Horror Film Review: Twilight Zone: The Movie (dir by John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller)


1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie is meant to be a tribute to the classic original anthology series.  It features four “episodes” and two wrap-around segments, with Burgess Meredith providing opening and closing narration.  Each segment is directed by a different director, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Unfortunately, Twilight Zone: The Movie is a bit of a mess.  One of the episodes is brilliant.  Another one is good up until the final few minutes.  Another one is forgettable.  And then finally, one of them is next too impossible to objectively watch because of a real-life tragedy.

With a film that varies as wildly in tone and quality as Twilight Zone: The Movie, the only way to really review it is to take a segment at a time:

Something Scary (dir by John Landis)

Albert Brooks and Dan Aykroyd drive through the desert and discuss the old Twilight Zone TV series.  Brooks claims that the show was scary.  Aykoyd asks if Brooks wants to see something really scary.  This is short but fun.  It’s tone doesn’t really go along with the rest of the movie but …. oh well.  It made me jump.

Time Out (dir by John Landis)

Vic Morrow plays a racist named Bill Connor who, upon leaving his local bar, finds himself transported to Nazi-occupied France, the deep South, and eventually Vietnam.

How you react to this story will probably depend on how much you know about its backstory.  If you don’t know anything about the filming of this sequence, you’ll probably just think it’s a bit heavy-handed and, at times, unintentionally offensive.  Twilight Zone often explored themes of prejudice but Time Out just seems to be using racism as a gimmick.

If you do know the story of what happened while this segment was being filmed, it’s difficult to watch.  Actor Vic Morrow was killed during filming.  His death was the result of a preventable accident that occurred during a scene that was to involve Morrow saving two Vietnamese children from a helicopter attack.  The helicopter crashed, killing not only Morrow but the children as well.  It was later determined that not only were safety protocols ignored but that Landis had hired the children illegally and was paying them under the table so that he could get around the regulations governing how many hours child actors could work.  It’s a tragic story and one that will not leave you as a fan of John Landis’s, regardless of how much you like An American Werewolf in London and Animal House.

Nothing about the segment feels as if it was worth anyone dying for and, to be honest, I’m kind of amazed that it was even included in the finished film.

Kick The Can (dir by Steven Spielberg)

An old man named Mr. Bloom (Scatman Crothers) shows up at Sunnyvale Retirement Home and encourages the residents to play a game of kick the can.  Everyone except for Mr. Conroy (Bill Quinn) eventually agrees to take part and, just as in the episode of the Twilight Zone that this segment is based on, everyone becomes young.

However, while the television show ended with the newly young residents all running off and leaving behind the one person who refused to play the game, the movie ends with everyone, with the exception of one man who apparently became a teenager istead of a kid, deciding that they would rather be old and just think young.  That really doesn’t make any damn sense but okay.

This segment is unabashedly sentimental and clearly calculated to brings tears to the eyes to the viewers.  The problem is that it’s so calculated that you end up resenting both Mr. Bloom and all the old people.  One gets the feeling that this segment is more about how we wish old people than how they actually are.  It’s very earnest and very Spielbergian but it doesn’t feel much like an episode of The Twilight Zone.

It’s A Good Life (dir by Joe Dante)

A teacher (Kathleen Quinlan) meets a young boy (Jeremy Licht) who has tremendous and frightening powers.

This is a remake of the classic Twilight Zone episode, It’s A Good Life, with the difference being that young Anthony is not holding an entire town hostage but instead just his family.  This segment was directed by Joe Dante, who turns the segment into a cartoon, both figuratively and, at one point, literally.  That’s not necessarily a complaint.  It’s certainly improvement over Spielberg’s sentimental approach to the material.  Dante also finds roles for genre vets like Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert, and Dick Miller and he provides some memorably over-the-top visuals.

The main problem with this segment is the ending, in which Anthony suddenly reveals that he’s not really that bad and just wants to be treated normally, which doesn’t make much sense.  I mean, if you want to be treated normally, maybe don’t zap your sister in a cartoon.  The teacher agrees to teach Anthony how to be a normal boy and again, what the Hell?  The original It’s A Good Life worked because, like any child, Anthony had no conception of how adults felt about him.  In the movie version, he’s suddenly wracked with guilt and it’s far less effective.  It feels like a cop out.

