An American Werewolf in LondonAooooooooooooo! Werewolves of London. Aooooooooooo!
Where to begin; Oh where should I start?
Have you seen this film? An American Werewolf in London is the quintessential wolf man film of my childhood. Certainly I'd seen the classic Universal wolf man films and other films like The Howling, but none of them made such a mammoth impact, on both the industry and me, as John Landis' 1981 werewolf movie. Rather than recap the plot of the film (which you can just look up at your leisure anyway), let's take a look at some of most influential and interesting things that An American Werewolf in London did.
This flick is a black comedy, in addition to being a horror film. It's one of the best blending of the two genres that I've ever seen. Part of what makes it work so well is the subtle use of upbeat songs, not to break the tension in the moment, but to give it a nudge and wink. Landis was limited by what he could license the rights to. Sadly, he couldn't use Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London". Limitations can unlock creative alternatives though and what is used here is absolutely perfect. Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Badmoon Rising", Van Morrison's "Moondance" and no less than three versions of "Blue Moon" are leveraged to great effect. My particular favorite is the doo-wop version of "Blue Moon" by The Marcels. Bom bom-bom-bom Ba-bom-ba-bom-bom...Blue Moon...
This one sequence changed the face of werewolf films. Before An American Werewolf in London in wolf man films, the transformation from man to beast and back again would be accomplished in one of a few ways:
-Pan away from actor as human, pan back with the werewolf make-up in place.
-Fade in/out. So a close up of the actor as human is filmed. Then, a close up in the same position of the actor as wolfman is filmed on top, to give the illusion of a gradual fade into or out of being a man beast.
-The animated shadow of a man is shown to transform into a beast. When we see them next, they're fulled wolfed out.
An American Werewolf in London never flinches away from a second of the painful, gory, horrendous transformation from man to beast. Special effects master Rick Baker pulled out all the stops and crafted a sequence that is still amazing to the modern viewer. It was hugely influential in a number of ways. The power of this scene convinced Michael Jackson to hire Landis to direct the best music video of all time, Thriller (Disagreement about Thriller is fightin' words where I come from). Werewolf films now, by and large, all show the transformation on camera after the trail had been blazed. It can be argued that this bled through to other horror genre films as well.
Perhaps most amazingly, An American Werewolf in London won an Oscar for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup. What's so amazing about that? There was no Outstanding Achievement in Makeup Oscar the year before...it was created to honor this film specifically. It's been a normal Oscar category ever since.
You really need to see this film on a crisp October night. If you're in the Philadelphia area, it's actually being screened tomorrow (10/7) on 35mm as part of the Colonial Theatre's First Friday Fright Night series. (Information here) I can't urge you to check out this film with an audience forcefully enough. You're missing out on the real experience if you don't. Still, anyway you can, check out An American Werewolf in London.
See you next Wednesday... ;)