Film Review: An American Werewolf in London

Bringing a mixture of laughs and scares, HOME Digital Reporter Radhaika Kapur reviews An American Werewolf in London

Adventurous college students rarely heed advice. This is the fact which discerning viewers will recall when David Kessler and Jack Goodman are warned to “keep off the moors!” in the opening scene of An American Werewolf in London. Once the boys have ventured onto the misty moors in the north of England, the events that follow have an equal sense of inevitability. But this doesn’t in any way diminish the surreal quality and entertainment value of Jack Landis’ 1981 cult classic.

After witnessing the savage murder of his travel companion, David (David Naughton) wakes up in hospital profoundly disorientated. He is convinced that Jack (Griffin Dunne) was killed by some kind of wild animal or werewolf. As nightmares and reality rapidly converge Landis uses pure gore and game-changing special effects to depict the undead and the supernatural. The prosthetics and make-up work by Rick Baker are staggering, particularly the protruding vertebrae and maniacal eyes of the werewolf. It is easy to see why he was recognised with an Academy Award. However, the dramatic timing used in the film’s moments of horror somewhat foreshortens their shock value with the result being more gruesome than startling.

All of the gore is tempered by a good helping of humour. From clumsy police investigators to David waking up naked in London Zoo, the tone of this film is tongue-in-cheek and playful. Griffin Dunne does a great turn as the undead Jack, with witty deadpan slights for his tormented friend.

Interestingly, beyond its immediate appeal as an ‘80s horror comedy An American Werewolf in London retains its relevance for contemporary audiences due to its adroit social commentary. Upon entering the Slaughtered Lamb pub in Yorkshire, the Jewish American protagonists are met with suspicion and hostility. Outsiders seem unwelcome and the local residents appear under a collective hex. After an attack takes place, the mass hysteria in the village becomes apparent. There are hints that David’s descent into monstrosity is caused by his paranoia upon learning of the villagers’ anxieties. In today’s socio-political climate of increasing xenophobia and protectionism, Landis’ film can serve as a subtle reminder of the impact of our beliefs.

An American Werewolf in London is as fast-paced as its panting protagonist. Its drama is both ridiculous and unnerving – and it might even leave you looking out for the next blue moon.

An American Werewolf in London screens here at HOME as part of our At HOME in the 80’s season on Thu 20 Dec. Book tickets and find out more here