An American Werewolf in London
From the director of Animal House... a different kind of animal.
Year of Release: 1981
Running Time: 97 minutes (1:37)
Director: John Landis
David Naughton ... David Kessler
Jenny Agutter ... Nurse Alex Price
Griffin Dunne ... Jack Goodman
John Woodvine ... Dr. J. S. Hirsch
David Schofield ... Dart Player
Brian Glover ... Chess Player
Rik Mayall ... 2nd Chess Player
Lila Kaye ... Barmaid
John Landis ... Man Being Smashed into Window (uncredited)
Blending the macabre with a wicked sense of humor, director John Landis delivers a contemporary take on the classic werewolf tale in this story of two American tourists who, while traveling in London, find their lives changed forever when a vicious wolf attacks them during a full moon.
An American Werewolf in London, remindin' all the Brits out there to kennel their American werewolf tourists on the night of the full moon; lest they escape and frighten David Bowie into musical collaborations with Nine Inch Nails.
And speakin' of guys known for producin' unfortunate sound effects, Skunky Hernandez called to order the 7th Annual 'Meetin' at the Maze,' which, for those of ya who don't know, is basically a half dozen of us guys sittin' around eatin' drive-in nachos tellin' Skunky everything wrong with his plans for the Halloween Sage Maze and havin' our concerns dismissed outta hand.
Chunkhead even got ahold of a gavel this year and somehow it's even more absurd than in past years when he used a meat tenderizer and a strip of bubble wrap, but... well, hell, it'd probably save time to just show ya the transcript. Normally I'd try explainin' to 'im why it might not be such a hot idea to do the future prosecutor's work for 'im, but I figured this way I'd be on record as havin' tried to stop whatever insanity he's got planned when he finds 'imself in court. Anyway, here's the breakdown.
Chairman Hernandez: Okay people, Sage Maze een three weeks - I want progress reports and whoever took gavel to geev back thees eenstant.
[Name redacted] Me: Skunky, why do I hafta be here? I've got a lotta work to do Autumnizin' the house, and besides that alls I do is run the projector.
Skunky: You has most eemportant job of all, pendejo! Eef you not there movies not start! Thees why I make you Entertainment Director! And what ees 'Autumnize?'
Me: Know how you always spend the first week of November pickin' toilet paper outta the sagebrush?
Me: I don't hafta do that.
Skunky: How come?
Me: 'Cause I took the collection of fishnet stalkins Bambi Pankins left behind when we broke up, fastened 'em together, and fashioned my own version of the Israeli Iron Dome. Alls you gotta do is stretch it around the perimeter of your property and when the T.P. hits it the tension launches it back at the attacker. Even works on eggs as long as you don't pull it too tight.
Skunky: Hmmm... we talk later 'bout thees. Een meantime, what movies we show?
Me: Don't Look in the Basement, and Messiah of Evil - the public domain's finest.
Skunky: Muy bueno. You cain be seated.
Me: Yeah, on the floor - you didn't bring enough chairs ya dumb sh--.
Skunky: Security Chief Tankersley, how goes recon meeshun eento enemy territory?
Duke: You mean them wild folks livin' in your scrubland?
Skunky: Si - brush barbarians very bad for beesness.
Duke: Good people. Cook their meat a little too long, but other'n that I like 'em fine.
Skunky: (incomprehensible confused Spanish)
Duke: His battery cable burn out or's he need an exorcist?
Me: Um... I think he's just a little surprised that you've been hangin' out Where the Wildlings Are and lived to shrug about it.
Duke: Their hygiene's better'n his (gesturing towards Skunky), and they're willin' to play along and spook the kids if he'll let 'em run a trap line on the south end, away from the cattle.
Skunky: ...hombre loco de la montana!
Me: Skunky, getcher cabesa outta yer culo already and try to keep up here! (throws a glass of water into Skunky's face)
Skunky: Skuze me, I um, ees beck now. Foreman Tetnis, how comes landscaping of maze?
Tetnis: Well, I'm sorry to report that your cousins are ****ing morons.
