Combustible Celluloid
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With: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Lila Kaye, Frank Oz, David Schofield, Brian Glover, Rik Mayall, Don McKillop, Paul Kember, Linzi Drew
Written by: John Landis
Directed by: John Landis
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 97
Date: 08/21/1981

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Having a Howl

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

After making several hit comedies, John Landis indulged his love for horror with this werewolf movie. Although it features impressive, state-of-the-art visual effects by Rick Baker, the movie is also somewhat tongue-in-cheek. Two hitchhiking Americans, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) wind up lost in the moors. They find a pub, "The Slaughtered Lamb," but decide that the patrons are not very friendly and -- after some warnings -- they head out again. A creature attacks them: Jack is killed and David goes to the hospital. After a series of disturbing nightmares and a visit from a dead (and decaying) Jack, David learns that he's going to turn into a werewolf himself at the next full moon. The only option is to kill himself, except that he's fallen in love with a pretty nurse (Jenny Agutter).

Baker's werewolf transformation scene was so awesome at the time that it won an Oscar and had people buzzing. This was by far the biggest hit of three werewolf movies released the same year. (The other two were Joe Dante's equally cool The Howling and Michael Wadleigh's Wolfen.) Landis' direction seems fairly assured; he seems involved with the characters here, and less inclined to make jokes, although certainly Dunne's character is played for gruesome laughs. Years later, this one still smells like an audience favorite.

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