There are a handful of names that one immediately thinks of when the topic of horror movies comes up in conversation. Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, and of course, Vincent Price. Among the horror movies I was introduced to as a child were many Vincent Price gems.
His career in horror films is legendary, as are many of his performances, so while I knew I wanted to review one of his works, it was difficult to choose exactly which one. I finally settled on tonight’s movie, The House on Haunted Hill.
Year Released: 1959
Written By: Robb White
Directed By William Castle
Starring: Vincent Price, Alan Marshal, Carol Ohmart
When five people all receive the same mysterious invitation to a party being held for the sender’s wife, their curiosity is piqued. After all, the instructions seem simple enough: Each invited party guest is promised $10,000 each, so long as they can spend the entire night locked within the house at which the party is held. There is one catch, however.
The house is said to be haunted by several ghosts who have been known to kill visitors.
But is it true? Or is it just the ramblings of a mad man? The five party guests participate in a fight for survival as they try to unlock the mysteries of the House on Haunted Hill before it’s too late.
I love this movie, I’m not going to lie. It might be my favorite of the old Vincent Price films, but I’m not certain I can truthfully narrow it down to only one.
Not only is this movie genuinely frightening on it’s own, by 1959 standards, but it has the distinction of being directed by William Castle, who was famous for attaching theater gimmicks to his films upon release. An example of this would be when he released The Tingler, also in 1959, and he attached vibrating motors under theater seats that would jolt the viewer of the film at key moments (When the tingler would attack a victim on screen).
The gimmick for House on Haunted Hill was fairly straight forward. During a scene in the film that involves a skeleton popping out of a vat of acid, the theaters were rigged so that a plastic glow-in-the-dark skeleton would drop from the ceiling to startle the viewers below. This worked some of the time, getting some legitimate screams from the audience, but it also caused some moviegoers to throw things at the skeleton and the gimmick was eventually retired altogether.
The writing, directing, and acting are all on par for a 1950s horror film starring Vincent Price, which is to say great. Many people who didn’t grow up with an appreciation of 50s/60s horror movies like I did might look upon this movie with a feeling of boredom or find the acting and “scares” to be laughable, but if you take into consideration how timid most films were in that era, this is a truly terrifying film. At least it would have been, if you had seen it in 1959.
Should You See It:
If you like Vincent Price, but have never seen this prized entry into his film career, then yes. If you’re a fan of black and white screamfests from the 40s/50s/60s, then yes. If you’re curious to see how many, if any, of the party guests survive the night, then yes.
If you saw (and enjoyed) the remake released in 1999 and want to see where that came from originally, then I say yes, but cautiously so. Keep in mind that the 1999 version of the film was released in a time when horror movies were starting to push the envelope in way of gore and jump-out scares. So you may find yourself a bit bored with the original. But I promise you that it is at least worth looking into.
You should really avoid seeing the remake, though.
The 80s were a weird time for movies. Technology was being utilized for the first time that changed how movies looked and felt forever. Films were getting dark and edgy and the special effects of the time reflected that. Speaking of reflective surfaces, look at this:
This is about as dark and edgy as I can handle.
Sorry about that. Well, no I’m not.
I’ve already talked about how 80s movies taught us how a teenager can kill a vampire. But if you’ve ever found yourself asking “What happens when a teenager becomes a vampire?”, then rest easy, because you’ll find your answer in tonight’s 80s horror movie classic, The Lost Boys.
Year Released: 1987
Written By: Janice Fischer, James Jeremias, Jeffery Boam
Directed By: Joel Schumacher
Starring: Jason Pattric, Corey Haim, Kiefer Sutherland
Divorce can be a rough thing, especially on children. But one of the best ways a single parent can help their child cope with the change is approaching it like a fresh start, a clean slate with which the parent and their children can start a new life. That’s what Michael and Sam’s mother thought when she packed up her boys and moved them to beautiful Santa Carla, California. After all, what could be better than a fresh start in a community right on the beach? Surf, sand, sun. Everyone loves the sun. Well, almost everyone.
As the boys explore their new hometown, they both make very different discoveries. Older brother Michael discovers Star, a pretty girl who leads him to a concert on the beach late at night. However little brother Sam, after venturing into a local comic book store run by the notorious Frog Brothers, learns about a string of grisly murders that have taken place around town.