Skunky: Si, si. Thees ees problem.
Tetnis: Yesterday I had to reattach two thumbs, dig a man out from underneath a rock jack, and kill a badger with a set of hedge clippers while it was attached to a guy's...
Mrs. Sadie: The POOR little thing!
Tetnis: Nah, nothin' serious. It wasn't severed or anything.
Me: Think she meant the badger.
Skunky: Ay yai yai... Armando - I tell him ever only to wheez een hole smaller than hees feest, but he no leesten. Nevair was quite right again aftair dump truck driver bury heem een onions and knock off for lunch.
Me: Is this goin' somewhere?
Skunky: Had to eat hees way out, you know.
Tetnis: Anyway, we're still on schedule and should remain on it so long as none of 'em figure out how to start the chainsaw.
Skunky: Si. I cut starter rope before bed tonight. Press Secretary Bonebreak - how ees advertisement comeen?
Mrs. Sadie: First, I just want tell everyone what an honor it is to have been elected press secretary, and that I promise to do everything in my--.
Duke: Ma'am, I'm not sure you understand - this work prep we're doin' here's for Halloween 2021.
Mrs. Sadie: I don't understand what you mean...
Me: He means at the rate you're goin' our AARP applications're gonna show up in the mail before you get to the point.
Mrs. Sadie: Oh... I'm sorry... I just...
Tetnis: That's no way to talk to a lady, half-pint. (cracks knuckles) Now, we can do this one of two ways: 1) You can apologize, or 2) I can carve an incision in your back with my buck knife, shove my arm inside, and apologize for you with my amateur ventriloquism routine.
Me: You do ventriloquism?
Tetnis: You wanna find out?
Me: (to Mrs. Sadie) I'm sorry.
Mrs. Sadie: (recovering) It's okay, I know you were only kidding. So the layout spread is all finished except for the movie titles, which I now have, and... why do you need me modeling for it again? I'm flattered, of course, but...
Tetnis: Because you're the only person we trust to entice the population of Chickawalka County into visiting the Maze with dignity and class.
Me: (quietly to Duke) I think he meant big tiddy 'n ass.
Tetnis: You say somethin' over there, runt?
Me: Uh... I was just wonderin' which character she'd decided to cosplay for the ad - could be a make or break deal, ya know?
Skunky: Si! Runt ees right! Who you dress as for flyer?
Mrs. Sadie: Well, Sadie and I talked it over and we really like the Elvira costume.
Me: I don't think that's a good idea.
Mrs. Sadie: Why not? Don't you think I'd make a good Elvira?
Me: No, I think you'd make TOO good an Elvira.
Duke: The heck you talkin' 'bout?
Me: Have you considered Lily Munster? Or Morticia Addams?
Mrs. Sadie: We did, but what's wrong with--.
Me: Skunky, you put her in that... um... figure-enhancing getup and mail a glamour shot of it to the entire town, the City Council's gonna poach your huevos.
Skunky: They ees MY huevos, and I decide--.
Me: Fine! Have it your way! Just let the record show that I tried to prevent Juanita's widowing and the avalanche of divorce filins once the Desperate Housewives of Chickawalka County find that flyer tacked up in the garage above their husbands' workbenches.
Skunky: Whatevare, Mrs. Sadie be perfect Elvira! Meeting ajourn... only, where ees gavel?!
I don't really know why, but I'm gonna miss that guy when he's inevitably brought up on public obscenity charges and put away for 8 - 10 years.
