Darke Reviews | Young Frankenstein (1974)

Wrapping up the month of October is the film that is Halloween tradition in my home. It may come as a surprise to many that this movie, a comedy, is among my favorite films ever. I do generally dislike most modern comedies and even most of the comedy that was popular a I was growing up. I require my comedy to have actual wit, elegant puns and actors who know how to deliver with perfect timing. For that, I will take you to the year 1974.

Obviously this was before I was born, but at the same time I consider this perhaps the best year in comedy cinema. It is also Mel Brooks and Gene Wilder’s best year. Why? This was the year both Blazing Saddles AND Young Frankenstein were released. These perhaps are the best comedies I have ever seen, I will always watch them and no matter how many times I see them, I laugh. It’s a rare thing to truly make me laugh and these films do it. You aren’t reading this to figure out what makes me laugh, you want to know about the review for Young Frankenstein.

Written by Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, then directed by Mel Brooks. It not only understands what makes good fun, but also appreciates the source material. They acquired the sets from the original Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein to use in the movie. They take appropriately comedic references to the originals that add to the film and give acknowledgement to the source without taking away from either. The entirety of the film is played straight with the exception of one character who gives a wink and a nod to the audience. It was even nominated for an Oscar for Best Writing – Screenplay Adapted from other material. An Oscar nomination, for a comedy! (It technically has two nods, one for Best Sound as well). It’s worth mentioning that a budget of around $3 million turned an $86 million US box office take.

The writing and classic Brooks directing aside, to get it right you need acting. For that we have Gene Wilder, Peter Boyle, Marty Feldman, Madeline Kahn, Cloris Leachman, and Terri Garr. There’s even a cameo by Gene Hackman. Everyone turns out a performance that’s just incredible with perfect timing, expression, body language and delivery. As awesome as they all are, special acknowledgement should be given to Marty Feldman. He was taken from us too soon, but his talents are preserved here. If I were making a Deadpool movie back in 1974, I would have cast Feldman. His ability to break the fourth wall seamlessly and use his expressive eyes to their fullest is on full display.

I could go on and on about this movie for a long time, but I want to end the month of reviews on a high note and get you to the TL;DR

See this movie. Period. No ifs. No ands. No buts. See this movie.

That’s it folks, hope you’ve enjoyed the month of reviews. I will be doing some of the new releases this month as they come out, may even through a special review in here or there. I have some plans for December as well, more on that later.

Stay tuned and thanks for reading.

This is Jessica Darke, last surviving member of the Nostromo signing out.

Darke Reviews – Nosferatu (1922)

The full title of course is Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens. I thought I should conclude my every other day vampire review with the first (available) of the films to feature Dracula. As always I watch the film prior to the review and while I have two copies of this in my collection it never ceases to amaze even now 90 years later at what they were trying to do with film back then.

It’s worth mentioning this film was unauthorized. The studio that produced it could not and/or did not obtain the rights to the film. According to stories Stokers wife was sent a copy of a playbill advertising the film and demanded it be stopped and destroyed. The courts agreed with her and all the work prints were destroyed. Or at least thats what was thought, obviously as I am reviewing this tonight a print survived to allow us to enjoy now. Curiously the original film had changed the names of all the principal characters prior to its release to try to make them “original”. Makes me wonder why Vanilla Ice thought he could get away with it musically 70 years later.

The copy of the film I watched tonight had the title & scene cards changed back to their intended (and more accurate) formatting rather than the release versions. The infamous Count Orlock was once again Count Dracula. It is Jonathan and Nina (not Mina) Harker rather than Hutter and Ellen Hutter. Jonathan’s good friend Westenra and his wife Lucy vs the ‘original’ Harding and Annie. In researching this review I looked for IMDB, Wiki, etc, that had these more current credits and they are not in any of the main resources. The script however is available, which had them. I think I might have to make a point to get my hands on a non americanized copy.

