Two American college students on a walking tour of Britain are attacked by a werewolf that none of the locals will admit exists. (IMDB synopsis)
Not too long ago, I was asked if I’d be reviewing Dracula: Dead and Loving It, which made me want to review the (apparently) funnier film also by Mel Brooks, Young Frankenstein. But something tells me I should wait until I’ve seen more Frankenstein films before I watch a parody. So, American Werewolf is what I’m doing now. I didn’t even know it WAS a comedy horror. Oh well – you learn something new every day!
The film starts with a couple of young men hitching a ride to East Procter, somewhere in rural England. David and Jack are American backpackers who enter a local pub for food, drink and rest, and everyone in the place stops and stares as if Billy the Kid had just moseyed on in. The men are warned to stay clear of the moors and beware the moon. Naturally, they proceed to wander off the road into the moors – and I don’t see them bewaring the moon, either!
Soon enough, a werewolf turns up, killing Jack and seriously wounding David, who is taken to a London hospital. He is quick to mention that he was attacked by a wolf, not an escaped lunatic as is bizarrely stated on the police report. But nobody seems to believe him, except for one of the two members of Scotland Yard (and he’s clumsy, so nobody gives him the time of day). David begins to notice changes in himself, as he has lost his appetite and has strange dreams of running through the woods and chomping on deer. Most frighteningly of all, he sees his dead friend Jack, who says he is doomed to walk in limbo until the werewolf’s curse is lifted, and would David please take his own life, if it’s not too much trouble.
I was surprised to find that this film was actually very funny indeed. It even made me laugh out loud a few times, although most people would probably agree, it’s more of a dark comedy. I can imagine it’s very hard to combine horror and comedy in such a way as to have each element not detract from the other, so having John Landis as director was definitely a good choice. As well as directing other comedy films, such as Trading Places and National Lampoon’s Animal House, he was responsible for Michael Jackson’s Thriller, which also had makeup artist Rick Baker in common with this film. You see, it’s all coming together!
Anyway! The comedy. Most of what I found funny had to do with the portrayal of our little scepter’d isle. The English people that David encounters are so darned stiff in the upper lip, it’s slightly unreal. The character of Doctor Hirsch is pretty amusing, as he can make himself at home even in the forbidding ‘Slaughtered Lamb’ pub in East Procter. Then there’s the lone businessman whom David savages to death in the deserted London Underground (which raises a few questions); even in death, said businessman never gets more than slightly annoyed. Also, when David darts around London Zoo in the nuddy, everyone who sees him takes it with a kind of humourless grace. One child tells his mother quite matter-of-factly, “A naked American man stole my balloons”, and I crack up laughing.
The horror is also very good. I loved David’s first transformation into the werewolf, which takes place in the middle of a brightly lit living room, and not in the shadows or under a table. (The latter is how my drama group managed it in our college production of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.) This sequence would have been very hard to pull off at the time, which makes it very impressive technically, and what I love the most is the amount of pain David appears to be in. Well, you WOULD feel a bit of a twinge if your skull started to elongate out the front of your face!
I enjoyed American Werewolf much more than I expected to, and I’ll probably watch it again when October rolls around – it’s a great monster flick for Hallowe’en. Only one thing bothered me, though – was there really such a time when nurses could sit with a single patient all night, and policemen had nothing to do except pose for pictures with tourists? Watch the movie and you’ll see. In fact, after David’s hospital visit, the nurse, Alex, invites him to stay at hers, and partake in shenanigans in her shower, and nobody bats an eyelid! If this was once accepted practice, then BOY have things changed in the last 30 years.
7 jam sandwiches.
P.S. To those of you who are interested, I will be reviewing Mel Brooks’s horror parodies at some point. I once thought Dracula: Dead and Loving It was the best thing I’d ever seen, so I’ll be interested to see how good it looks now, without the nostalgia goggles.