Written and directed by John Landis, An American Werewolf in London starring David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne and John Woodvine, tells the story of two American backpackers travelling through the moors of England. Looking for refuge they stumble on an old English pub, where the suspicious and fearful locals warn them from travelling on the moors and to beware the full moon. Naturally, they ignore their advice with dire consequences.
An American Werewolf in London is a horror comedy. If you want frights, gore, blood it’s got that. If you want a comedy, it’s got that too. What makes An American Werewolf in London really stand out is the fantastic make-up by Rick Baker and his team, whose work and special effects have not dated to this day.
Cinematographer Robert Paynter and his camera team tell the story with functional cinematography and yet the film grammar or the use of pure cinema and the Kuleshkov effect was so well done, that sound was not needed, the images told the story by themselves.
Ultimately it comes down to the story, the film works because the characters of David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are so innocent and so young. They haven’t done anything wrong or hurt anybody and yet they are the wrong boys in the wrong place. Bad things happen to good people. This innocence is what makes us empathise with them, particularly as we follow Davids journey. At first, he thinks he’s going mad, then he has nightmarish visions and then to top it off nobody believes him. We empathise for his predicament.
With regards performances, there are standout moments from actors David Scholfield, Brian Glover, Michael Carter, Lila Kaye and John Woodvine. Whilst the leads David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne just fit. You couldn’t imagine anybody else in those roles.
Because making films is difficult and filming a scene at night, in one of the busiest most famous locations in the world, with dozens of extras, multiple cars and buses within a limited time to shoot is really really brave. So hats off to the stunt coordinator Vic Armstrong and his team.
To finish, there is plenty to like in An American Werewolf in London: blood, gore, fear, sex, romance, humour, young love, great special effects, good old-fashioned storytelling which echoes The Hound of the Baskervilles, atmospheric cinematography and great set pieces. What more could you want!