Wednesday, April 27, 2011

#264. An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Directed By: John Landis

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne

Tag line: "Beware The Moon"

Trivia:  All the songs in this film have the word "MOON" in their title

When it first hit theaters in 1981, John Landis' An American Werewolf in London was heralded as a groundbreaking film, and it's creature effects, developed by legendary make-up artist Rick Baker, were the reason why.  Baker's work was enough to win the movie an Academy Award, the first ever Oscar given in the Best Makeup category. 

Even by today's CGI-defined standards, the effects in An American Werewolf in London look pretty damn good, and remain an impressive part of what is still a highly entertaining film.

Americans David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking their way through Northern England when they're attacked by what appears to be a wild animal. The locals manage to kill the beast, but are too late to save Jack, who dies from his injuries. 

David, still barely alive, is rushed to a hospital in London, where he will spend several weeks recovering from his injuries. While there, David catches the eye of pretty nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter), and the two strike up a quick romance. 

But David has been having violent, disturbing nightmares that he cannot explain, and it isn't until Jack's corpse pays him a visit that he begins to realize the truth: he and Jack were attacked by a werewolf, which means that David, having survived a bite from the creature, is now turning into one himself!

The most famous sequence in An American Werewolf in London is undoubtedly David's first werewolf 'transformation', which happens while he's staying in Alex's apartment. In a truly remarkable bit of film-making magic, David's entire body violently shifts and contorts until the "change" is complete (the effect of his face growing a snout is an image that will always stay with me). 

Yet equally as impressive as David's transformation is the job Baker did on Griffin Dunne's “Dead Jack” character, who visits David several times from beyond the grave to warn him he's changing into a monster. Because he was killed by a werewolf, Jack must walk the earth as one of the undead until the last werewolf - in this case, David - is destroyed. 

David first encounters “Dead Jack” in the hospital, and Jack's appearance is truly horrifying. Though dead, he carries with him the scars inflicted by the werewolf: his face is torn to shreds on one side, and a large, gaping hole has taken the place of the left side of his neck (with only a few strands of dangling skin remaining). From that moment on, whenever “Dead Jack” appears, he looks a little worse than the last time we saw him (when he visits David in Alex's apartment, he's turned green). Despite the humor that Landis and company inject into each of Jack's scenes (when he first shows up at the hospital, Jack asks if he can have a piece of David's toast), he looks every bit as monstrous as the werewolf.

Rick Baker's tremendous work in An American Werewolf in London led to the first of his six Academy Awards for Make-up design, and it's thanks to him that this film has become an awe-inspiring entry in the annals of cinematic history.


fred said...

Great film. Scared the snot out of me as a youngster...

DVD Infatuation said...

@Fred: Had a similar effect on me! Thanks for stopping by, and for the comment.

Dean said...

If I'm not mistaken, the Oscar for Makeup was actually created for Rick Baker for this movie. He had it coming, too -- in this vet tech's opinion, Baker paid more attention to actual canine anatomy than any makeup effects artist before or since.

DVD Infatuation said...

@Dean: Thanks for stopping by!

Yes, I believe you're right. I think the award for Best Makeup originated with Baker's work in this film (which definitely makes sense, considering how groundbreaking it truly was)