As Sam digs a little deeper into the bloody secret of Santa Carla, Michael meets a new group of friends. Friends who offer him fun, excitement, and even immortality.
Can Sam, along with the help of the Frog Brothers, save his brother from his new blood sucking pals?
First off, let me start by saying this: There is no such place as Santa Carla, California. Santa Clara, yes. Santa Cruz, yes. Santa Carla, no. It’s fictional.
That said, much of The Lost Boys was filmed in and around Santa Cruz, California where I once lived. The ocean, the seaside amusement park (The Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk), the colorful cast of characters. I was once immersed in all of it in real life. One of the very first scenes in the film involves a security guard being chased across a parking lot and eventually being grabbed by an unknown assailant from above. I have been to that parking lot.
Even before I moved to Santa Cruz, The Lost Boys was an important movie in our household. My family quotes this film all the time (“One thing I never could stand about living in Santa Carla. All the god damn vampires.” among others).
But my obvious bias toward the movie aside, it’s a solid 80s vampire movie. Even with this guy in it:
I mean especially with this guy in it.
Now you don’t have to scroll back up to see sweaty sax man. You’re welcome.
The writing is pretty standard for an 80s teen vampire movie, as is the acting. Though I will say one thing about the acting, you believe everyone is who they say they are. Dianne Wiest as the doting single mother, Corey Haim as the rambunctious tween who is obsessed with comic books and horror movies, Jason Patric as the brooding teenager. And of course Kiefer Sutherland as the leader of a vampire motorcycle gang. Each of the actors in this film do a fine job of portraying who or what ever it is they are supposed to portray.
The direction is also fairly typical for this sort of movie released in this sort of era.
Overall, as a film, there is very little that is remarkable about The Lost Boys. But there is something about the combination of all the above mentioned aspects that makes it a fun roller coaster ride of a movie.
Should You See It
It’s great to see a young Kiefer Sutherland vamp out halfway through this movie. It’s also great to see Corey Haim and Corey Feldman fighting vampires together. There is also a great and under appreciated performance by Edward Herrmann that is worth checking out.
Yet another 80s horror movie to spawn two truly awful sequels, both of which I’ve already reviewed. Guess where?
And we’re back to werewolves! Sorry. This won’t be the last foray into lycanthropy on this list, either. Look, just don’t be surprised when four or five more werewolf movie reviews pop up later in the month, is all I’m saying.
This movie combines three things I love: Horror movies, Canada, and using werewolves as metaphors. I’m a big fan of a werewolf movie using the werewolf as a metaphor for humanity. Every werewolf story, depending on how deeply you look, and whether or not it was the intention of its writer, is a metaphor for human nature in some degree. But one movie took that idea and ran with it in a direction you might not expect: Womanhood.
When you think about it, using a werewolf movie to demonstrate the delicate nature of a young lady blossoming into womanhood makes a lot of sense. Both scenarios are about a huge change that happens gradually over time, both scenarios happen once a month, and both scenarios involve a lot of blood.
I know, it sounds ridiculous. Do you know why? Because it is ridiculous. And if this movie had been made by a major studio in Hollywood with a huge budget and big stars attached to star in it, that’s exactly the sort of movie that would be the result. However, this was made in Canada on a small budget and with relative unknowns in most of the roles. The resulting movie actually works on a lot of different levels and has become one of my favorite “unknown” werewolf movies.
I’m talking, of course, about Ginger Snaps.
Year Released: 2000
Written By: Karen Walton, John Fawcett
Directed By: John Fawcett
Starring: Katharine Isabelle, Emily Perkins, Mimi Rogers
Ginger and Bridget are a couple of maladjusted sisters who like horror movies, photographing staged scenes of gruesome deaths with themselves as the victims, and high school. Just kidding, they hate high school. Especially one girl in particular, named Trina, who makes their high school life a daily exercise in hell. Meanwhile, it seems local pets have been turning up dead in a series of grizzly animal attacks, reportedly perpetrated by the Beast of Bailey Downs, a terrifying local urban legend.
The sisters decide to kidnap Trina’s precious dog and make her believe the Beast of Bailey Downs had it as a snack. But their plan goes awry when, one night while out searching for a fresh dog carcass to use as a prop in their prank on Trina, the sisters are attacked by something large, something vicious, something that is out for blood: Ginger’s.
