Tuesday, June 06, 2006

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

I've avoided this movie for some time because of its title. Maybe it was linked in my mind with Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London," a song I've long had antipathy for. Plus, there was the ill-starred Paris version of a few years ago, which not even Julie Delpy could save.

I'm happy to report that this movie is everything it should be and everything the comments which got me to watch it in the first place promised. It's hilarious, but in a natural, realistic way. "Shawn of the Dead" was a parody of zombie films, but held an element of truth in the oblivion in which the main characters live. "Werewolf" isn't a parody, but it has that same sense of ordinary, goofy people trapped in circumstances they are not prepared for. Much of the plot concerns not the werewolf itself but the consequences of the encounter and the doubt and suspense of its aftermath. Will he become a werewolf too? What will that mean? What should he do if it happens? And why are women suddenly all over him?

The two male leads, David Naughton and Griffin Dunne, share both an unfamiliarity with acting and a very natural friendly chemistry; their ribbing of each other during various otherwise gruesome situations feels real and natural and was a great pleasure to watch. Griffin Dunne, in particular, was very likeable and funny. David Naughton, as more the "straight man" of the pair, was charismatic. Jenny Aguter, as the nurse who takes Naughton home, is attractive and interesting.

I don't want to give too much away for anyone who hasn't seen it, but surely you know one character becomes a werewolf. This transformation is ambitious and well done, much of it on screen instead of between cutaways. Along the way, the plot takes such outragous turns that the audience is kept interested. The humor, far from making this a comedy, makes the horror of the characters' plight all the more realistic and poignant. Nothing is pushed beyond credibility, except for the werewolf stuff which is something of a necessity. Some of the humor is unintentional, however, and may have resulted from the director's fervor in showing too much of the beast.

There are some things which could have been improved. The ending is a little weak. The wolf, as I've implied, becomes rather comical when running. But the joys of this film, from the reticent pub-goers at the "Slaughtered Lamb" to a nightmare-like turn of nudity in the zoo, far outweigh the bad points. I was delighted with this movie, all the more so because I fully expected rampant silliness from the guy who brought us "Animal House"; this movie is justifiably a classic.

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