Anyway, I don't wanna go into too much detail 'cause it's October, and in October we make a point of rehashin' the classics that've already been hashed to the point of bein' suitable substitutes for corned beef. I have no idea why we do this, but that's how most traditions stick around - it's just easier to keep 'em up than to try figurin' out why you've been repeating a cycle your whole life and riskin' havin' to accept what a waste of time its been. Excellent flick this week though - not quite American, not quite British, but it's got three different versions of "Blue Moon" and John Landis managed not to get any beloved character actors killed this time around, so I'd say that makes it an unqualified success. You've probably already seen this one a coupla dozen times, but I'd like to provide a few of my own personal insights into what may be the only flick you ever see with the guts to depict the funny side of Nazi monster home invasions set to old Muppet Show reruns. First, running nude through the streets of London is only considered socially acceptable after a FIFA Cup victory, or when accompanied by Yakety Sax. Second, outpatient physical therapy with Jenny Agutter puts the National Health Service leaps and bounds ahead of Obamacare. And third, just 'cause a woman's runnin' headlong into the jaws of a werewolf's no excuse to stiff the cabbie to try stoppin' 'er.
The movie begins with these Americans (David and Jack) thumbin' a ride with Angus the sheepherder in northern Britain as part of the upper-middle-class coming-of-age backpacking across Europe ritual to find themselves with the aid of mom and dad's Visa card, only they can't really find themselves 'cause they're all shriveled up from the freezin' arse cold and so they duck into The Slaughtered Lamb pub where nobody's in a big hurry to welcome ungrateful Yankee traitors. Eventually the chaps in the bar warm up to 'em a little bit and lighten the mood with some mildly racist American levity, but things get real tense when David and Jack notice the pentagram and Hammer House of Horrors matching candle gift set on the wall and start askin' what time Aleister Crowley's shift starts, but things really go tits up when one of 'em accidentally breaks a commemorative Newcastle United 1973 Texaco Cup Champions mug and upset one of the local dart hooligans. The guys decide they'd rather not end up bein' the football at the bottom of a rugby scrum, so they go traipsin' across the rangeland even after the Brits tell 'em to stay on the road, and next thing ya know all their tone-deaf crooning angers both moon and moor and they get jumped by a snarling, hairy vocal coach who mangles Jack's mutton and puts the bite on David. Fortunately the barflies find their stiff upper lips and quit makin' like Sergeant Schultz long enough to find David and blast the beast, after which they dump 'im off at the emergency room like an inadequate frat pledge and gas it back to the pub before Churchill's ghost rises from the grave to polish off their half-finished pints. David wakes up a few weeks later in London General and starts cryin' wolf but the investigators from Scotland Yard tell 'im his attacker was just a grade school student who turned cannibal after rentin' Anthropophagus. After continuing to lobby unsuccessfully for an amendment to The Dangerous Wild Animals Act of 1976 he spends the next few days bein' slowly poisoned with British hospital food by the nurse (Alex) and havin' nightmares where he's runnin' through the woods in the buff chewin' venison straight off the bone and watchin' his family get massacred by Nazi Rawhead Rexes with automatic weapons in the middle of The Muppet Show.
Then things start gettin' weird when Jack shows up lookin' like an extra from one of those movies they make ya watch in traffic safety school after you get drunk and wake up in the park with the front end of your Camero embedded in the jungle gym, and he tells David that it was a werewolf that got 'im and that he's stuck in Death's waitin' room until Bloods MacKenzie's entire extended family (which now includes David) goes to the big dog park in the sky. Jack also tells 'im that he's gonna get hairier than George 'the Animal' Steele and start actin' out the lyrics of Duran Duran singles on nights when the moon is full - so if he could just kill himself before that happens he'd really consider it a solid. David tries tellin' Alex about his zombestie and how he's gonna need a 200 pack of disposable Bic razors, only by this point the National Health Service's already hadda hock the crown jewels to keep 'im alive, so instead of gettin' 'im a shrink the hospital just discharges 'im and sends 'im home with Alex so he can sleep over and sample the fish 'n hips basket. Then David gets up to tinkle and finds Jack lurkin' in the loo lookin' more'n more like a 150lb compost heap, and Jack explains for the last time that there's gonna be a full moon tomorrow and that the judicial system in limbo's already more backed up than the United States immigration court without him goin' feral and addin' more bodies to the queue. Meanwhile, the Dean of Medicine (Hirsch) at the clinic starts wonderin' if there might be somethin' to David's lunatic ravins and paralyzin' fear of rolled-up newspapers and decides to visit the scene of the maulin' where one of the drunks tells 'im that David's gonna start unrollin' the toilet tissue all over the house and draggin' his butt on the carpet when the moon gets full. 'Course it's too late to do anything about it now, 'cause David's already joined the hair club for men and gone out to make London broil outta rambunctious yuppies and uptight subway passengers, and by the time he wakes up nekkid with two bitches inside the wolf enclosure at the zoo the next mornin' he has no idea what he's gotten up to.