Still, up until that ending, It’s A Good Life worked well as a satire of the perfect American family.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet (dir by George Miller)

In this remake of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, John Lithgow steps into the role that was originally played by William Shatner.  He plays a man who, while attempting to conquer his fear of flying, sees a gremlin on the wing of his airplane.  Unfortunately, he can’t get anyone else on the plane to believe him.

Nightmare at 20,000 Feet is the best of the four main segments.  It’s also the one that sticks closest to its source material.  Director George Miller (yes, of Mad Max fame) doesn’t try to improve on the material because he seems to understand that it works perfectly the way it is.  John Lithgow is also perfectly cast in the lead role, perfectly capturing his increasing desperation.  The one change that Miller does make is that, as opposed in the TV show, the gremlin actually seems to be taunting John Lithgow at time and it works wonderfully.  Not only is Lithgow trying to save the plane, he’s also trying to defeat a bully.

Something Scarier (dir by John Landis)

Dan Aykroyd’s back as an ambulance driver, still asking his passenger if he wants to see something really scary.  It’s an okay ending but it does kind of lessen the impact of Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.

 

Masters of Horror, “Deer Woman”, Dir. John Landis


dw.jpg

Happy Horrorthon! There’s a Half-Deer woman (DeerTaur?) on the loose and only Martin Tupper…I mean Detective Dwight Faraday can stop her…maybe. Many of you don’t remember Dream On from the late 80s-early 90s on HBO, but it was awesome.  Benben played this kinda cranky book editor Martin Tupper who always thought in movie clips and seeing him act again was like being a wee kid again who quietly watched Dream On after his parents fell asleep.  Dream On BTW was hilarious and created by John Landis- Check it Out!  Yes, The American Werewolf in London director and he did Thriller.

Well, in the early 2000s Mick Garris got a lot of the greats from the 80s and 90s to do short horror films and Deer Woman was one of them.  In Deer Woman, Drunk dudes are getting trampled to death and Detective Faraday is assigned to the case.

Faraday is a down and out detective who no one respects.  Martin Tupper was a down and editor who no one respected.  Faraday is actually not a terrible detective.  He follows up leads and sees where they go.  He checks with the coroner and sees that the bodies are riddled with hoof prints.  You know what makes hoof prints? Deer-Taurs!!!!

Also, men are really portrayed as dumb and horny.  The Deer-Taur picks her next victim up at a hotel bar without speaking a word, but the dudes don’t seem to mind.  Once the seduction is on, she tramples him with her hooves! Yes, hooves.  I love this show!

What’s not to like?! Deer-Taurs, Detectives, and hooves!  There’s also a great dream sequence when Faraday imagines how the kill went down where a Deer in flannel carries off a victim Creature from Black Lagoon style.  It’s hilarious.  This is what’s great about Landis; his horror is always interspersed with great comic relief.

Anywho, bodies keep dropping and they’re so beat up that their arms are found on rooftops! AWESOME!!! Does Detective Faraday stop the Deer-Taur? Who Cares?! It’s got Deer-Taurs and Brian Benben! I would definitely recommend finding this show however you can.  Pretty much all of the Masters of Horror episodes are great. Cheers!

yuou

And To All A Good Fright: THE MUNSTERS SCARY LITTLE CHRISTMAS (TV Movie 1996)


cracked rear viewer

If you grew up in the “Monster Kid” generation like me… well, you’re old! That is, old enough to remember THE MUNSTERS, the silly 60’s sitcom about a family of monsters adjusting to life in suburbia. The show ran two seasons and inspired a feature film, 1966’s MUNSTER, GO HOME!, with Fred Gwynne (Herman, the Frankenstein’s Monster surrogate), Yvonne DeCarlo (Lily, a vampire resembling Carroll Borland in MARK OF THE VAMPIRE), Al Lewis (Grandpa, aka Count Dracula himself!), and Butch Patrick (Eddie, a wolf-boy) reprising their roles. The Munsters returned in a 1981 TV Movie THE MUNSTERS’ REVENGE with Gwynne, DeCarlo, and Lewis, then as a 1988-91 syndicated sitcom THE MUNSTERS TODAY, this time starring John Schuck (Herman), Lee Meriweather (Lily) and Howard Morton (Grandpa).

