Retro Review: ‘An American Werewolf in London’

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We Spoil the Movie. We are not sorry. You should go watch it. 

John Landis’ horror-comedy, An American Werewolf in London, doesn’t feel very refined, and I love it for that and its abrupt and perfect ending. This is a film that knows when to push away from the table after it’s had enough to eat. That’s not me trying to be cute.

How many times have you watched a movie that should have ended ten minutes before it eventually did? Piles on top of piles of worthless celluloid generated in the pursuit of perfection or marketability by people lacking the vision or guts to close a story with a little ambiguity or bleakness. Let it be messy. Don’t sand it down, because when you do that you wear away all of its points and remove all of those bits that will stick in your skin and give you an infection. The good kind of infection… the bad kind of analogy… I digress.

She loves him. He pauses and then lunges for her. He is an animal and then he’s dead and naked and human again. So human, so naked. End credits. John Landis didn’t even fade to black. 1981 John Landis was a punk rocka.

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So too is makeup effects mastermind Rick Baker. The transformation from David Naughton’s victimized (but selfish) college student to a werewolf looked about as good as was possible in 1981, but it’s Baker’s outrageous work on Griffin Dunne’s evolving decay and the other un-dead victims that really impresses.

As for David Kessler (Naughton), he’s a bit of a dick. David initially sprints away from Jack as he is being attacked by the stray wolf and later rejects Jack’s pleas for him to take his own life so that he can free his friend from limbo and not turn into a beast that will eat and kill innocent people.

Why is David risking the life of Jenny Agutter’s comely nurse character by sleeping in her bed? What is David waiting for in the theater after Jack introduces him to (and defends him from) the six un-dead victims that David had killed the night before? The answers are obvious and his actions are, honestly, relatable (in as much as one can relate to a werewolf), but the point is that Landis deserves praise for drawing a protagonist that goes against the grain and represents the more base human characteristics of self-preservation and denial in the midst of a frightening situation that demands self-sacrifice.

An American Werewolf in London works because David doesn’t die heroically. He’s a monster and it’s brilliant and free of redemption and Hollywood polish.

Posted on by September 17, 2014
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About Jason

Jason writes words for Uproxx and occasionally contributes to Den of Geek, Screen Rant and Comic Book Resources. He is a Bill Murray enthusiast and a bearded knuckleballer. Jason has ridden an elephant, a camel, and a mechanical bull. He will defend the cultural value of late night comedy until the sun burns itself out and his spirit animal is Rickey Henderson. Jason is really getting used to this whole "referring to himself in the third person" thing.
  • Mark Shaw

    And it’s the best Werewolf I’ve ever seen in 45 yrs