'Hell Yeah!' is an ongoing series in which horror filmmakers, critics and fans share their take on movies they love. This month: werewolves!
Despite being a full-on werewolf junkie who readily sinks his canines into all things lycanthropic, it took me all of two seconds to arrive at a lupine fear flick that's near and dear to my heart... and not exactly out of pure nostalgia, either. No, John Landis's An American Werewolf in London is tightly woven into my psyche for two completely different reasons – each tied to an important period in my life.
The first connection is an early one, at a time when I was still young enough to get worked up over the prospect of seeing a seriously scary (and R-rated!) monster flick, already juiced with frightening expectations after seeing full-page photo spreads in all the big magazines showing off Rick Baker's groundbreaking effects. What really knocked me through the wall, however, was the disarming nature of the film's humor – this was from the director of The Blues Brothers, after all – thus rendering me and my pals mentally unprepared for the moment when poor Jack (Griffin Dunne) gets blindsided by a barely-seen beast on the misty, moonlit moors.
I'd barely had the chance to recover in time for the horrifying visions experienced by the wolf-bitten David (David Naughton), including the “dream-within-a-dream” double-shock that lesser flicks have pulled off the shelf hundreds of times since. At this point, my friends and I were starting to think we were in over our heads... but since not one of us was willing to puss out in front of his peers, we stood our ground.
I'm glad I did: when David's now-legendary wolf-out moment arrived – in a brightly-lit room, sparing the audience nothing (except, mercifully, David's hairy junk) – I realized that I wasn't flinching anymore, but staring in slack-jawed amazement at a key moment in monster-movie history. Later, after one of the most chilling long-shots I've ever seen (you know the one, at the bottom of the escalator), this movie had completely, irreparably damaged my young brain.
That leads me to part two of this story – a few decades later. Your writer is now older, slightly wiser, fairly jaded, and convinced nothing is really scary enough to make that kind of impression again. I'd seen the most shocking images ever committed to film or video, but despite being a horror fan to the core, I'd never experienced real terror... until I fell victim to a sudden brain seizure. I'll spare you the messy details, but I wouldn't be surprised if I'd shouted “I'm sorry I called you a meatloaf, Jack!” just before darkness set in.
In the hospital, while I drifted in and out of consciousness for a few days, I began to imagine myself very much like David – running through my neighbors' yards at night, attacking and eating their pets. No, seriously. When I began to think more clearly (sort of), my thoughts went back to similar scenes from this movie, and I decided to pop in the DVD and watch it again. After getting past the whole deja vu thing (yecch), I realized how well this flick has withstood the test of time. Even knowing exactly how Baker pulled off the elaborate practical FX, it's still totally breathtaking to watch – and incredibly refreshing in an era where anybody with a laptop and a few hundred bucks' worth of software can pull off a half-assed CGI werewolf transition.
If ever a movie was worthy of carrying the Universal classic monsters' torch into the modern age, An American Werewolf in London is right up there. Of course, I'll be first in line to see the same studio's new spin on the original Wolf Man, but even if it measures up to the hype, it can never erase the deep and very welcome scar that Landis's film left on my memory.