Bridget is able to rescue her sister from the jaws of their monstrous attacker and they flee. While crossing the highway, the beast follows and is struck by and splattered across the windshield of an oncoming van. While Bridget and Ginger return home, shocked by the events of the evening, they think the Beast of Bailey Downs’ reign of terror has ended.
But the beast carries a legacy for a reason, and as Bridget notices a change taking place in Ginger, she wonders if she really saved her sister after all.
This movie takes a touching story about two young girls who are at the threshold of adulthood, a sweet coming of age tale, and mashes it into a horrifying tale about a bloodthirsty werewolf on the prowl. Listen, I know how that looks on paper. Trust me. I had read about this movie before seeing it and my expectations were low, but it has become a movie that I proudly recommend to anyone looking for a good low budget werewolf flick. Because let’s face it, there aren’t many of them out there.
I mentioned before that this movie works on a lot of levels, and it really does. The makeup and creature design stands out, as the makers of this film had a small budget and that usually means horrible effects and a laughable finished product. But while the actual werewolf design itself is not the best I’ve seen, I applaud the filmmakers for being able to pull off something that doesn’t look completely ridiculous on screen. Plus, the makeup effects used on Ginger throughout the film are the shining examples of the artistry involved with the makeup in Ginger Snaps. Even moreso than the creature itself.
Which is another reason I enjoyed this movie, that the transformation into a werewolf is a gradual process taking place over the course of the film rather than all in one painful shot. A very unique take on the whole thing and it really adds to the tension.
Ginger Snaps is smartly written and the acting stacks up well with it. The director does a great job of taking you on this trip with Ginger and Bridget as they struggle to find a way to cure Ginger of this disease before it’s too late. You feel the suspense build from the moment Ginger is attacked right through to the big finale of the film and not a single second is wasted.
While watching this movie for the first time, I was pleased to see Mimi Rogers pop up as the mother to Bridget and Ginger. I like Mimi Rogers and her role ended up becoming one of my favorite aspects of this film.
Should You See It:
There’s really nothing I can say here that will convince you to see this movie if you already believe this premise to be stupid, right? All I can say is this: Watch the trailer. Watch the trailer and if any part of it (Mimi Rogers?) sways your feelings toward the concept even a little, then give it a chance. It might surprise you.
There have been no less than three films in the Ginger Snaps trilogy, and they are:
Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed
and Ginger Snaps Back: The Beginning.
Do not see the latter two first. See Ginger Snaps first and if you enjoyed it as much as I did, only then seek out the sequels (though technically the third one is a prequel, sort of, kind of).
Because they are bad. Well, sort of.
In 1968, filmmaker George A. Romero, changed the face of horror movies, along with the definition of the word “Zombie” forever with the release of his horror classic Night of the Living Dead, a film about a group of people who are besieged by an army of reanimated corpses with a hungry for human flesh. They hole up in a farm house and make every attempt to fight off the undead horde that awaits them outside.
Night of the Living Dead was such a genre changing movie, that Romero continued the trend with what is known today as “The Living Dead Series”. A collection of films, none of which are technically sequels but rather a continuation of the overall story of the zombie apocalypse, each featuring a different cast of characters facing the legion of the undead:
Night of the Living Dead (1968)
Dawn of the Dead (1978)
Day of the Dead (1985)
Land of the Dead (2005)
Diary of the Dead (2007)
Survival of the Dead (2010)
But I’m not reviewing any of those. Not today, anyway.
No, today I’m turning my focus to the often underrated 2004 remake of the 1978 George A. Romero classic, Dawn of the Dead.
Year Released: 2004
Written By: James Gunn, Michael Tolkin, Scott Frank (based on characters/story from the original 1978 George A. Romero screenplay)
Directed By: Zack Snyder
Starring: Sarah Polley, Ving Rhames, Mekhi Phifer
Nurses are the unsung heroes of the emergency medical profession. Without them, the emergency room would fall apart and people would die. Because of this, most nurses work long and horrible hours, nurses just like Ana. Coming off of a double shift at a hospital that seems to be seeing a spike in patients lately, most of them bite victims, she arrives in the perfect little cul de sac she calls home. She’s met by Vivian, her adorable roller skating neighbor child, who shows her how easily she can roller skate backwards now, a skill that will aid her much in life. Ana shuffles into her nice modern home, kisses her nice modern husband named Luis, and they proceed to have their long planned and much needed “date night”, while completely ignoring the emergency news bulletin on their television.