The movie was directed by F.W. Murnau (Faust – 1926) who filmed on location in various places within his native Germany and eastern Europe. In the fashion of many modern directors Murnau actually rewrote several pages of the script for the ending of the movie. Unlike modern directors it was because the pages by scripter Henrik Galeen were reportedly lost. The film is without a single line of recorded dialogue and instead has orchestral music playing over the hour and twenty minute running time.

The acting is that of the stage; which is to say its completely over the top and meant to emote at a distant audience. The make up on the principals is designed for the same, where every color and line is made thicker and richer. Looking at it now it is admittedly ridiculous but when you consider how many people had worked in film by that point it makes sense. Max Schreck deserves special mention as the infamous Count. He enters and vanishes into the part in a way that some actors today could try to learn from.

Story wise there are significant variations from the Dracula you know and love, but the core is still there. Orlock/Dracula’s death is still an amazing piece of effects work for a film to attain in 1922.

For the TL;DR – go back and read. This is history.

Nosferatu is a cinematic classic. It is not scary in any way shape or form now. It is however worth watching for its aesthetic and historical content. I honestly wouldn’t expect most folks who aren’t vampire aficionados or film students to get through it, but I would say try.

This really is one of the ones that started it all.
There will be no review tomorrow, but Halloweens review wants you to Put..the Candle…Back.

Darke Reviews – Pumpkin Head (1988)

So I had only one response on which movie to review tonight, but it was a good one! See this movie was directed by a man who won 4 Oscars and had 6 additional nominations. 31! This movie however isn’t an Oscar winner for him, nor did any of those wins actually come from directing, producing, writing, or even acting. They were all for visual effects and make up. Granted I don’t know how many people saw the movies he won awards for. I mean the Academy can get a bit stuffy at times. Let’s see 4 awards, three movies – Aliens (1986), Terminator 2 (1992), Jurassic Park (1993). Yeah, big flops that no one saw. Eh who am I kidding. This is the work of one of the greatest Make up and Special Effects artists to ever grace the world with his talent. His death at the age of 62 in 2008 was a huge loss to the world of movie magic and his work defined the careers of so many since. The man of course is Stan Winston. Pumpkin head is his sole feature length directorial and writing effort.

The movie does have the curse of having a total of five writing credits associated to it. There’s a triple credit on the story, Mark Patrick Carducci, Richard Weinman, and Winston himself. Double credit on the screenplay, Mark Patrick Carducci and Gary Gerani. It’s worth mentioning that there is a poem the movie may have been based on though no official credit is given to Ed Justin for this.

Much in the way of 80’s movies, the story focuses on a group of city kids who go to the country for a weekend get away. In their revelry the requisite jerk accidentally kills Billy Harley, the young son of a local shop owner, Ed (Lance Henriksen). Ed returns from an errand to find that those responsible have left the scene of the crime. In his grief he turns to a local witch and black magic to get revenge on the kids, no matter the personal price he must pay. With nothing left to lose, he has the woman resurrect a spirit of vengeance called Pumpkinhead. While it’s name may sound silly, it’s look is anything but as it appears to have stepped out of a nightmare. Those guilty of the death of Billy find themselves being picked off one by one by this force of nature; miles from civilization, with no friends and no hope.

There’s not much to the cast or acting on this one. A very young Mayim Bialik, before Blossom, Webster and Big Bang Theory. Tom Woodruff Jr. who is best known for never showing his actual face and being under a ton of prosthetics in everything from Monster Squad, Tremors, Goro in Mortal Kombat, Aliens, Predators and more. Sort of a larger version of Doug Jones. There is also the eternally awesome Lance Henriksen. If Tony Todd is the face of horror, then Lance is the face of Sci-fi. Most commonly known as Bishop from Aliens, if you love 80s Sci-fi you know this mans work, with 194 acting credits to his name in his career.