The fright family have proved durable, and were trotted out yet again for a 1996 holiday TV Movie, THE MUNSTERS SCARY LITTLE CHRISTMAS. I’m usually…

View original post 501 more words

A Movie A Day #47: Body Chemistry II: Voice of a Stranger (1992, directed by Adam Simon)


body-chemistry-ii-the-voice-of-a-stranger-movie-poster-1992-1020211070Dr. Claire Archer is back!

Having gotten away with murder at the end of the first Body Chemistry, Claire (played again by Lisa Pescia) is now working as a radio psychologist, taking the 9 pm to 1 am slot at a station managed by a sleazy chain smoker named Big Chuck (played by real-life sleazy chain smoker Morton Downey, Jr.).  Claire invites her listeners to call with their deepest desires.  “Without pain, you’re not truly alive.”

One night, “John” calls.  When Claire looks at the list of callers and sees, “John likes rough sex,” she immediately put him on the air.  John is actually Dan (Gregory Harrison).  Dan is dating Claire’s call screener, Brenda (Robin Riker), who cannot recognize her own boyfriend’s voice over the telephone.  Dan is a former high school football star who left town and became a cop in Los Angeles.  When his violent impulses became impossible to control, Dan was kicked off the force and he returned home.  Dan wants to suppress his dark side but Claire has other ideas.

Body Chemistry II is a marginal improvement over the first Body Chemistry, because Dan is a more sympathetic victim character than Marc Singer was in the first film and Body Chemistry II puts Lisa Pescia’s vampy performance front and center.  Though both films tell the same basic story, Body Chemistry II is stylistically a very different film.  Body Chemistry II takes it cue from film noir, which means a lot of dark rooms with Venetian blinds.  Dan’s flashbacks and nightmares also add some surreal moments to Body Chemistry II, distinguishing it from the more straight forward first film.

Though there would be two more Body Chemistry sequels, this would be the last time that Lisa Pescia would play Dr. Archer.  Keep an eye out for Clint Howard, Jeremy Piven, and director John Landis, all of whom show up in small roles.

For tomorrow’s movie a day, Shari Shattuck takes over the role of Claire Archer in Body Chemistry III: Point of Seduction.

 

Music Video of the Day: Thriller by Michael Jackson (1983, dir. John Landis)


“Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this post in no way endorses a belief that this statement was anymore necessary than the one at the beginning of this music video.”

The reason it was there is because Michael Jackson was a Jehovah’s Witness at the time. That’s just one of the many many many things you can find out about this music video on Wikipedia alone.

I guess I can add one thing to this that you have dig around a bit to put together. I’m sure there have been some made since Thriller, but just in case you didn’t know, or remember how huge this music video was, it was popular enough to get its’ own porno spoof. It is called Driller: A Sexual Thriller (1984).

Driller (1984, dir. Joyce James)

Driller (1984, dir. Joyce James)

They even spoofed Jackson’s opening statement.

Driller (1984, dir. Joyce James)

Driller (1984, dir. Joyce James)

Because when I see this,…

vlcsnap-2016-10-30-16h00m34s130

I totally want to see it have sex.

Driller (1984, dir. Joyce James)

Driller (1984, dir. Joyce James)

The mask in Thriller is much better.

What I love best about this is that John Landis kind of predicted this would happen a couple of years prior when he made An American Werewolf In London (1981). Landis likes to stick references into his movies to a fictional film called See You Next Wednesday. Thriller is no exception. As Jackson gets up to leave the theater, you can hear someone onscreen say “See You Next Wednesday.” Of course An American Werewolf In London also had that bit, but it was a porno in that movie.