Then he gets cheeky and goes slinkin' around Kensington till he's able to steal a woman's overcoat and dress up like a nutcracker to conceal his bollocks so the bobbies won't toss 'im in the nick, only when he finally makes it home Hirsch calls and tells Alex to bring David to the hospital 'cause he thinks he may be responsible for the Jack the Russell slayings that occurred last night in Whitechapel. Unfortunately, David hasta find out about the killins from a cab driver in Trafalgar Square, and he's so grief-stricken that he starts slanderin' British political figures in public tryna get arrested but nobody'll haul 'im in 'cause they don't like Margaret Thatcher either. David's just about at the end of his leash, so he decides to phone home and tell his little sister he loves 'er and not to look under his mattress before pullin' out his pocket knife and chickenin' outta cuttin' his wrists. Then he looks up and sees Jack wavin' 'im into a porno theater, and by now Jack's reached the final stage of decomposition where ya start to resemble the aliens from They Live if their faces'd been set on fire and the flames beaten out with a rake. This time Jack decides to take a new approach, so instead of warnin' David about what could happen he shows 'im what *did* happen, and hosts a little meet 'n greet with all the dead folks David gnawed on the night before until they lay a zombie guilt trip on 'im while debatin' the pros and cons of various methods of suicide. Unfortunately, their advice goes unheeded, and David starts goin' to the dogs right in the middle of Debbie Does Aberdeen and pretty quick we've got a riled, sexually frustrated mob of pub crawlin' eurotrash demandin' entry to the theater while London Metropolitan tries to brace the entrance so they won't hafta spend the next day at a press conferences answerin' questions about who let the dogs out. Can't say much more about this one without givin' up the endin', but suffice to say, the big bad wolf may have a tougher go of it this time around considerin' the piggies have semi-automatic weapons.
Alrighty, there it is, the reason John Landis has managed to get himself interviewed for every genre documentary for the last 20 years and score a directorial gig for the Masters of Horror series. Don't get me wrong, An American Werewolf in London is one of the best werewolf flicks ever made and has held up remarkably well in the 40 years after its release - I just don't think two horror titles (he also did Innocent Blood in 1992) puts him in the same company as guys like Hitchcock, Carpenter, Bava, Craven, Romero, Fulci, Argento, or Tobe Hooper, ya know? Landis was, and is, a comedy guy (and a damn good one), and paradoxically, that is probably his biggest contribution to the horror genre because most directors just can't get the balance right. Landis, however, because of his background, produced what may be the definitive example of what a Horror/Comedy should be, and for that he deserves credit. The humor isn't always subtle, but it's effective and has an in-the-moment sort of authenticity that provides numerous chuckles that never diminish the horrific aspects of the movie. I think what makes it so special is that, at its core, it's just an incredibly expensive, slick, well-produced drive-in flick that's so polished it succeeds in appealing to a broader audience. I realize that might sound ridiculous given that the pacing is pretty leisurely and the audience actually cares about the characters, but it's very gruesome, comes dangerously close to showing full-frontal male nudity on multiple occasions, features a sequence that takes place in a porno theater (albeit without any hardcore footage), and most importantly - with the exception of the transformation sequence, all of this "objectionable" content is completely gratuitous. So, why does any of that matter? Probably doesn't, really. I just mention it because there haven't been a lot of ten million dollar drive-in movies, and that makes it a bit unique in the history of film. Though I suppose I also like pointing it out for the people who believe it to be such a work of cinematic excellent that it transcends being a horror film and rises above the audience that made it successful, and in the process, earning it a sort of legendary status which only the truly enlightened can appreciate. I also like the idea that there're actually folks out there who can watch a man run nekkid through downtown London covering his gondolas with party balloons and consider it high art - never change, you guys.
