Review of An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Moving picture, 97 minutes

Seen in 2018.

When you’re mauled to death by a werewolf, you’re tainted by its curse and relegated to limbo as a zombie, appearing to the living in a dream-like state while you rot. It’s a chance to tell the werewolf that he has to kill himself so the curse can end.

Horror comedy. A media-literate, self-conscious meeting of Straw Dogs (1971) and Lon Chaney werewolf movies with updated special effects. The mix gels in some scenes—especially the baiting toward suicide—but not in others. There’s no background to the curse and no resolution of it. The long-drawn-out transformation sequence, with a mass of silicones and mechanical effects, merely draws attention to the inelegance of the werewolf motif and takes the place of worldbuilding.

Scenes are lit like a sitcom for Hollywood glamour; too many for the subject matter, despite the attempts to use a dirty England struck by punk music, inflation and porn. Landis attempts something like Sam Raimi’s subjective “evil force” camera, as in The Evil Dead (1981), but he doesn’t pull it off. The main character, David Kessler, doesn’t seem to have in him the bestial drive, self-doubt and repression that is supposed to sustain a werewolf narrative. His Nazi dreams never feel relevant to David as a character.

Mature CGI, allowing the wolf to move as something other than a human in a hairy suit, would have been helpful, but above all the movie lacks context for David and intelligent development of the werewolf myth beyond its previous Hollywood adaptations. Sadly, that is all intentional. It’s a pop-cultural riff.

moving picture fiction