An American Werewolf In London (1981, dir. John Landis)

An American Werewolf In London (1981, dir. John Landis)

There’s even the scene where David is sitting in a porno theater watching the fictional “See You Next Wednesday” movie while talking to Griffin Dunne’s character who is looking like the undead in Thriller at that point.

An American Werewolf In London (1981, dir. John Landis)

An American Werewolf In London (1981, dir. John Landis)

The only other thing I noticed is that if you drop the ‘s’ in “Peters”, then you have a director that got his start making horror movies.

vlcsnap-2016-10-30-16h57m19s398

Sadly, just like Down Under by Men At Work and It’s Tricky by RUN-DMC, this music video ended up in litigation. Both John Landis and Ola Ray sued Michael Jackson over royalties. I’m glad none of that kept the music video off of YouTube as it seems to with so many others.

Happy Halloween!

Back to School Part II #9: National Lampoon’s Animal House (dir by John Landis)


NATIONAL-LAMPOONS-ANIMAL-HOUSE

You know what?  I’m going to start this review with the assumption that you’ve already seen the classic 1978 college comedy, National Lampoon’s Animal House.  At the very least, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of it and that you know the general details.  Animal House was not only a huge box office success but it’s also one of the most influential films ever made.  Almost every comedy released since 1978 owes a debt to the success of Animal House.  Just as every subsequent high school film was directly descended from American Graffiti, every college film features at least a little Animal House in its DNA.

So, with that in mind, who is your favorite member of Delta House?

toga

Most people, I think, would automatically say Bluto (played by John Belushi) and certainly, Bluto is the best known and perhaps best-remembered member of the cast.  As played by Belushi, Bluto is the film’s rampaging ID and he’s such a force of nature that, whenever I rewatch Animal House, I’m surprised to be reminded of the fact that he’s not really in the film that much.  He’s present for the parties, of course.  He imitates a zit and starts a food fight.  He gives a rousing speech, in which he reminds the members of the Delta House that America didn’t give up after “the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor!”  He destroys a folk singer’s guitar and I personally love the scene where he tries to cheer up a despondent pledge by smashing a beer bottle over his head.  But really, Bluto is used very sparingly and he’s one of the few members of the ensemble not to get his own subplot.  Bluto’s great but he’s not my favorite member of Delta House.

Hoover

Believe it or not, my favorite member of Delta House is Robert Hoover (James Widdoes).  Hoover is the president of Delta House and, when we first meet him, he seems like he’s way too clean-cut to be in charge of the “worst house” on campus.  But then, as the film progresses, we discover that Hoover may not be as openly crazy as everyone else but he’s definitely a Delta.  Just watch him in the Toga party scene.  Just look at him in the picture that shows up during the closing credits.  It took me a while to realize that Hoover, the future public defender, was giving the camera the finger.  Hoover may look uptight but he’s secretly a wild man!

animal-house 1

One of the things that I love about Animal House is that it truly is an ensemble film.  There’s not a weak performance to be found in the entire movie.  No matter how wild or over-the-top the humor gets, the entire cast commits to their roles and, as a result, they keep this movie grounded.  You actually find yourself caring about whether or not they get kicked off campus.  You truly believe that the members of Delta House have been friends for years but, even more importantly, you believe the same thing about their rivals at Omega House.  For that matter, it may be easy to make fun of Dean Wormer (John Vernon, setting the template for all evil deans to come) but you never doubt that he’s been in charge of Faber College for years and that he’s planning on being in charge for years to come.  As played by the deep-voiced and sinister-looking Vernon, Wormer becomes every unreasonable authority figure.  When he explains the concept of super secret probation, he does so with a smug pleasure that is practically chilling.  When he mentions that the members of Delta House can now be drafted, the smile on his face is terrifying.

Wormer

You know who else gives a really good performance in Animal House?  Donald Sutherland.  At the time, Sutherland was the biggest star in the film.  He was offered either a percentage of the grosses or a flat fee.  Sutherland thought the film would flop, took the flat fee, and missed out on millions as a result. Sutherland plays Prof. Jennings, an English teacher who, in the only scene actually set in a classroom, desperately tries to get his bored students to pay attention to him.  There’s something so poignant about the way Jennings begs his students to turn in their papers.  “I’m not joking,” he sputters, “this is my job!”

