Saturday, December 10, 2011

Werewolf Of London!

1981 was, as it turned out, the year of the werewolf. In that year three werewolf movies hit the theaters -- The Howling, Wolfen, and American Werewolf in London. And as it turns out, they are all very different werewolf movies and all pretty good. Wolfen is a moody and very atmospheric thriller, The Howling is a self-aware and taught romp, but American Werewolf in London by director John Landis might the best of the trio.

It does have its flaws though for sure.

The story is a humdinger. Two young American tourists run afoul of a werewolf on the moors in a remote English village and one is killed outright and the other transformed. But this movie is at once a funny flick rich with characters and character and at times a pretty intense little horror movie.

Giffin Dunne is outstanding as the murdered friend who returns as a ghost spokesman for those killed by werewolves. His blase acceptance of his fate makes it work much more effectively than any bit of high anxiety might've done.

Jenny Agutter is gorgeous and offers up an exceedingly robust performance as the nurse who cares for the wounded tourist who is slowly becoming a monster.

David Naughton is the reason though that this movie doesn't deliver as well as it ought. It's not his fault really, he tries, but his acting has always bothered me in this movie. He seems clearly an amateur among a gang of pros and his charm though evident doesn't overcome some really awful line delivery.

It doesn't help that practically all the other actors in the piece are from the London stage and so bristle with real acting chops. Naughton stands out not only as a lone American among Londoners, but as a novice actor among real pros.

The movie is famous for its special effects, and Rick Baker's work here is quite good, even revolutionary. In these modern days of CG, it's always nice to settle in with a movie that has to do things the hard way, so makes the most of the little monster action it can afford. Horror is about the unseen, and that caveat is often forgotten by modern movie makers who can show virtually anything they can imagine. It might be grotesque, it might be grim, but it rarely is horror.

This movie gets there with some slick edits and some judicious use of make-up and true physical effects. All of them don't work as well as they might, but they hold up effectively enough to keep the flick rolling.

American Werewolf in London is a charming movie that is at once a romance, a comedy, and a decent horror flick. That's a lot to do and it does it for the most part.

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