CHRIS: An American Werewolf in London (Landis, UK, US, 1981)

There are several good reasons to stay with the closing credits of AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF …:. There’s the dreamy, doo wap version of BLUE MOON by The Marcels, a couple of jokey credits and a sincere dedication to Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer on the occasion of their marriage. It’s a reminder that London was about to be launched onto the world stage with the greatest fairy tale the world has ever seen.

This was the Dawn of a new stage in the essential, special Anglo-American relationship thanks to Thatch and Reagan’s love-in and this film, in a sense, is an important cultural milestone in an American homage to England. Right from the opening scenes of the rolling moors (Wales doubling for Yorkshire) and the ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub, Landis is creating an Epcot version of England as seen through the lens of Hammer. This was one of the first films to directly reference other genre movies, pre-dating SCREAM significantly, by acknowledging that most of the clues about werewolves come from the movies.

David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) are on a backpacking tour of Europe when they ‘go off the track’ despite the warnings from the locals. Jack is killed and David is treated at a hospital in London, presumably because they haven’t yet discovered medicine ‘up North’, where he is treated by gorgeous Alex Price with her cut-glass accent (Jenny Agutter) and the hilariously deadpan Dr Hirsch (John Woodvine). In the hospital there are some genuinely shocking set pieces as Kessler is taunted by his undead friend Jack – horror-faced Nazis attacking his folks back home and other gory hallucinations.

There’s a full moon expected and Alex invites him back to her place. Thanks to glorious VCR pause button, my teenage-self studied the scenes in Alex’s flat very closely. The transformation scene remains a great technical achievement, Naughton’s brilliantly expressive face combined with Rick Baker’s make-up effects bursting painfully from his face and limbs to the ironic tones of Creedance Clearwater Revival and Sam Cooke with a bendy Micky Mouse looking on, make up a brilliant scene which is great to see on blu-ray as my VHS copy is still a bit jumpy after the shower scene, for some reason.

The comedy and horror elements are finely balanced, as is the romantic relationship between David and Alex, it’s a touching moment at the end, following the slap-stick crashes in Picadilly circus, when Alex says good-bye, despite the blood letting, his demise is poignant tragedy. Bittersweet. The same could be said for Charles and Diana’s fairy tale.

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