Jennings

Jennings turns out to be free thinker.  He turns Boone (Peter Riefert), Katie (Karen Allen), and Pinto (Tom Hulce) onto marijuana.  There’s an anachronistic peace sign hanging in his apartment (Animal House takes place in 1963) but no matter.  Far worse is the fact that he temporarily breaks up Boone and Katie!  Everyone knows those two belong together!

Bluto and Flounder

You know who else doesn’t get enough credit for his performance in Animal House?  Stephen Furst.  He plays Flounder, a new pledge.  Flounder is just so enthusiastic about everything and he doesn’t even seem to be upset when Wormer tells him, “Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life.”  I love the enthusiastic way that Furst delivers simple lines like, “What’s my Delta Chi name?” and “Brother Bluto!  Brother D-Day!  What are you doing here!?” My favorite Flounder moment comes when he accidentally gives a horse a heart attack.  Technically, it shouldn’t be funny but it is because Furst, Belushi, and Bruce McGill (playing the role of D-Day) so thoroughly throw themselves into their roles.  For that matter, the horse did a pretty good job too.

Boone and Otter

But that’s not all!  How can I praise the ensemble of Animal House without mention Tim Matheson, who plays Otter, the future Beverly Hills gynecologist?  Or what about Kevin Bacon, playing Omega pledge Chip Diller?  This was Bacon’s first role and who can forget him shouting, “Thank you, sir, may I have another!” while being initiated into Omega House?  Or how about James Daughton and Mark Metcalf, as the two leaders of Omega House?  They were villains truly worth hissing!

Omega House

And yes, I know that a lot of the humor in Animal House is not politically correct but who cares?  It’s a hilarious movie, one that is full of good actors at their absolute best.  Yes, they’re all a bunch of privileged sexists blah blah blah, but I’d still party with the Delta House.  They know how to have fun and, even if they did wreck the Homecoming Parade, they had a good reason!

parade

And so is the movie.  Every time I see Animal House, I feel good about the world.  In 1978, The Deer Hunter was named best picture by the Academy.  Well, you know what?  With all due respect to that long epic about the tragedy of America’s involvement in the Vietnam War,  all the Oscars should have gone to Animal House!

Animal-House-e1349570128550

In conclusion … SING IT!

Let me t-t-tell you ’bout some friends I know
They’re kinda crazy but you’ll dig the show
They can party ’till the break of dawn
at Delta Chi you can’t go wrong

Otter, he’s the ladies man
Every girl falls into his hands
Boon and Katy playing “Cat and Mouse”

and Mrs. Wormer, she’s the queen of the
ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

ANIMAL HOUSE

That Pinto he’s a real swell guy
Clorette was jailbait but he gave her a try
Chip, Doug, and Greg, they’re second to none
They studied under Attila the Hun

Mr. Jennings has got his wig on tight
Flouder’s left shoe’s always on his right
Babs and Mandy are having a pillow fight
With D-Day, Hoover, Otis Day and the Knights

DO THE BLUTO

Come on baby, dance with me
Maybe if we do the Bluto
We will get an “A” in lobotomy

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

DO THE BLUTO
DO THE BLUTO

Aw, come on!
Let me tell ya
Dean Wormer tried to shut us down
But he fell and he broke his crown
He didn’t know about the Delta spunk
He came in handy when we were short a skunk

At the

ANIMAL HOUSE

5650948_std

Horror Song of the Day: Thriller (by Michael Jackson)


Thriller

What better way to end another month of horror here at Through the Shattered Lens than with a showing a the greatest music video ever made (not even a contest or a question). No matter what one’s personal opinion of Michael Jackson as a person there’s no denying the genius talent the man had and this video just speaks to the horror fan even if one was not into his music.

