"You better stay away from him! He’ll rip your lungs out Jim!"
Okay. Zombies (or ghouls – whatever). Check. Vampires (with hyenas and rats). Check. Ghosts (and supernatural weather conditions) Check. Let’s see, what other Halloween critters can you think of? Little whinning bratty snot-nose kids dressed as the latest stupid cartoon charcters that barely say “Trick or treat!” and then complain about what you give them. Yeah. There are always lots of those. Kind of makes you wish a werewolf would jump out of the bushes and rip the little ingrates appart! Hey, there’s an idea!
An American Werewolf in London
Werewolves are a staple of European folklore. In fact, were-creatures are a common folk belief throughout the world. The animals vary by region. There are weretigers in India, werefoxes in China, even weresharks in Polynesia!
There are several variations on the European werewolf myth. During ancient times it was believed that a werewolf could change whenever he or she wished. Additionaly, it was not automatically assumed that werewolves were evil in those days. Later it became firmly established that werewolves were minions of Satan – just like witches.
Like vampires, werewolves were associated with disease. Many people were tortured and killed because they were suspected of being werewolves.
The “classic” werewolf mythology that we know today – full moon, wolvesbane, mark of the beast, you will become one if bitten but not killed, the werewolf not remembering what was done in wolf form, destroyed by silver – was created from different folklore beliefs by Curt Siodmak, the writer of The Wolfman (Universal 1941).
David and Jack are two young Americans who have just started their cross-Europe hitchiking tour in nothern England. They stop at a pub in a little town and are told by several people to “Stay on the road,” and “Keep off the moors!” and “Beware the moonlight!” Once they leave the pub – at night – they head right across the moors. Oops. The full moon comes out, and suddenly they are attacked! Jack is killed and David injured before the locals show up and shoot their attacker.
You did read the title of the movie above, right?
I love this movie. In my opinion it is one of the best werewolf movies ever made.
In order for any werewolf movie to work it has to get certain features of the mythology right. The hero – who is usually the werewolf himself – has to be likable. If the audience does not like the hero they will not care what happens to him and subsequently not be very involved in the story. Most of the people in the film must not beleive in werewolves, especially the hero, in order to set the stage for the terrifying truth that werewolves are real and the hero is one. The transformation scenes must be done well. The werewolf problem must be resolved somehow by the end of the film. And most impotant of all, the tragic aspect of the situation must be examined.
An American Werewolf in London nails these crucial story elements.
The hero is David Kessler, played by David Naughton (if you are old enough, you may remember him as the Dr. Pepper guy. “Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too?”). David is an average collage age American guy. He is smart, funny and seems like someone you would like to have as a friend.
The film was released in 1981 and is set in the modern contemporary world. No one believes in silly stuff like werewolves! Except for the townsfolk of East Proctor. They do believe, in fact they know werewolves are real, and they take great pains to keep it all a secret. “Should the world know our business?!”
When David eventually turns into a werewolf the transformation scene is fantastic! We see it all, and since it comes at the end of a funny little musical montage the sudden transformation is a real shock. The effects for this scene, which were designed by Rick Baker, won the Acadamy Award for best special effects. The thing that really sells this scene is the fact that it is played as being a terrifying and excruciatingly painful process. Even if you think David is just a goof, the pain and fear he goes through in this scene implants a ton of sympathy for the character.
The tragic element is well played out. We feel pain for David, his friend Jack, the people David kills, and Alex, David’s new found love interest. The film starts out with two friends bopping around the English countryside and just gets more and more painfull for all of these characters until the climax is reached at the very end of the film.
But An American Werewolf in London does not just get the required elements of werewolf mythology right – it adds it’s own special refinements and other features to become a very well balanced and entertaining film.
It takes a while for David to realize that he is a werewolf. He has some very strange and frightening dreams and has conversations with his dead and rapidly decomposing friend Jack. The dialog in these scenes is wonderful and funny. After the initial shock, they just talk like nothing much happened – except for the bad news Jack drops on David. These events lead David to the conclusion that he is going insane. And because the film plays out for a bit of time without any werewolf scenes, the viewer might think he is correct. Perhaps there is no werewolf and the whole thing is a psychological thriller. Then we are hit in the face with that transformation scene!
One of the things Jack tells David is a bit of new werewolf lore (well, at least it is new to werewolf movies). It seems that none of his victims can rest in peace until he (David) dies. They are doomed to walk the earth as living dead until the werewolf bloodline is severed. I thought that was a cool little twist.