The sun filters in through the windows as their bedroom door is slowly pushed open. Luis wakes first and sees Vivian standing in their bedroom doorway, her tiny nightgown stained red with blood. Alarmed, he approaches her, to make sure she’s okay, which ends with Vivian biting Luis and ripping out a chunk of his throat. Ana screams, knocking Vivian away from Luis and out of the bedroom. She jumps into nurse mode and makes every attempt to help her dying husband, none of which work, and he dies choking on his own blood. Ana shuts the door before Vivian can do the same to her, but when she turns around Luis is on his feet, his eyes cold and dead. He chases her into the bathroom, where she locks him out and then injures herself falling into the bathtub. Ana struggles through the small bathroom window just as the reanimated body of Luis breaks through the bathroom door and grabs for her legs. Ana makes it outside and runs for her car, but is stopped in her tracks by what she sees.
The entire neighborhood is in chaos, guns are heard being fired in the distance, people are running away from the reanimated corpses of their own loved ones, and suddenly Ana realizes this might not be an isolated case. This might be something much, much worse.
This movie gets a lot of bad energy thrown at it, and I completely understand why. In fact, I distinctly remember being in the group of people who immediately rejected the whole concept of remaking Dawn of the Dead before the trailer was even released. Yes, I was one of those people. I suppose, in a way, I still am. When I heard about the Fright Night remake, I shuddered. For years, there have been persistent rumors surrounding a possible (oh, let’s be realistic: inevitable) remake of An American Werewolf in London. These rumors make me want to cry.
In March of 2004, I was twenty years old and worked at a movie theater. Working at a movie theater grants one certain perks, such as being able to screen movies the night before they are released. This was my introduction to Dawn of the Dead. I reluctantly took my seat for the free screening of what I was certain would be a travesty of modern filmmaking. I drank my soda, I ate my candy, I grumbled like a proper twenty year old who hates the world and most things in it.
An hour and a half soon passed and I was impressed. It was no George A. Romero film, but it was a well-crafted horror film. It was fast, mean, nasty and scary. Just like the zombies themselves.
Yes, that is one of the biggest things holding people back from enjoying this movie, it seems. The debate between horror fans about what exactly constitutes a proper zombie has been raging for years. The Romero style zombie climbs from the grave and shambles through the streets like a slow moving plague of death. This is considered by many zombie purists to be the only “proper” zombie, while a select few believe in the modern zombie, like that of this film, that transform from dying human to flesh hungry killing machine in a matter of minutes and that runs at incredible speed.
I’m in the camp that prefers the Romero style zombie, but the fact of the matter is this: The fast zombie is simply more frightening than the slow zombie. The terrifying thing about a slow zombie is the number in which they travel. You’re more likely to be devoured by a slow zombie thanks to being unable to avoid the undead mob descending upon you. But if a single fast moving zombie is chasing you, depending on what kind of physical shape you’re in, you would be screwed. Let alone if you put the aforementioned mob scenario into the mix. A mob of sprinting zombies, which you do end up seeing in this remake, is one of the most horrifying things I can think of.
The writing is surprisingly good, or at least it was surprising to me. But I didn’t know James Gunn wrote it going into the movie. If you’re aware of the work of James Gunn, then you probably wouldn’t be surprised either. There’s a dark humor to this movie that you would come to expect of something James Gunn has worked on and it balances with the horror elements very well.
The acting is very good for a film of this genre, though many of the characters border on annoying for most of their screen time. You’re really meant to root for only a few of them to survive, anyway (the Heroine, the Good Guy, and of course, Ving Rhames).
Plus, the soundtrack is enjoyable.
Should You See It:
If you’re a fan of fast moving zombies, movies with Tom Savini cameos, and Ving Rhames being a badass, then yes. Yes, you should.
Werewolves may be my favorite movie monster, but vampires are a close second. Speed, strength, the ability to fly. Not to mention the raw sex appeal that vampires almost always seem to possess. What I’m saying is being a vampire wouldn’t suck (I’m so, so sorry).
The 1980s was a glorious time for vampire movies, because it was the decade of the teenager. Yes, in most 80s movies, teenagers could do anything. They could find treasure, they could time travel, they could defend our country against invasion from Russia. They could even fight monsters. Werewolves, vampires, zombies. Teenagers in 80s movies found all sorts of monsters.
