From: Subject: Date: April 21, 2005 3:53:51 PM CDT Hankblog

Monday, November 01, 2004

Monster Mash: An American Werewolf in London

Shaun of the Dead is hardly unique in its attempt to fuse horror and humor. Comedy is frequently an element that plays a major role in most really successful modern horror films. Scream had a lot of denigrating, self-referential humor, though that franchise managed to beat that dead horse into a bloody pulp. The Nightmare on Elm Street franchise is successful not just because it is scary and gory, but also because Freddy at his best is also pretty damn funny. An American Werewolf in London takes an approach much closer to Shaun's of sly, dry wit, and that helps it morph out into a really effective black comedy, as well as making a healthy dose of tragedy at the end that much more poignant.

David Naughton and Griffin Dunne are David and Jack, two young American college students who are enjoying a break between semesters backpacking across England. They stumble into a pub in a rural town trying to get out of the rain. They find that the residents of this town seem to be living in fear of some dark terrible secret, one which they have the misfortune of running into personally. When they are shunned by the townsfolk out of the pub, they are attacked on the moors by a vicious wolf like creature. Jack is killed, and David lapses into unconsciousness seeing the creature looking not at all like a wolf, but like a human being.

Regaining consciousness in a London hospital, David is skeptical of the official response that he and Jack were attacked by "an escaped lunatic". His focus on the incident is shaken by the affections of Alex (Jenny Agutter), the nurse caring for David in the hospital. Alex is quite taken by David, and they embark on a whirlwind love affair. Everything seems to be ok, until one night David is visited by the gruesome ghost of Jack advising David he needs to kill himself before the next full moon, or David will transform itself into the same thing that killed Jack: a werewolf.

The movie balances some very tongue in cheek humor with some pretty gory images the whole way through. Jack's ghost starts looking much as he did when he was killed: bloody, open wounds and mangled flesh everywhere. As time moves on, his ghost decays as his corpse would, and it leads to some hysterical exchanges between David and Jack ("I will NOT be threatened by a walking meat loaf!"). Gradually though, it turns into gallows humor as Jack's ominous prediction proves to be true about what David becomes.

The transformation sequence earned Hollywood makeup god Rick Baker his first of 6 Oscars for his make up work (the first Oscar awarded for Make Up), and to this day, almost a quarter of a century later (Jesus the movie's been out that long? I'm old...) I still think it's quite possibly the most merited Oscar awarded since I started watching movies. It's an old school type of special effect that only lets you see little bits and pieces of the creature David will become, letting the true horror run wild in the viewers imagination. Most werewolf movies depict the transformation as painful, but this one in particular looks like sheer agony. And much like Jaws did with the shark, director John Landis never lets you see all of the creature until the very end of the movie, letting the fear build up in the viewers mind up until near the end of the picture.

Fun, scary, and sad, this film is definitely going to be a must watch for next Halloween. Paired with Shaun of the Dead (DVD release Dec. 21, 2004), it will make for a fun night of laughs, thrills, and chills the whole night long.