An American Werewolf in London was written and directed by John Landis. Landis was known for his comedies like Animal House and The Blues Brothers. And now he has made a horror filck? People must have wondered if the movie would work as a horror film. It does – very well, but that does not mean that a few of Landis’ trademarks are missing.
The film is full of humor, none of which takes away from the horror or tragic aspects of the story. In fact the humor makes the film better, it helps move the non-scary scenes along and provides welcome contrast to the frights and blood.
All of John Landis’ movies have great music in them and An American Werewolf in London is no exception. the original music score was done by Elmer Bernstein and is supplimented by several popular songs – all of which have something to do with the moon! Get it?
And, of course, it would not be a John Landis film without a big old multivehicle crash scene!
At the start of the film, when David and Jack get out of the back of a truck full of sheep, Jack (played by Griffin Dunne) looks back and says, “Bye girls!”
Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) tells David, “I’m sure if there were a monster roaming around northern England, we would have seen it on the telly.”
When the dead Jack first talks to David he mentions that he is surrounded by the dead and asks, “Have you ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!”
When Jack insists that David must kill himself, David’s reply is, “I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!”
David wakes up naked at the London zoo after his first transformation. He tricks a little boy and takes his balloons to cover himself. The boy goes back to his mother and says, “A naked American man stole my balloons!”
While discussing how he should kill himself in a porno theater with his dead victims (now that’s humor!), David asks, “Don’t I need a silver bullet?” Jack rolls his eyes and says, “Oh be serious!”
To use an advertising phrase; if you are only going to see one werewolf movie this Hallloween, see An American Werewolf in London.
I do have one problem with this movie. David turns into a werewolf on two consecutive nights. Isn’t it technically only a full moon for one night a month? Oh well, nothing is perfect.
Finally, I would like to mention Jenny Agutter who plays Nurse Alex Price. I am not a Catholic, but I have a confession to make. I have had a crush on Jenny Agutter ever since my sister took me to see Logan’s Run in 1976! She is pretty and sexy and just damn cute all at once. And her voice! Oh Lord! The scene in the hospital were she, wearing a sexy nurses uniform, gets in bed with David and says, “Shall I be forced to feed you David?” Whoa Nelly! You have no idea how much I love that scene. Trust me you have no idea.
And now for a creature of a different sort – Bert Grant’s Hopzilla IPA.
Yeah, I know what you are thinking – what the heck is IPA!? IPA stands for India Pale Ale. You see, when the Brits made India a part of the British Empire, they had to station quite a few troops over there to keep the peace. In other words, to stop Indians from thinking that they had any rights what so ever. These troops wanted beer. It was always a good idea to keep the troops happy, so the government made deals with brewers to ship over English ale. Well, that did not turn out so good. Remember, ale is stored at room temperature, but it gets a bit hotter in India than in England and the trip by ship was very long. The beer often arrived spoiled. So, the brewers experimented and came up with an ale that was higher in alcohol content (so as to keep it from spoiling too quickly) and a bit lighter than traditional English ales. The troops loved it. IPA was born.
Bert Grant’s Hopzilla IPA (Yakima Brewing & Malting Co., Yakima, WA) focuses on another aspect of IPA, the fact that it was, and is, usually very hopped. What does that mean? Simply that hops are added to the beer more than once during the brewing process. Hopzilla is triple hopped, so hops are added at three different stages of production.
ABV = 5.00% (rather low for an IPA) and IBU = 90+ (due to the triple hopping).
Color: Hopzilla has a nice light amber color and is slightly cloudy due to the triple hopping.
Aroma: Hops hops and more hops! A sharp resin-like aroma from the high hop content. Hops yield an acid which makes beer sour and a resin which provides aroma.
Hopzilla forms a quasi-persistent head that fades soon after pouring. What do you think of that BB?
Well, from the build-up I bet you already have an idea of how this beer tastes. It is slightly sweet at first, but that quickly changes to sour and ends with a powerfully bitter finish. The aftertaste is strong and long lasting. This is a beer that you can taste hours later when you belch. And that is all due to the hops. However, the taste is smooth, it has no sudden jolt and never degenerates into a skunk funk.
Bert Grant’s Hopzilla IPA is a good beer – if you want maximum hop effect. I have to say that it is not a beer I would necessarily buy again. I like beers that offer a little bit more complexity of flavor. If you dig hops, try it.
Don’t say I did not warn you.
Two more days to Halloween! If you would like to watch my final Halloween movie, it is on A&E tonight at 8:00pm EST.