Film Fridays – ‘An American Werewolf in London’

Film Fridays is a project initiated by Sarah and I. After doing a daily music challenge for a month last year we talked about doing something similar for movies. The current global lockdowns give us the perfect excuse to start. Many of us are confined to home with only the TV for company so we thought we would start β€˜Film Fridays’ so that we can talk about our favourite movies and hopefully give our readers some ideas for things to watch. If you join us please tag filmfriday and link back to one or both of us so we can read your own contributions!

We would be delighted if you would join us! We don’t necessarily want to talk about the nerdy technical details but more about why these films speak to us as individuals, why they have a place in out hearts, and any personal memories they evoke. 

Sarah and I have shared our lists and decided to tackle them as written – in my case in alphabetical order because I am sad like that….

‘An American Werewolf in London’

The trailer is on Youtube at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3q_T4oRsfpY

I don’t recall when I first saw this. I was 15 when it was released in 1981 so I am guessing I saw it on VHS a few years afterwards. It made a great impression on teenage Darren. Jenny Agutter certainly did anyway.

The story begins with two young American boys backpacking on the moors of Northern England. An encounter with a savage beast leaves one dead and the other (David) taken to a London hospital where he is taken under the wing of nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter definitively losing her Railway Children image and jumping straight into adolescent boys fantasies in the process).

Strange nightmares and hallucinatory visits from his dead friend and other oddities plague David until the night of the next full moon, when things get literally hairy…..

So, why do I like this movie. Well, it has a fab soundtrack for starters. And Jenny Agutter. There is a hint of realism in the depiction of the xenophobic Northern pub – almost certainly now a Wetherspoons πŸ™‚

The movie is groundbreaking in a number of ways. Firstly it blends horror with comedy in a way which makes it work in both genres, possibly for the first time. It occurred to me when writing this that M.A.S.H did almost the same thing with the (anti-)war movie a decade earlier. This then led to a number of movies that attempted the same thing – some very successfully (Gremlins, Evild Dead 2).

Secondly. Any werewolf movie is only as convincing as it’s big transformation scene. This one nails it. Rick Baker’s practical effects were astnishing at the time, winning him an oscar, and are still astonishing now. The physical pain of the transformation is very apparent. This scene steals the attention from the other make-up effects in the movie – which are great too. (Director John Landis and Rick Baker teamed up agin a little while later for Michael Jackson’s iconic ‘Thriller’ video as a direct result of this movie.) Landis has expressed some regret regarding some scenes that were trimmed but also that he was so blown way by the transformation effects that he kept this scene rather longer than it should have been.

The sex scene (Agutter again, though I think a bloke was in it too) and the scene set in an adult cinema mark this film as seeming quite European, given that Hollywood would have shied away from this. They would be quite happy with the violence though, naturally.

There are some really effective scares. One jump-scare still surprises me every time. And the scene in the London Underground is genuinely terrifying.

The depiction of London at this time perhaps ages the film. The rather quaint hospital scenes seeming (for me) to be 20 years out of date even in 1981! But I still enjoy these scenes. Being allowed to film in Piccadilly Circus was a real coup for Landis, which he pulled off by holding a special screening of his recently completed ‘Blues Brothers’ for an audence of London police officers, who were then amenable to giving permission to film.

Oh, and did I mention it has Jenny Agutter in it????

STOP PRESS: By the way – if you are on Instagram in it well worth looking at Rick Baker’s Instagram thread. As you can imagine – the ‘looks’ he gives his family for Halloween each year must make them legends in their neighbourhood….

20 Comments

  1. Tell me again: who’s playing the nurse? πŸ˜‰πŸ˜ I haven’t watched An American Werewolf in London yet, and actually don’t know why ’cause I think it’s exactly what I like – just like you with The Big Lebowski I guess. 😁 I’ve noticed that they don’t do as many reruns of 80s movies in the tv as they used to which is a shame since I really love the 80s and there are still a lot of films that I haven’t seen yet. You’d think they’d do me the favour now but no. πŸ˜‚ Anyway, I’ll look out for this one and then Aaaa-oooh!! πŸ˜‰πŸΆπŸ’•

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Jenny Augutter eh?
    Oddly the Big T (somewhat breathlessly) mentioned her performance in this film a couple of days ago. He didn’t manage to get out of the room in time to miss Call the Midwife, and part way through he had the funniest “Oh” moment matching the nun to the nurse.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I’m definitely getting some great ideas from this series that you two have started. I had forgotten about this one – and now that you’ve sung the praises of her “performance”. I really must sit down to watch Jenny Agutter πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I totally agree with your critique of the film. It is one of my favourites too, for all the reasons you say especially the comedic aspects working to lighten the scary scenes, except maybe not so much the attraction to Jenny Aguttar. All the main cast are easy on the eye though, but for me it’s the transformation scenes that make this movie a groudbreaker. Plus, excellent soundtrack too.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. You like Jenny Agutter then? hahaa.. Loved this post. I have to be honest, I am not sure I have seen this movie or if I have I cant remember, but I might have to watch it now. Hope you are well Darren, stay safe x

    Liked by 1 person

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