Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hound from Hell


Curses and transformations abound in John Landis' horror-comedy. Like the original Lon Chaney Jr THE WOLF MAN, the director recognises that the real meat of a werewolf picture is that of personal tragedy. 

BLOODIER than slashers of the time, but recognisably a John Landis film, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON follows David (David Naughton)'s gradual change from man to wolf. Victims hang in limbo to haunt him; this enables best friend and travelling companion Jack (Griffin Dunne) to keep him company - despite advancing stages of decomposition - and subsequent victims joyously suggesting ways to kill himself and severe the curse bestowed upon him. Back in 1981, the film kept audiences (and critics) off-balance with its mix of gore and humour (which does not make the film a comedy). Apart from the show-stopping transformation sequence - which Landis wanted to withstand the scrutiny of a harshly lit set - AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON contains many nightmare scenes which add to the quirkiness. It also mocks the need for silver bullets, but is not wholly successful in the director's insistence for a "four-legged hound from hell," rather than more of a Wolfman. The cumbersome movement of David's finished state is shown too much, and is only really effective in long shot (as in the tube station murder). 

Viewed today, the movie still packs a considerable punch. The performances are sympathetic (though Nurse Price (Jenny Agutter) inviting David to stay at her home seems as abrupt as the jump-cuts), and while it is true that Rob Bottin's biped werewolves caused a sensation for THE HOWLING, AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON was so completely different in tone that fans had no trouble embracing both. With the film's arrival on Blu-Ray, the major new draw is Paul Davis' accompanying documentary BEWARE THE MOON: REMEMBERING AN AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON. Besides Landis and make-up artist Rick Baker's extensive involvement, almost all the main cast and behind the scenes personnel are interviewed, in particular Dunne, who has much to say about the physical and psychological effects of looking and acting as a corpse. Davis presents the programme from the original locations as they appear today, therefore serving as a guide to making your own pilgrimage.