It has a werewolf (though here it’s a werecat), 50’s horror trope of the girl in distress, zombies, John Landis directing, Vincent Price with one of the best spoken word performance in a music video…and did I say zombies courtesy of make-up FX guru Rick Baker.

A music video that was more a short film plus horror musical, Thriller would become a cultural phenomenon that spread across the globe. It didn’t matter whether one lived in the US or the furthest corner of Mongolia. Everyone saw and enjoyed this music video. Even it’s detractors could only nitpick flaws from the final product.

Oh yeah, it has ZOMBIES!

Hope everyone had a great, happy and safe Halloween!

Thriller

It’s close to midnight, and something evil’s lurkin’ in the dark
Under the moonlight, you see a sight that almost stops your heart
You try to scream, but terror takes the sound before you make it
You start to freeze, as horror looks you right between the eyes
You’re paralyzed

‘Cause it’s a thriller, thriller night
And no one’s gonna save you from the beast about to strike
You know it’s thriller, thriller night
You’re fighting for your life inside a, killer, thriller tonight, yeah

You hear the door slam, and realize there’s nowhere left to run
You feel the cold hand, and wonder if you’ll ever see the sun
You close your eyes, and hope that this is just imagination
Girl, but all the while, you hear a creature creepin’ up behind
You’re outta time

‘Cause it’s a thriller, thriller night
There ain’t no second chance against the thing with the forty eyes, girl
(Thriller, thriller night)
You’re fighting for your life inside a killer, thriller tonight

Night creatures call and the dead start to walk in their masquerade
There’s no escaping the jaws of the alien this time
(They’re open wide)
This is the end of your life

They’re out to get you, there’s demons closing in on every side (boom!)
They will possess you, unless you change that number on your dial
Now is the time, for you and I to cuddle close together, yeah
All through the night, I’ll save you from the terror on the screen
I’ll make you see

That it’s a thriller, thriller night
‘Cause I can thrill you more than any ghoul would ever dare try
(Thriller, thriller night)
So let me hold you tight and share a killer, diller, chiller thriller here tonight

‘Cause it’s a thriller, thriller night
Girl, I can thrill you more than any ghoul would ever dare try
(Thriller, thriller night)
So let me hold you tight and share a (Killer, thriller)

I’m gonna thrill you tonight

(Vincent Price voiceover)

“Darkness falls across the land
The midnight hour is close at hand
Creatures crawl in search of blood
To terrorize your neighborhood
And whosoever shall be found
Without the soul for getting down
Must stand and face the hounds of hell
And rot inside a corpse’s shell”

I’m gonna thrill you tonight
(Thriller, thriller)
I’m gonna thrill you tonight
(Middle of the night, thriller)
I’m gonna thrill you tonight
Ooh, babe, I’m gonna thrill you tonight
Middle of the night, babe

(Vincent Price voiceover)

“The foulest stench is in the air
The funk of forty-thousand years
And grizzly ghouls from every tomb
Are closing in to seal your doom
And though you fight to stay alive
Your body starts to shiver
For no mere mortal can resist
The evil of the thriller”

Horror Scenes I Love: The Howling


TheHowlingI always thought that Joe Dante’s 1981 horror film, The Howling, has been overlooked just a little bit due to it’s release being the same year as John Landis’ own horror film, An American Werewolf In London. Both were werewolf films and both were good in their own right.

Dante’s film has been called silly by some critics, but it was the more serious of the two with Landis’ own film mixing in more black humor in the narrative than Dante’s which took on a more traditional approach to the werewolf horror. Even the transformation scene from both films took on opposite sides in terms of mood and tone. Where Landis’ film treated the scene with both a mixture of horror and camp (due to the music playing in the background) in The Howling the scene went for full-on horror.

This has been one of my favorite horror scenes and it’s all due to the work of the very person who made John Carpenter’s The Thing such a memorable piece of horror filmmaking: Rob Bottin.

This man should be handed every award for every effects work he has ever done and will continue to do. It’s a shame that he hasn’t done anything of note since 2002’s Serving Sara, but until Hollywood decides that if they want great practical effects paired with advancing CG ones and hire Bottin once again we can always fall back on his past work such as the one’s he did for The Howling.

