I like John Landis the person more than the filmmaker. Don’t get me wrong: I loved Animal House, liked Blues Brothers, and kind of enjoyed Innocent Blood when it came out (I might revisit it soon). But, try as I might, I could never quite get into An American Werewolf in London. The last time I tried I returned the VHS to the video store before finishing it. Today I stuck it through and found out the best part of the movie is the ending, although everything preceding it doesn’t really connect.
Every time I stumble upon a John Landis interview I stop whatever I have planned and watch. I’d be hard-pressed to name three directors with the same gusto he has. Which is weird because that gusto doesn’t translate to An American Werewolf. It’s like Landis unconditionally loves all movies except for his own. And even though Animal House is still one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, I can’t find the humor in this one… that is to say until the porno theater scene (the movie-within-the-movie is hilarious). Everything beyond that is actually quite good, but that’s only like the final tenth of the movie.
I was hopeful the movie would click this time around, but it just didn’t do it in time. I rarely get bored by horror movies, even the ones objectively worse than this one. Apparently, my enjoying this movie is just one of those things that weren’t meant to be.
A couple of backpackers are hiking across the English countryside. There they happen upon a tavern called The Slaughtered Lamb. It’s a record-skip kind of moment (though, thankfully, the movie doesn’t go there literally), and the locals kick the boys out when they inquire about the spooky, 200-year old pentagram painted on the wall. “Beware the moon,” are the locals’ departing words, as well as: “stick to the roads.”
Naturally, there’s a full moon that very night and the boys are attacked by a werewolf. It kills one and maims the other. The survivor, David, wakes up in a hospital and begins an unlikely romance with his nurse (Jenny Agutter, who co-starred with Michael York in Logan’s Run, one of my all-time favorite movies). When he’s released from the hospital, she offers him room and board (and sex) at her apartment. Around the same time, David begins receiving visits from his dead friend, Jack, like the Victor Pascow character in Pet Sematary.
Jack’s ghost informs David he’s a werewolf now and that he should kill himself to break the curse. David’s holding out hope that he’s crazy because crazy is an attractive alternative to suicide. This is all very good on paper, but the execution is… I mean… is it supposed to be a tribute to older flicks or something? Because it never feels that way. It just feels straight-up like something we’ve all seen and watched before.
The special effects are great, but I have nothing else I want to say. It bums me out, too, because I find at least a few positive things to say about nearly everything I feature on here. But this one… I don’t know. It just doesn’t work for me until that wonderful ending comes along. Maybe I’ll try again in another decade.
I do have to give it a decent gore rating, though, if only because of that spectacular ending. I really wish the rest of the movie had been so far out of its mind.