. The visual props used to show how Jack is decomposing is truly phenomenal, especially given the time period the film released.

Music is one of my growing and favourite parts of film. To say that the music in this film isn’t utilised properly is an understatement. The film opening with Blue Moon playing over the opening credits was a great introduction. Actually one of the best parts of this film is in fact the music. Pretty much all the music in this film has “Moon” in the song title and I love those little bits of detail from Landis. I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Landis just yet, however watching some of his further work may definitely fix that problem. Only time will tell I suppose.

Verdict

There are very few films out there that illicit no emotional response whatsoever. With An American Werewolf in London, I did get some laughs out of it, but I think that’s more the wrong reaction than anything. To be fair, it was a very scary film. Well, not that scary. The editing, cinematography and the werewolf itself has really aged fairly poorly. I think horror/comedy is a sound and acceptable choice for the genre of this film. Although scary and tense, it sometimes breaks that up with some hilariously out of touch moments. It’s completely down to you whether or not they’re supposed to be funny, my guess is that it isn’t.

Still, it’s a classic in every regard and definitely worth watching. Not because it has a cemented legacy as a film, because to be quite honest I don’t believe it truly does. It’s not really a cult classic and at the same time isn’t one of those films everyone is dying to see. No, it’s a bit in the middle of those, which is a very difficult place to be. The horror has aged poorly, and it now feels like something of a B-Movie horror flick. Possibly the scariest part of this film is in fact how hostile Yorkshiremen are towards Americans.


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REVIEW OVERVIEW
An American Werewolf in London
Ewan Gleadow
I've been writing for various different places for roughly four or five years now. Currently focusing my writing on film reviews, politics and occasional game reviews. Hopefully you enjoy my work, be sure to contact me if you have any criticisms or praise.

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