J’s Halloween Hall of Fame: An American Werewolf in London

Let me start off by stating how much I love this time of year and especially Halloween time!  I also do enjoy me a good horror story here and there.  So what I want to do this scary season is let you all know what kinds of horror stories I like to watch and read this time of year to get the old ticker racing a bit.  These are by no means “underground”  or hard to find movies and comics.  Theses are just my spoiler free recommendations in case you happen to miss them for one reason or another.

An American Werewolf in London

Sure there are quite a few Werewolf movies floating around out there and most of them are quite good, but for me American Werewolf in London stands a bit above the rest.  An American Werewolf in London was released on August 21st 1981.  It was written and directed by John Landis (Blues Brothers, Animal House, Trading Places) with makeup effects by non other than the masters Mr. Rick Baker and his wife Elaine (Men In Black, Hellboy). I know what you’re thinking, John Landis did all of those cheesy (yet fantastic, admit it) comedies.  How can a dude like that write and direct a marvelous horror movie like this?  Well I’m not sure I have the answer to that but he did.  Perhaps that’s why An American Werewolf in London seems to have so much heart.

The movie follows two of the most charming individuals you’ll ever want to meet, David Kessler and Jack Goodman, played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne.  These two young Americans have decided to go on a backpacking excursion across Europe.  You know, that’s what most young and adventurous college aged people are supposed to do right?  Well everything so far is packed with sunshine and witty jokes until they come upon a small pub in the middle of  nowhere England called The Slaughtered Lamb.  The ominous name is in fact addressed humorously in the movie so don’t worry.  David and Jack go in, but they receive an icy welcome.  The pub patrons seem like good people but something is definitely not right in there.  When Jack decides to ask what the pentagram scraped on the wall with two candles burning beside it is about, the good folks at the Slaughtered Lamb become agitated and David and Jack decide it’s time to hit the road once again.  But before they leave, they are warned to stay alert and to stay on the road.

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What happens next is to me, one of the most terrifying moments ever captured on film.  As David and Jack begin hoofing it across the pitch black English Moorland, with not another single dwelling anywhere within miles they begin to hear noises moving around them, circling them.  They begin to quicken their pace but whatever is out there with them matches their stride.  When finally, whatever is out there with them decides to reveal itself with a loud, terrifying howl.  It is now that Davis and Jack realize they are in serious trouble, especially when they notice they did not heed the advice given to them and find themselves totally lost and off the road.

As you can probably guess Jack and David are indeed attacked by the creature that had been following them and the results are also what you can probably guess given that it is indeed a Werewolf movie.  But this here particular movie is a little different because, like I said before, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne portray these characters with such charisma that you instantly form a bond with them.  Plus the movie is about a Werewolf creature don’t get me wrong but it’s also equally about the human to beast transformation.  Not just the physical part but the mental part as well.  Without giving too much away, the nightmares and visions that the character experiences as he’s transforming into the Werewolf creature is just as frightening as when the physical change begins.

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Some time ago it was rumored that John Landis son, Max Landis (Chronicle, American Ultra) was set to write and direct a rebooted version of American Werewolf in London.  Which might not be too bad I suppose.  It can’t be any worse than An American Werewolf in Paris (1997) which I’ve seen but it was so bad I have completely and involuntarily blocked it from memory.  I don’t watch a lot of horror movies anymore.  I’m not a big fan of Saw type “torture porn” or any kind of  horror movies that simply rely on cheap scare tactics or disturbing subject matter to call it a “scary” movie.  I do love the horror movies I’ve grown up with in the 1980’s and 1990’s and of course all of the “classic” Universal movie monsters my Mom and I would watch together that came out when she was a kid.  There is a big difference to me between being frightened and watching people do demoralizing things to each other.  An American Werewolf in London does an exemplary job of delivering “the creeps” the old fashioned way.

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