14 August 2010

WWQTW?: American Werewolf in London

Last night was our first WWQTW (What would Quentin Tarantino watch?) on a Friday night and I think it went pretty well. In honor of it being Friday the 13th, I decided we should watch something scary or at least in the horror vein of things. My choice? "An American Werewolf in London". I love this movie!
Released in 1981, "Werewolf" is directed by John Landis (Love!) and stars David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, and Jenny Agutter. Landis first wrote the script in 1969 but had to shelve it when no one would give a "nobody" money for a horror pic. [side note: Thank god he didn't go to Roger Corman. No offense, I love Corman pictures, but they would not have done this film right] After making "Kentucky Fried Movie" and "The Blues Brothers" he was able to dust off the script and give it a go. Naughton was most notably known as the Dr Pepper guy and went on to appear in TV ("My Sister Sam"). Dunne has had a more illustrious career, appearing regularly in TV and film ("Johnny Dangerously", "My Girl", "Quiz Show").

While backpacking through England, friends David and Jake find themselves lost in the moors. They stop into a local pub to escape the cold but are quickly sent away as outsiders. Out on the moors, something attacks them killing Jake and injuring David. When David awakes, he finds he is to become a werewolf and his friend is forced to walk the earth as a ghost until the wolves bloodline is severed. Agutter plays the nurse who takes a shine to David and invites him into her home.

"Werewolf" is an important film for several reasons. First, the make up artistry of Rick Baker is genius. Films like this (utilizing practical make up and appliances) will always hold up to their CG brethren. Baker was the first recipient of the Academy Award for Best Make up (many say the category was created to honor him), and would go on to win 5 more. His other works included "Star Wars", "Videodrome", "Thriller" music video, "Batman Forever", "Men in Black", and "Hellboy". It's safe to say I have a bit of a crush. When I was younger, there was a travelling show of movie FX that came through Dallas. It was amazing! We got to see the alien queen from "Alien", the grandmother from "Psycho", and the werewolf head from this film. Up close it was just as impressive as on screen.


Second, the writing and direction of Landis is smart, funny, and never panders. It sets the tone for comedy in a horror setting that has become popular with more modern filmmakers. I love the recognition that in fear comes comedy. Landis utilizes medium and full shots, saving the close ups for David's transition and close ups of the werewolf only. It's smart and the British mentality perfectly captured.

Third, I love anything from John Landis because he always gives a wink to the audience. I always thought if I ever made movies I would insert little homages to films and people I love. Most of his films feature the tag "See you next Wednesday" (from a "Dr Strangelove" quote), popular music that relates to the film (in "Werewolf" all the songs featured the moon in it's lyrics), and cameos from other people in the industry (look for Frank Oz, the voice of Miss Piggy, in several of his films). They go unnoticed to most people, but these built in Easter eggs are the bread and butter of movie fans the world over.

The film is rated "R" and even taking into account the way films were rated 30 years ago (I mean, "Jaws" is PG people), it remains an "R" rated film for some nudity, sexual situations, language, horror violence, and gore. That being said, I must have been 13 or younger when I saw it and look how I turned out!