Wednesday, October 19, 2011

An American Werewolf in London

For some reason, I waited years to see this movie. I don't know why, when I'm a werewolf buff: maybe I thought my delicate appetites would be too disturbed by the transformation sequence that this movie is famous for. Turns out that it's like John Carpenter's The Thing: on a deeper level you realize it's gross and the reason you can't make pasta for dinner afterwards, but the sheer coolness overwhelms that impression and you're going right along with it. This is why I prefer practical effects: so much more visceral.

Actually, I found the nazi-demons and David's monster-face in the dream to be more disturbing. The werewolf itself was awesome, because while quadrupedal wolf transformations have been done before, freakish quadrupedal werewolves are less common. I love the forefeet: at first I wondered why the middle part of David's hand became longer, then wow. And the face, and the very un-lupine bulk and shaggy mane.

An American Werewolf in London also got me back in touch with a part of the werewolf mythos that maybe has gone underfed in recent times: werewolf transformation as tragic, uncontrollable, and confined to the full moon. While I'm decided on a preference for savage vampires, I can't decide whether I prefer this interpretation of werewolves, or the idea of a voluntarily-transforming "werewolf species", or any of the ones in between.  Both have their cons, and their thematic resonance, and neither are a guarantee of bad storytelling.

An American Werewolf in London, however, is pure transformation tragedy, because it's meant to be an old-fashioned horror movie in a contemporary setting. The presentation is effective here, when the film's being serious, and when it's being funny. As we all know, An American Werewolf in London also is a horror-comedy, and damn does it work well. The film doesn't feel indecisive or lopsided, the two aspects blending seamlessly, and I laughed aloud at several points. I laughed, and enjoyed that the film cuts out so fast; It might have spoiled the film's irreverence if the tragedy of David were dwelt on for so long.

I liked the addition of a new wrinkle of the zombie-ghosts, the restless spirits caused by the werewolf's killing spree. The movie would be distinct enough without it, but it's nice to see it reaching even farther beyond the same horror convention it's trying to pay homage to. I got further laughs out of Jack's casual dialogue as he keeps appearing in more and more decomposed states. His exclamation of "It's boring!" strikes just the right note of despair and whiny hilarity.

The film's biggest sour spot was the bit with the nurse, and how she would just take home a mentally disturbed and traumatized man to be her boyfriend, one that she's just seen to in the hospital. It felt like this was a completely earnest subplot, without irony or humour. Thus, it's hard to really believe in. About the only part that seemed mocking was her inability to calm the transformed David, which was wonderfully nasty.

Indeed, there's a black undercurrent in the film beyond the fact that the guy will become a monster and kill people. The movies lied, nothing can stop this but a bullet, and in "real life" the hero, David might be too cowardly to do it himself, just like he ran when Jack was attacked. Love is also useless.

Because horror movies don't have to explain everything, but instead are to focus on the terror and tension, I wasn't begging for more explanation about the werewolf on the moors, but I was still curious about him. The locals know him, but won't do anything but stay away—why not try to kill him before now? Where did he go when he was human during the rest of the month? Or was he simply stuck in the wolf state after long enough time had passed? Could David have become a permanent wolf in time?

Overall, while I prefer more esoteric werewolf movies like The Company of Wolves and Ginger Snaps, An American Werewolf in London is pretty damn fun. A great monster, and an excellent blend of humour and horror.

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