In any event, we prolly oughta run through this thing to make sure there aren't any silver bullets that may threaten to fell the flick's legacy, so let's get to it. The plot actually unfolds a little slowly, and without the traditional opening scare that usually accompanies American horror flicks. However, the reduced action in the early going is spent well on character development - such that the audience actually comes to care about the principal characters in what is, admittedly, a bit of a rarity in '80s horror. I'm not saying the story is slow, mind you, only that it takes as much time as is necessary to make the cast palatable before getting to the heart of the matter. It does fall into the same trap that nearly all werewolf movies do, which is simply that the werewolf mythology forbids transformations on back-to-back nights due to the lack of a truly full moon both days, but other than that, the premise and execution are sound.
The acting is excellent, with David Naughton demonstrating great chemistry with both Griffin Dunne and Jenny Agutter. The friendship between the two boys rings true, and the postmortem conversations are very funny while allowing Dunne to maintain all aspects of his living personality despite his ever-increasing decomposition; though it's Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine (Dr. Hirsch) that the audience ultimately relate to, if for no better reason than they're the only fully sane members of the cast. The only minor objection I have is that the opening sequence in the pub feels a little short and makes you wish the flick spent a little more time there because the patrons are all exceptionally entertaining and come across as a very genuine slice of rural pub life - or at least an American schlub's perception of what it should be. Brian Glover, David Schofield, and Lila Kaye in particular give such enjoyable performances that the pub scene somehow proves to be a very memorable one despite having little bearing on the story. A superb example of small parts that make for a lasting impact.
Here's who matters and why (less puppetry legends Jim Henson and Frank Oz, and director John Landis): Joe Belcher (Dracula 1979, Link, Threads), David Naughton (Steel and Lace, The Hatred, Sharknado 5, Cool as Hell, Big Bad Wolf, FLying Virus, A Crack in the Floor, Mirror Mirror III, Ice Cream Man, Amityville: A New Generation, Body Bags, The Sleeping Car), Griffin Dunne (The Android Affair, The Fan 1981), David Schofield (Lord of Tears, Devil's Bridge, The Wolfman 2010, The Curse of King Tut's Tomb, From Hell, Jekyll and Hyde 1990), Brian Glover (Alien 3, Snow White: A Tale of Terror, Kafka, The Company of Wolves, Britannia Hospital), Lila Kaye (The Invisible Man 1984, Dragonworld), Sean Baker (Jupiter Ascending, The Keep), Paddy Ryan (Doomwatch, Countess Dracula), Jenny Agutter (Logan's Run, The Avengers, Child's Play 2, The Magic Door, Darkman, Dark Tower, The Survivor), John Woodvine (Dragonworld), Don McKillop (The Hound of the Baskervilles 1988), Paul Kember (Britannia Hospital), Albert Moses (The Snarling), Gordon Sterne (Highlander, October 32nd, The Vulture, Scream of Fear), Brenda Cavendish (Britannia Hospital), Christopher Scoular (Until Death), Cynthia Powell (Welcome II the Terrordome), Sydney Bromley (The Neverending Story, Dragonslayer, Frankenstein and the Monster from Hell, The Fearless Vampire Killers, Night of the Big Heat, Prehistoric Women 1967, Die Monster Die!, Night Creatures, Horrors of the Black Museum, Quatermass II & III), Frank Singuineau (Peeping Tom, The Mummy 1959), Michael Carter (Return of the Jedi, The Keep), Elizabeth Bradley (The Flesh and Blood Show), George Hilsdon (They Came from Beyond Space, The Skull, Britannia Hospital, At the Earth's Core, See No Evil, The Abominable Dr. Phibes, Trog, Quatermass and the Pit, Blood Beast from Outer Space, The Curse of the Snake Woman, Konga, Quatermass 2), Alan Ford (Cockneys vs. Zombies, Strippers vs. Werewolves, Exorcist: The Beginning, Venom 1981, Fahrenheit 451), Peter Ellis (The Toybox 2005), Christine Hargreaves (Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984), Linzi Drew (The Lair of the White Worm, Death Shock), Lucien Morgan (The Vampire King, Nineteen Eighty-Four 1984), Dave Cooper (The Elephant Man), Ken Sicklen (Flash Gordon 1980), John Altman (Return of the Jedi), Keith Hodiak (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 1980), John Owens (The Wolfman 2010, From Hell), Roger Rowland (Quatermass and the Pit), Lewis Alexander (The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Frankenstein: The True Story, The Creeping Flesh, Dracula A.D. 1972, Burke & Hare 1972, Hands of the Ripper, Fright, In the Devil's Garden, Berserk, Torture Garden, The Skull 1965, Repulsion).