The technicals. Woof. Alright, this was made on the cheap, with a budget of around 3.5 million dollars. They used every penny of it to the best possible. Sure some shots clearly look like sound stages and yep, there’s no doubt that’s California and places we’ve seen on dozens of TV shows and low budget movies since. The creature itself is horrific. Though you can see that its design looked strongly inspired by the Alien of Geigers work and the movies. It has a life all its own and a movement as it crosses the screen that breathes menace. Effective lighting, darkness and sound add to the effect. It’s “soundtrack” is that of dozens of cicada and they work effectively in the way only insects can. It also bears mention Pumpkinhead isn’t a stupid monster, though it pushes its own credibility as a demon of vengeance at times and shows too much ingenuity. I will warn you know the ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) is god awful and there’s a millisecond delay at times where the words and sound mixing just don’t work.
TL;DR

Pumpkinhead is a modern classic monster movie that has inspired three sequels in it’s wake. The original is a solid piece of 80s horror that any purist much watch. It’s not a great movie by any stretch but it does its job and does it well. It does it a helluva lot better than creature features since.
Tomorrow’s review will not have a word spoken.

Darke Reviews – Bram Stokers Dracula (1992)

Of all the literary creations out there, Romeo & Juliet, Holmes, Hamlet, Frankenstein, none come close to appearing on screen more than Dracula. The character as we know him was created by an Irishman named Bram Stoker in 1897. So few characters evoke such imagery in both European and American cultures as the name “Dracula”. Think for a moment of what comes to mind, what thoughts you have when you say that name. High Capes & Collars? Fangs? Bats? A gentleman? A Monster? Sex? Seduction? Blood? So many more thoughts and concepts come with that name. It is safe to say while Stoker did not invent the vampire, their legends date back to ancient Sumeria (trust me on this), he created the modern version. He took them from monster to seducer. He made them an incubus (or succubus depending on the writing) that we want despite the danger, rather than the unattractive corpse. Nearly every author in the vampire genre has been somehow affected by this seminal work.

As the inspiration and basis of so much that came in the century since I found it interesting when the trailers appeared and people began to freak out. Sure Keanu couldn’t hide his accent no matter how hard he tried and people joked “Whoa! Its, like Dracula dude!”. Almost no one had heard of this Gary Oldman guy. Hannibal Lechter is Van Helsing? That chick from Beetlejuice is in it; ok thats almost expected. The guy who made Apocalypse Now AND the Godfather is doing Dracula? What? All of that got people, but the fact there’s a shot in the trailer with him in the sun had people lose their minds. Sad to say folks, sunlight didn’t kill Stokers Dracula, only annoyed him and so many people didn’t know and didn’t want to believe it after 90 years of Dracula that is killed by the sun.

Lets talk about that decision, which probably lays at the feet of writer James Hart. This is the same man who gave us Hook, Muppets Treasure Island, Contact and this years Epic. Yeah that’s what I said too, this guy is all over the place. He does however show a keen understanding of what was so attractive about the original work and made a point to use so much of the style that he could. Granted there’s a lot added to it as well, partially him and partially the director, but all of it is successful.

That comes from the experience of having such an acclaimed director at the helm. Acclaimed and insane. I’ve read the stories of things he did making Apocalypse now. Yeesh. He is however a visionary and used that vision to give us things we have never quite seen in film before. Intelligently using color (mostly reds), sound, lighting, shadow and atmosphere to its fullest. He goads his cast of well know names to places they had never quite gone and probably for many will never achieve again – even 20 years later. It’s a near perfect atmospheric film that tells the story in word, deed and look. A $40 million dollar budget being doubled at the box office and 3 academy awards show other people noticed too.

