Wednesday, October 21, 2009
31 Days of Halloween - Day 21 - Movie 2
"An American Werewolf in London" (1981) really resonated with me when I first saw during its theatrical run back when I was too young to get into R rated movies and had to rely on the kindness of various adults to pose as my parents so I could get into them. It was a refreshing change from the knife, power tool, and garden implement wielding maniacs that were taking over the genre at the time. The make-up effects by Rick Baker, and not just the astonishing man into werewolf transformation, but the progressively decaying Jack really struck me and led to an interest in special make-up effects that has stuck with me to this day. I remember a friend of mine and I recreating Jack's make-up on me using stuff we had on hand like string and acrylic paint and glue. I still cherish the look on the face of the repairman who stepped into my parents' house and came across me eating lunch in that make-up. I rode around on my bike like that for a while, until I realized that something was wrong, and had to get that make-up off (which took over an hour in the tub). It turns out, I'd sealed my pores with the paint and so forth, just like that actress in "Goldfinger."
Two Americans, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) are backpacking through northern England when they are attacked by a werewolf. Jack is killed. David lives. David then finds himself repeatedly visited by the undead Jack, who is progressively decayed in each visit, who warns David that he'll become a werewolf at the next full moon, and needs to commit suicide before then so that he doesn't kill anyone, making them undead like Jack. David thinks that his visits from Jack are just bad dreams, and then it's too late, and David transforms into werewolf and sets out on a killing spree. When he realizes that Jack was right all along, he's desperate to keep it from happening again, but cannot bring himself to commit suicide before the full moon rises again.
This movie still really works for me, less so for the special make-up effects than for the fact that it feels like it's populated by real people, not actors. The humor is well integrated and serves at enhancing the reality rather than diminishing it, making the horror elements that much more effective. Watching it now, it seems like there is a lot less humor in it than there was back in 1981. It made me realize how fresh this movie was, because what was deemed then as humorous were the undead characters acting like regular living people, despite their horrible wounds and ghastly appearances. Today, that doesn't seem so weird, but it was innovative back in 1981, an innovation completely overshadowed by the make-up effects.