Retro Review: American Werewolf in London (1981)

I recently had the opportunity to meet David Naughton, who played David in an ‘American Werewolf in London’, one of my favorite movies. I have been a fan of Naughton’s since I first saw him sing and dance in a Dr. Pepper commercial in the 80s. This led me to also watch his sitcom, ‘Makin It’. This short lived show came about due to the one hit wonder song of the same name.

AAWIL is a brilliant film from 1981, by John Landis ,best known for his comedy ‘Animal House’.
AAWIL is usually described as a horror/comedy, but it can also be seen as a tragic love story. (The scene at the end when Alex speaks to David in wolf form and tells him that she loves him…the look in the werewolf’s eyes breaks my heart every time I see it).

The film stars David Naughton as ‘David’. Griffin Dunne as Davies  best friend, and Jenny Agutter, (known for ‘Logan’s Run’), as David’s love interest, Alex.

It is a tale of two friends traveling around Europe. Whilst in England they are attacked by a werewolf. Jack is killed, but David survives only to turn into werewolf on the next full moon. David becomes involved with Alex, a nurse, and Jack returns in various states of decomposition to tell David that he will turn into a monster and that he must kill himself.

The casting choices made by Landis are excellent as is the musical score. (I can never hear ‘Bad Moon Rising’ or ‘Moondance’ without thinking of specific scenes I’m this film).

However, the true star of the movie is Rick Baker and his special effects team. The ground-breaking effects were so impressive that they won the 1st Academy Award for make-up. When questioned, Naughton confirmed that the long hours in the make-up chair were grueling. As was filming naked, in the cold. But it was all worth it to him seeing how great the film was and the fact that he loved returning to London, where he had attended acting school.

Landis and Baker  show a remarkable understanding of how painful and sad a werewolf transformation is. One realizes that it is no wonder why werewolves are cranky.

Landis insisted that the initial transformation be in bright light and that we are able to see it happen. And see if we do. The combination of pneumatic models and Naughton’s performance in the bright light is absolutely brilliant. In my opinion, the best werewolf transformation scene ever filmed. We see the pain that such a transformation puts the human body through and the sadness and fear in the human who can’t control what is happening to him.

AAWIL confirms the idea that the werewolf is the most primal of the Universal monsters. They are overwhelmed by the intensity and inevitability of their change.

This is a must see for fans of werewolf movies, and horror movies in general.

This is a near perfect film.  I give it a 9 out of 10.