An American Werewolf in London (1981)

1h 37m / R / Horror

Writer/director John Landis wrote his first draft for An American Werewolf in London in 1969, at the age of just eighteen. Twelve years later, after three enormous hits (Kentucky Fried Movie, Animal House and The Blues Brothers), he finally had enough clout in Hollywood to secure funding for the movie most studios thought was too scary to be a comedy and too funny to be a horror film, the movie he’d always wanted to make. And in a way, they were right: the movie itself is kind of a shapeshifter. Landis mixes tones throughout in a way that seems like it should clash, but doesn’t. David treats his ordeal as a werewolf with both deadpan humor and genuine suffering; his undead friend Jack, even more so. Dry, humorous dialogue and downright slapstick (like an Austin-Powers-esque gag about David’s private parts being hidden by a bunch of balloons) mixes with fearsome suspense and astonishing, genuinely uncomfortable gore effects. It’s got maybe the most memorable transformation sequence in film history, for one thing, which won Rick Baker an Academy Award for achievement in makeup. All of that is why Roger Ebert said “the laughs and the blood coexist very uneasily in this film” back in 1981 (it wasn’t a compliment), but it’s also why American Werewolf has entered the cult canon.

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