But tonight, we find out what happens when the monster finds the teenager, with Fright Night.
Year Released: 1985
Written By: Tom Holland
Directed By: Tom Holland
Starring: William Ragsdale, Chris Sarandon, Roddy McDowall
Between school work, chores, and his girlfriend Amy denying his many attempts to take their relationship to the next level, Charlie Brewster has a lot on his mind. So it’s no wonder that he pays little attention to the new neighbor moving in next door, a handsome man with a devilish smile named Jerry Dandridge. But as time passes and the death toll from the recent slew of unsolved murders rises, Charlie finds himself beginning to suspect that Jerry isn’t all that he appears to be.
While surrounded by half eaten bags of chips and unfinished homework, and with late night horror movie showcase host Peter Vincent on his television screen, Charlie is determined to get the bottom of this. While conducting his stakeout, and through the use of binoculars aimed out of his bedroom window and into Jerry’s, Charlie witnesses Dandridge seducing a beautiful young woman. Just as he’s about to turn away in embarrassment, Jerry opens his mouth and reveals a pair of fangs. Taken aback by this horrific sight, Charlie drops the binoculars, causing Jerry to notice Charlie’s snooping intrusion into his late night snack.
Now Charlie knows that Jerry is a vampire. What’s worse: Jerry knows that Charlie knows. It’s a race against time as Charlie turns to his girlfriend Amy, his best friend and horror fanatic Evil Ed, and even his hero and television idol, Peter Vincent: Vampire Killer in a desperate attempt to make them believe him before Jerry comes to pay him a visit. Can Charlie stop the monster next door? Or will Charlie be Jerry’s next meal?
This was one of the first vampire movies, beyond the 1930s Universal Dracula, that I saw as a youth. I remember being a fan of it, even at a young age, because it’s really just a vampiric take on Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 classic, Rear Window. Charlie sees something he shouldn’t have seen, but worse, is seen seeing something he shouldn’t have seen and then he has to deal with the consequences of that. I remember thinking that was a really cool concept. I also remember the poster scaring the shit out of me as a boy:
THAT GIANT CLOUD VAMPIRE IS GOING TO EAT YOUR HOUSE, GET OUT OF THERE! SAVE YOURSELF!
As I said above, there were a lot of movies released in the 1980s that featured teenagers doing extraordinary things. I’d consider this to be among them, as Charlie has an unbelievable amount of pressure placed on him, that he eventually overcomes. Will Jerry kill him? Will Jerry kill his mother? Or his girlfriend Amy? Who can say who is next to be served up on Jerry’s proverbial dinner plate? It’s then that Charlie decides to stop him. The rest of the movie alternates between Charlie trying desperately to get someone, anyone, to believe him and taking charge of the situation himself.
The writing is superb for a 1980s vampire movie (trust me, there are far worse than this) and the acting is surprisingly good in a lot of places too. One of the places where it’s not quite so surprising is in the case of Roddy McDowall as the fearless Peter Vincent: Vampire Killer, which is a rare case of one of my favorite actors portraying one of my favorite characters.
A young Amanda Bearse, who would later come to be known as Marcy Rhodes/Darcy on Married, With Children, puts in a good performance as Charlie’s girlfriend Amy.
Stephen Geoffreys gives what I consider to be a scene stealing performance as lovable loser, Evil Ed. Especially later in the film. It’s also Evil Ed that delivers one of my favorite, albeit short, lines of dialogue from the movie. A line that I still repeat to this day:
“You’re so cool, Brewster!”
You really need to hear him say it, and know the context with which it’s used at the very end of the film, for it to have full effect.
Should You See It
Look, I’m pretty sure this was one of the first VHS tapes I owned growing up. There were a lot of vampire movies produced in the 80s, and I mean a lot of them. Most of those movies are nowhere near as good as this, in my opinion, so yes, I feel you should see it. Especially if you’re a fan of 80s vampire movies.
In 2011, a remake was released, featuring an all-star cast. Colin Farrell as the evil Jerry Dandridge, Anton Yelchin as Charlie Brewster, and Doctor Who’s own David Tennant putting in a Roddy McDowall worthy performance as Peter Vincent, to name a few. It’s also quite good and worth checking out, if you’re a fan of the original.