And the rest: Jack Armstrong (The Giant Behemoth, The Elephant Man, The Vault of Horror, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, Theatre of Death, Frankenstein Created Woman, The Skull 1965, Village of the Damned 1960), Vic Armstrong (Trauma 1976), Alan Austen (Flash Gordon 1980, The Empire Strikes Back), John Cannon (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, Superman II, The Empire Strikes Back, Theater of Blood), Ina Clare (The Elephant Man), Simon van Collem (Amsterdamned), Harry Fielder (The Mutations, Nightbreed, Highlander, The Bride, The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, Superman I & II, The Elephant Man, Star Wars: A New Hope, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb, Twins of Evil, The Blood on Satan's Claw, Trog, Cry of the Banshee, Frankenstein Must Be Destroyed, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Quatermass and the Pit), Alan Flyng (The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi), Ryan Folsey (Schlock), Dave Griffiths (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, The Day the Earth Caught Fire), Brendan Hughes (To Die For, Return to Horror High, Howling VI, Sundown: The Vampire in Retreat, Stranded, Outland 1981), John Ketteringham (Batman 1989, Superman, Berserk), Aileen Lewis (Britannia Hospital, The Wicker Man, The Shining, The Chosen 1977, The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Frankenstein: The True Story, Burke & Hare 1972, Fright, Berserk, Fahrenheit 451, The Skull 1965, Repulsion, Devils of Darkness, Witchraft 1964, The Old Dark House 1963, The Day the Earth Caught Fire, The Hands of Orlac 1960, Horrors of the Black Museum), Tommy Little (The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982), Derek Lyons (Slipstream 1989, Superman II - IV, Little Shop of Horrors 1986, Lifeforce, Morons from Outer Space, Supergirl, Bloodbath at the House of Death, Krull, The Hunger, Britannia Hospital, Flash Gordon 1980, The SHining, Star Wars: A New Hope), Ralph G. Morse (Riverworld, Billy the Kid and the Green Baize Vampire, The Keep, Return of the Jedi, Superman II, The Elephant Man, Flash Gordon 1980, The Empire Strikes Back), George Oliver (The Wicker Man, Theater of Blood, The Vault of Horror, All the Colors of the Dark, Cry of the Banshee, Quatermass and the Pit, Eye of the Devil, Island of Terror), James Payne (Dragonslayer, Lifeforce, The Hunger, One Million Years B.C., The Hunchback of Notre Dame 1982, Old Dracula, No Blade of Grass, Quatermass and the Pit), Quentin Pierre (Batman 1989, The Empire Strikes Back, Return of the Jedi, Craze), Alecia St. Leger (Dr. Terror's House of Horrors, Witchcraft 1964), John Timberlake (The Hands of Orlac, Village of the Damned 1960, The Man Who Could Cheat Death, The Quatermass Xperiment), Terry Walsh (Jekyll and Hyde, Superman II, Dracula 1979, The Day the Earth Caught Fire).
