In 1981, director John Landis, then best known for his instant comedy classics National Lampoon’s Animal House and The Blues Brothers, unleashed his own take on the burgeoning werewolf theme with An American Werewolf in London. Released by Universal Pictures, Landis’ take on the genre was a huge late-summer blockbuster, and it went on to win an Academy Award for makeup effects.
Landis instinctively knows how to draw out laughs. The opening scenes of the two American travelers and best friends, David (David Naughton, then best known for his Dr. Pepper commercial) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), crossing the moors and ending up in the provincial English pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, are hilarious in poking fun at cultural differences and horror-movie clichés.
But An American Werewolf in London is a stealthy beast. When Jack is killed by a werewolf on the moors and David is mauled, the movie takes a darker tone. Humor still abounds, but David’s struggle with his new-found lycanthropy and his relationship with the nurse, Alex (the lovely Jenny Agutter), is problematic. They have fallen in love with each other, and she’s desperately trying to rescue him from certain doom, while the movie takes a poignant, emotional turn that lingers long after the laughs have faded.
An American Werewolf in London plays at Ciné Oct. 23–25, as part of the month-long “Schlocktoberfest” series of horror movies.
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