The Movie Dude: 'Werewolf' helped plant horror's tongue in cheek

“An American Werewolf In London”

Starring: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter and John Woodvine

Rated: R for violence, gore, language and nudity

Running time: 98 minutes

Released: 1981

On DVD on Tuesday

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I’m always up for a good horror movie. Even a bad one, because much like pizza, bad ones are still pretty good.

Not that scary movies require an occasion to enjoy them, but with Halloween creeping up there’s no better time. For those of you throwing a Halloween party anytime soon, and aren’t sure of what would be a great movie to throw on while you play the host with the most, then you’re in luck.

“An American Werewolf In London” is the quintessential horror-comedy, and essentially one of the founding fathers of the genre. If you’re a fan of films like “Scream,” or the recent “Zombieland,” then “American Werewolf” is one of the films you need to thank for laying the groundwork.

It tells the story of two schmoes, David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne), who are backpacking their way across the moors in Yorkshire, England. They’re warned by locals at a bar to “beware the moon” and “stick to the roads.” They fail to follow the seemingly simple advice and as a result are attacked by a giant wolf.

David awakens a few weeks later in the hospital to find out he barely survived and that Jack had been killed. Jack may be dead, but in horror movies that doesn’t stop anyone. He returns to David’s side as a mutilated ghost, warning him that they were attacked by a werewolf and that soon Jack will become one too. Like anyone would, David assumes he’s gone crazy and tries to move on. He does so in part thanks to his nurse (Jenny Agutter), with whom he forms a relationship and stays with upon his discharge from the hospital.

Griffin Dunne, left, and David Naughton star as American tourists attacked by a beast in “An American Werewolf in London.”

Griffin Dunne, left, and David Naughton star as American tourists attacked by a beast in “An American Werewolf in London.”

The night of the next full moon, David discovers that Jack was not a figment of his imagination and that he was telling the truth. He transforms in a manner that is as gruesome as it is visually stunning. As a werewolf, David ravages anyone who gets in his way and causes no end of terror and destruction.

Director John Landis (“The Blues Brothers,” “Twilight Zone: The Movie”) took a novel approach to filming his werewolf scenes.

Normally the atmosphere is dark to the point you can’t see anything. That’s not the case here, for the subway station is brightly lit and you can see everything. It goes against modern convention, for in the light we’re supposed to be safe, invulnerable. Not the case here.

At this point our antihero is distraught beyond belief. Not only is he a werewolf and haunted by his friend’s ghost, he’s also now being haunted by the ghosts of his victims. A creepy premise to be sure, but handled in a darkly comic way thanks to their banter. He needs to find a solution to his problem before the next full moon, or who knows what will become of him, or possibly the girl he loves.

While this is a no-holds-barred horror flick, a certain dark humor runs throughout. The characters’ demeanors and deliveries lighten what in reality would be anything but comical.

It’s very natural, and you appreciate it because it alleviates the dark subject matter. Yet at the same time it also builds suspense because at some point this guy is going to turn into a werewolf and start eating people. The comedy is essentially the equivalent of covering an elephant with a baby blanket — it distracts, but it won’t hide the fact that it’s an elephant.

Elephants aside, this is a film that’s great to watch with a group of people. It’s fun and scary, and its special effects hold up just as well today as they did then. So while there’s a lot to laugh at, you won’t be laughing at those.

For those out there who are all ready fans of it, I recommend picking up the recently released DVD or Blu-ray. It contains a feature-length documentary, “Beware the Moon,” that chronicles the cult status the film’s achieved since its release almost 30 years ago.

For those of you not going the Halloween party route, and who’ll be planning a nice quiet evening on the couch instead, be sure to check back next week. I’ll be reviewing yet another horror movie that’s right up your particular alley.

The Movie Dude, Joe Altomere of Fort Myers, grew up in his parents’ video store in Plantersville, Texas. He owns close to 2,000 DVDs and Blu-ray discs and considers that only the start of his collection. E-mail him at jaltomere@yahoo.com

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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