Mainstream credits are as follows: Griffin Dunne (Nicky Pearson on This is Us, Mr. Bixler in My Girl, Dr. Vass in Dallas Buyers Club), (Falco in Gladiator), Rik Mayall (Drop Dead Fred in the titular role, Rick on The Young Ones), Jenny Agutter (Julienne on Call the Midwife), Albert Moses (Ranjeet Singh on Mind Your Language), Paula Jacobs (Peggy Sagar on Albion Market), Elizabeth Bradley (Maud Grimes on Coronation Street), Christine Hargreaves (Christine Hardman on Coronation Street), John Altman (Nick Cotton on EastEnders).
The special effects are the big draw, with the transformation scene often being cited as the most spectacular creation of any horror film ever made. It's difficult to argue (though there's some stuff in The Thing that certainly come close), and it's amazing how that one sequence actually granted special effects superstardom for both Rick Baker, the man who brought it to the screen, as well as Rob Bottin. Bottin was an associate of Baker at the time, having done solid work of his own on flicks like Piranha, Maniac, and Humanoids from the Deep, but who hadn't really had the kind of freedom Baker had enjoyed on his projects. Meanwhile though, Landis is unable to secure the funding for American Werewolf (which Baker had agreed to work on once Landis got the project greenlit), so Baker signs on to do the effects for The Howling. Baker then begins preliminary work on The Howling only to have Landis call a short time later and tell him he'd gotten the project launched and to get his hinder in gear 'cause they're getting ready to start shooting in the U.K. Baker obviously can't do both gigs, so he recommends Bottin for the Howling, Bottin then knocks that project out of the park, and because of Landis' ironic timing two special effects legends cement their legacy in the industry. Admittedly, Baker was already an established name in the business, but it's An American Werewolf in London for which he will be remembered. There's very little to say about the effects themselves that hasn't already been said - the movie is nothing short of a master class in special effects design, but the one thing I would point out is that the transformation scene is so good and so famous that it really overshadows the exceptional gore effects - particularly, the first iteration of Griffin Dunne's undead makeup and a flying severed head. A perfect 10/10; would give it an 11 if I could.
The shooting locations, as well as the cinematography and the time of year chosen for filming, are all outstanding. The bulk of the sequences that take place in the countryside were filmed in Wales rather than Britain, and the misty, green rolling hills get the movie off on the right foot by establishing the traditional, gothic style of a Hammer film before the characters even make it to the cliched isolated village with a dark secret. The interiors for The Slaughtered Lamb were filmed in Surrey, and between its cozy, yet raucous atmosphere, and the dreadful weather outside, you can practically smell the place. Because of the film's budget, they were also able to get permission to film the London Zoo, Trafalgar Square, the Tower Bridge, and Piccadilly Circus, and it's all so well photographed that the movie comes across as a pseudo walking tour of the city. City officials even allowed the crew to temporarily stop traffic and film the massive pileup in Piccadilly Circus provided they had everything cleaned up quickly, and astoundingly, they were able to film the entire sequence AND clean up the resulting mess inside three minutes. It's a shame there's no video of it because once you've seen the climax of the movie you'd never believe that possible. Anyway - great mix of interiors and exteriors, with a nice transition from rural to urban mid-flick - doesn't get much better than this.
The instrumental soundtrack only runs about 12 minutes in length, is really low-key, and used very sparingly throughout the movie. It consists primarily of piano pieces accompanied by strings and rarely comes to the forefront of a scene, but despite being effective within the confines of the film, it's not especially catchy. What most people will remember about the soundtrack is the use of Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Bad Moon Rising," and three different iterations of "Blue Moon," including the original Bobby Vinton version, and covers by Sam Cooke, and The Marcels. These are used successfully for comedic effect, particularly the Marcels version which queues up right after an abrupt ending to the movie. Not the flick's strongest asset, but it's still effective and enjoyable.
Overall, An American Werewolf in London is nearly flawless on a technical level, and one of the best Horror/Comedies of all time. As werewolf flicks go I still prefer Ginger Snaps, but American Werewolf is superior on a technical level and essential viewing for genre fans in general and werewolf fans in specific. Check it out on a clear night with a full moon and your curtains drawn.