There was also a sequel released in 1988 entitled Fright Night: Part II and it was… Not so good. You can read my review of it (complete with another horrible vampire pun!) here.
An American Werewolf in London is arguably a definitive werewolf movie. It’s put in appearances on many a “Top XX Horror Movies” list, has garnered enough of a following to call for a nostalgia laced retrospective documentary that serves as a sort of “Where are they now?” for those involved with the making of the film, and it seems as though even those who don’t enjoy it as much as others will still make mention of the acclaimed (and Academy Award winning) makeup design by Rick Baker. So it stands to reason that any other film to be made, be it follow-up or sequel or even something entirely different, that has the same rules and same general idea behind it, and is made a whopping sixteen years later, should have even better effects and be at least equally as good, right?
With tonight’s film, An American Werewolf in Paris, we learn that’s not necessarily true.
Year Released: 1997
Written By: Anthony Waller, Tim Burns, Tom Stern
Directed By: Anthony Waller
Starring: Tom Everett Scott, Julie Delpy
Andy McDermott and his pals are on the trip of a lifetime, as the three of them travel across Europe as part of a “Daredevil World Tour”. Andy’s friends give him a hard time about not racking up enough “Daredevil Points” on their trip thus far, but he reveals that he has a plan that will put him in the lead: Bungee jumping off of the Eiffel Tower! The stunt doesn’t go as planned, however, as the three men come across a lonely french woman who attempts to leap to her death. Andy jumps after her and completes a harrowing mid-air rescue, as his friends then rescue him from an unfastened bungee cord. The woman runs away leaving nothing behind but a single shoe, a suicide note, and a serious head injury as Andy bumps into a beam while he slingshots skyward after the rescue.
Later, while in the hospital, Andy fears she may try it again. So he sends his dutiful pals to collect the suicide note that was left behind at the scene. After a brief montage of them searching for the note (set to “Walkin’ On The Sun” by Smash Mouth), they find it, learn that her name is Serafine, and are able to use it to find out where she lives. When Andy is out of the hospital and well enough, the three of them track her down and go to her house. When she answers the door, she has red goop on her hands and when Andy asks her about it, she swears it’s just red paint (seems legit). He tells her that if something were to happen to her and he didn’t do absolutely everything within his power to stop it, he’d never be able to live with himself. So she agrees to meet him at a nearby cafe the next day. This meeting goes horribly, as Andy awkwardly tries to be the cool guy that every French girl likes (according to his friends), and eventually ends with a large man picking a fight with Andy and is tossed halfway across the room. By Serafine. After her superhuman display, Serafine freaks out and runs away, warning Andy that he should forget about her.
So of course, Andy and his buds return to Serafine’s house the next chance they get. As they ring the bell and hope they’re not too late to save Serafine from certain death, they are met with a brutish looking man named Claude who, upon learning the three lads are from America, exclaims “I love Americans!” and then invites them to a party that only Americans are invited to. The party is at an exclusive club called “Club de la Lune”. They decline, until Claude tells them “Serafine will be there.” The boys agree to attend the party, on the night of a full moon, at a club no one has ever heard of called “Club de la Lune”, by a mysterious man who “loves Americans” and is somehow tied to a woman who displayed superhuman strength a mere few hours prior.
What could possibly go wrong?
Listen, I struggled with this one. The wikipedia page for the film calls it a sequel to An American Werewolf in London and even goes so far as to say that Serafine is the daughter of David Kessler and Alex Price, but while I have heard this rumor from other sources, it is never once mentioned in the film or any of the deleted scenes that I have seen. I simply don’t count this as a sequel, or even a follow-up, to An American Werewolf in London other than the overall tone of the story and the plot device of some Americans being attacked by a werewolf in a European city. To me, this movie has always read as more of a love letter to the John Landis classic than a follow-up of any kind. If I had thought it was a sequel, you would be reading this review on an entirely different website (BadSequels) and my opinion of it would be very different as well.
I have to admit something here. I like this movie. I mean, it’s one of those guilty pleasure movies for me. That said, if this is intended to be a sequel to AWiL, then I would be forced to rethink that. In comparison, this movie fails in almost every category that the original exceeds at:
Should You See It:
As a standalone movie, it’s a pretty good example of the sort of silly and fun horror movies we got in the 90s. It’s no Oscar winner, but it’s a somewhat entertaining way to waste an hour and a half. So, yeah, I’d suggest giving it a chance.
