Agh. I was in London recently and once again I forgot to go to Lee Ho Fuk’s for a big dish of beef chow mein, or to Trader Vic’s for a piña colada. Not that I particularly wanted a piña colada or anything. These just happen to be references to actual London establishments from one of my favourite songs: Warren Zevon’s smart, catchy and quotable ‘Werewolves of London’.
This brings me to John Landis’s 1981 horror movie An American Werewolf in London, a film I saw for the first time recently and which has no connection to Zevon’s tune apart from sharing a theme and providing me with a handy intro.
An American Werewolf in London is the best kind of horror film — one that has a funny bone among all the blood and guts. The poster’s strapline of ‘a masterpiece of terror’ might well refer to either of its two images: a savage beast, or being seen naked in public by an indignant old lady.
Here’s your story. Two dorky young American lads go back-packing through the moors of England but, wouldn’t you know it, they get attacked by the local werewolf. One of the Yanks then ends up in London and starts showing the side-effects, to the detriment of many Londoners.
Those transformative side-effects showcase some bone-crunching pre-CGI special effects. You can well believe that turning into a werewolf is a painful case. The titular weirdo certainly isn’t the suave Ripper-esque gentleman killer of Zevon’s song. That said, he still manages to pull Jenny Agutter, so he’s doing all right for himself.
As well as being witty and gory, AAWIL is great at playing on old film cliches— the local pub that falls silent when outsiders walk in; the well-meaning doctor who investigates where he shouldn’t; the panicky city-folk running for cover. Plus, you get to see the true horror of the undead — they’re even more annoying than when they were alive.
An American Werewolf in London is hugely enjoyable. It would have been perfect, though, if they had only included Zevon’s song. Aw-oooh!