Horror Film Review: An American Werewolf in London (dir. by John Landis)


I resisted seeing An American Werewolf in London for quite some time because 1) I kept mixing the film up with its “sequel,” An American Werewolf in Paris (which is seriously one of the worst films ever made) and 2) werewolves scare me in a way that vampires and zombies don’t.  Seriously, what is a werewolf other than a really big pit bull and to say that I’m not a dog person is an understatement.  However, this Halloween season, several people on twitter suggested that I give the film a chance so, reluctantly, I watched it and I’m glad that I did.  Good call, twitter.

Originally released way back in 1981, An American Werewolf in London starts with two nice guys from New York (played by David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) backpacking across England.  They stop in one of those proverbial, fog-drenched English villages where they are told, by the secretive town folk, to stay off the moors.  Naughton and Dunne promptly wander into the moors.  “Whoops,” they literally say as the full moon shines behind them.  Suddenly, they are attacked by some sort of wild animal.  Dunne is killed and a severely wounded Naughton wakes up days later in a London hospital.

While recovering in the hospital, Naughton meets and starts up a tentative romance with his nurse (Jenny Agutter) even as he finds himself haunted by disturbing graphic nightmares in which he sees his family being massacred by humanoid wolves dressed up like storm troopers.  (Seriously, these genuinely disturbing nightmares were so seamlessly worked into film that they took me totally by surprise.)  Even worse, Dunne’s progressively decaying corpse keeps popping up in his hospital room and telling him that 1) they were attacked by a werewolf, 2) Dunne’s spirit is trapped on Earth until the werewolf’s bloodline is extinguished, and 3) that bloodline is currently being carried on by Naughton.  Fearing for his sanity, Naughton moves into Agutter’s flat after he’s released from the hospital and, for a brief moment, it actually seems like he might actually be okay.

And then, inevitably, a full moon rises and soon, there’s an American werewolf in London…

An American Werewolf in London is an oddly succesful hybrid of genres that don’t always mix well: it’s scarier than Paranormal Activity, funnier than Scream, and ultimately more romantic than any of the Twilight films.  David Naughton and Jenny Agutter are both so appealing in this film that you actually get invested in their relationship and, as a result, the inevitably of the film’s conclusion becomes all the more tragic.  As this film was pre-CGI, Naughton actually had to act out the process of transforming into a werewolf and, as a result, An American Werewolf in London feels real in a way that most werewolf films do not.

Director John Landis manages to maintain a perfect balance between the horror and the comedy and, as a result, I found myself both laughing out loud and hiding my eyes throughout this entire film.  For me, the scariest scene in the film comes when an unfortunate commuter finds himself being tracked through a nearly deserted tube station by our werewolf.  Landis  wisely draws the sequence out, with the camera taking on the point-of-view of the prowling werewolf.  Seriously, this growls heard during this whole sequence reminded me of why I’m so scared of big dogs.  The other stand-out sequence comes towards the end of the film, in which Naughton takes refuge in a filthy porno theater and talks to Dunne (who, by this point, is just a skeleton).  Dunne, it turns out, has brought with him the spirits of all the people who Naughton killed during the last full moon.  So, while Dunne and his new friends encourage Naughton to commit suicide and Naughton starts to painfully transform into a werewolf, the worst porno film ever made is playing in front of them.  The scene — with its perfect mix of tragedy, comedy, and horror — epitomizes everything that makes An American Werewolf in London work as a film.

One final note: one of the problems that I have with a whole lot of horror films is that they rarely make good use of their setting.  Whether it’s that old deserted building or that piece of wilderness that’s not on anyone’s map, horror locations often feel as a generic as horror plots.  However, Landis makes good use of both London and the English countryside here and this is a film that really should serve as a lesson for aspiring horror filmmakers todays.  Of course, it helps that the location in question happens to be London with all of its gothic traditions and old school horror heritage.  Let’s face it — An American Werewolf in St. Louis* just doesn’t carry the same punch. 

—-

* Or, God Forbid, Vermont.