"Beware the moon, David."
John Landis is probably best known by this generation as the director of the "Thriller" video for the King of Pop. He may also be known in more experienced circles as the man behind Animal House (1978) and The Blues Brothers (1980). I think people of my generation have pretty much forgotten his work on a horror-comedy that I found to be supremely entertaining, An American Werewolf in London.
When I say I loved this movie I feel the need to add a very specific asterisk. I love the build up in the movie, but the climax is awful. In fact, it was so anticlimactic that it singlehandedly lowered my final letter grade. As the writer and director of the film, Landis should have known that his special effects could only take him so far - though they are truly fun to look at.
The ending of the film is pretty much thrown into your face from the beginning. This is not a movie that is trying to surprise the audience. Instead, it focuses on the awkward and terrifying build-up to the much copied transformation scene. The American werewolf is played the stiff and seemingly talentless David Naughton. And though he is dry and unsympathetic for the majority of the picture, he is perfection during transformation. It almost seems like it is the only scene he ever rehearsed. It probably was....
The real star of the film in An American Werewolf in London is the special effects and make-up team led by Rick Baker. There is a boyish sense of humorous fun involved when watching Naughton's hands and feet grow to ridiculous size. The growing snout is easily my favorite part of the entire film.The wolf itself does look a little outdated, but it holds up when compared to other monsters of 80's movies. It is also far more frightening than Cheney Jr.'s version from the 1940s. It is no surprise that Baker was awarded the Academy Award for Best Makeup.
I am going to venture out on a limb and say that Landis knew he was making a comedy with horror ideals rather than a horror with some funny moments. The rock and roll, moon themed, soundtrack provides some very funny moments in American Werewolf. Van Morrison's "Moondance" twinkles in the background of a random sex scene. CCR's "Bad Moon Rising" is used to foreshadow the upcoming transformation. My favorite is the opening credits being shown over a smooth rendition of "Blue Moon". This is actually a very funny movie, and music plays a major role in that.
If you are looking for a fun movie to watch in a random October night - I would look no further than American Werewolf. It is not a very scary movie, and the ending is extremely disappointing. Every other aspect of the movie is pure fun. I am curious as to Landis' intentions with this. Did he simply get lazy toward the end, or did he lose focus after seeing the outstanding makeup work? Either way, I enjoyed An American Werewolf in London - just not as much as I could have.
An American Werewolf in London: B-