Just don’t go into it expecting An American Werewolf in London 2: La Electric Boogaloo.
Although now I want to see that movie happen.
My obsession with werewolves began at a very early age, when my father first introduced me to the 1941 Universal classic The Wolfman. Something about watching Lon Chaney Jr. transform into half man, half beast on screen triggered something in me. As a kid, there was no movie monster cooler than the werewolf. Heightened senses, wolf-like appearance, strength, claws, teeth. Werewolves had it all. It wasn’t until I was older that I grew to appreciate werewolves as a metaphor, the realization that we all have an animalistic side that we keep hidden, that we all secretly fear the moment when instinct overrides logic and we become more beast than human.
One of the earliest werewolf movies I’d seen is also among my favorites. In fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s a close race between The Wolfman and the movie I’ll be reviewing tonight: An American Werewolf In London.
Year Released: 1981
Written By: John Landis
Directed By: John Landis
Starring: David Naughton, Griffin Dunne, Jenny Agutter
David Kessler and Jack Goodman are a couple of typical good natured American college students on a backpacking excursion through Europe. Their next stop: England. We meet David and Jack by way of a truck transporting sheep across the Yorkshire moors, after disembarking the sheepmobile they continue their journey on foot. Day passes into night and the light hearted dialogue between the two boys betray the violence that lay before them. They come across a small tavern, the hang sign of which displays an illustration of a bloody wolf head on a pike, called The Slaughtered Lamb.
“Where’s the lamb?” asks Jack.
“Probably inside getting cold.” is David’s reply. The two boys enter the pub and suddenly the mood changes, both in the pub and in the story itself. The inhabitants of the Slaughtered Lamb make it obvious that the boys are not welcome, yet they are offered a cup of hot tea and they accept.
Jack and David quietly argue over who will ask about the five pointed star painted on the pub wall that is surrounded by candles and Jack, in both wisdom and foreshadowing, says “That’s the mark of The Wolfman.” After asking about the five pointed star and a chilling exchange between the boys and some bar patrons (which includes the famous lines “Stick to the roads, keep off the moors.” and “Beware the moon, lads.”), Jack and David are asked to leave.
While walking into the night and discussing the odd scene from which they had just come, it begins to rain on Jack and David and they lose track of their surroundings, venturing off into the moors. If you ever find yourself in a creepy English pub and before kicking you out into the darkness someone says things like “Keep off the moors” and “Beware the moon”, you should really try to keep off the moors and beware the moon. I’m just saying.
Of course, this being a horror movie and all, it doesn’t end well for either of them. There’s no moment where they realize they’re treading off onto the moors and into the waiting jaws of their doom and decide to turn back. They don’t notice they’ve set foot onto the moors, under the blinding light of the full moon, until they hear the inhuman growling coming from the shadows. They try running, to no avail. The beast closes in and attacks. Only David survives. When he finally wakes up in a London hospital, David is given some bad news by the hospital staff.
And even worse news from his dead friend Jack.
With An American Werewolf in London, director John Landis accomplishes something that had never really been done before: He successfully crafted a film that is not only funny, but also terrifying. It’s a formula that has since been used with films like Edgar Wright’s fantastic Shaun of the Dead and more recently Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard’s equally fantastic Cabin in the Woods, but American Werewolf in London is arguably the first use it.
The makeup effects in this film are phenomenal and they hold up even today. Rick Baker won the very first Academy Award for best makeup for his work on the practical monster effects in An American Werewolf in London, and rightfully so. Baker also worked as a consultant on another genre defining werewolf movie released in 1981, The Howling. But that’s a story for a later review…
The acting is good by 80s horror movie standards, decent by any other sort of standard, and the direction is great. But it really is the writing and makeup that set this film apart from others in the sub-genre of werewolf movies and makes it one of my favorites of all time. Not just horror movies, not just werewolf movies, but movies in general. This is one that I have to watch every few weeks or so and it never gets old.
Should You See It:
If you’re a fan of werewolf movies, if you’re a fan of well made horror/comedies, if you’re a fan of John Landis, I would say absolutely watch this movie. If you’re not a fan of any of those things, I would still tell you to watch this movie, but as I said above, I’m rather biased toward it.