Behind the scenes is important, but then there’s the cast. This film had one of the most amazing casts of its day where nearly every actor was known for something and those that weren’t have become infamous since. The weakest performance is of course Keanu as Harker. He is trying his best at the time, but really never quite delivers. This could be due to four movies released in the previous year (Point Break, Bogus Journey among them) and just being tired. Ryder on the other hand had built a career so far on being in dark or gothic films, such as Heathers, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands. She seemed to take to the role of the prudish, repressed Wilhemina Murray fantastically. Her accent work is fairly good and she carries the natural transitions of the character through the film. My biggest gripe is that she comes across more waifish than Stokers actual Mina who was more active in her part in the story. One cannot talk about the actors without mentioning the great Sir Anthony Hopkins. Probably one of the wildest portrayals of the character he also plays the most menacing. Much of the dichotomy comes from Hopkins performance where he devours scenery as the Count devours blood. The movie even hints at a specific background for VanHelsing that is not touched on much in other releases where there are clear ties between Dracula, the Brides and vanHelsing. A lot of that comes through in the performance as well; which only goes to show what happens with a master at the helm of the character.

In 1992 the name Gary Oldman was barely known to American audiences. Few people had seen Sid & Nancy or recognized him as Lee Harvey Oswald in JFK (1991). So when faced with the amazingly manic range of emotions, expressions and body language delivered people didn’t know what to think. Since then he has proven to be one of the greatest actors of our time. We see hints of his genius in how he can change at the drop of a hat and put every ounce of emotion into the performance that you feel for him through the film.

Many people also forget that Cary Elwes (Princess Bride, Saw) makes an appearance as Lord Arthur Holmwood. Billy Campbell (The Rocketeer) plays American Quincy P Morris, who lives and dies as he did in the novel. It’s worth mentioning that the beautiful Monica Bellucci (Matrix 2, 3, BRotherhood of the Wolf) is one of the brides in only her 4th credited screen appearance.

The technicals are worth mentioning. I rant about post production computer imagery over practical effects all of the time. This film has almost none. Nearly every shot was done using elegant, if not old fashioned, camera tricks. Coppola actually fired the original FX crew when they said what he wanted couldn’t be done. Apparently he was right and they were wrong and the film was better for it.

TL;DR?

This is, excluding the Twilight series, the 4th highest grossing Vampire film ever. 3 of which involve the character Dracula. If you haven’t seen it – you must. While some of it may come across corny at times, it is one of the vampire greats and should be enjoyed for all it offers, good and bad.
Tomorrows review – I am going to let my readers request below.

Darke Reviews – The Conjuring (2013)

This movies continues a predictably long line of Hollywood milking the low budget unseen horror film. Long line? Perhaps you’ve heard of Paranormal Activity (1-5), The Grudge, Insidious, Mama, Sinister? Horror movies work because they play on a fear. Typically fears of the modern consciousness and sometimes our subconscious fears that particularly attentive writers have tapped into as they create their projects. The writers usually say it is their own fear put to page and when created lets the audience realize it is their fear too.

The 80’s it was the slasher; the faceless killer, the stranger and something that could not be stopped. The 90’s had no real identity of it’s own and is actually very weak in the genre instead giving us the Teen Scream. This was a more literal transition of the Slasher film to focus on the teens themselves, such as Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer, Halloween H20, Urban Legends, etc. At the end of the 90’s we were given the start of the found footage horror with Blair Witch; which began the start of the supernatural horror we are in now. In this decade, we are inundated with a slightly different take on the Supernatural/Unseen horror where it is blended with the Home Invasion. Movies like the Purge and Your Next, Dark Skies are all representative of this new wave of horror in their more physical sense. Insidious, Paranormal Activity and the Conjuring are a blend of home invasion and the unseen.

Granted these are just my perceptions on the horror genre and I could go on these at length (and may if so asked), so lets get down to the review itself.

2013 saw the release of a few movies in this vein and the Conjuring is the most successful. It actually ranks 5th in the most successful Supernatural horrors of all time. It had a production budget of $20 million and brought in $137. Not a bad haul and the reason that Hollywood will continue to take this route. The conjuring also uses one other theme of new horror -“Based on True Events”

Director James Wan (saw, Insidious) is the proud papa of some serious horror franchises. Despite my personal feelings on this genre, he has a clear understanding of how to shoot to build tension. How to get performances of his actors old and young that are believable and make them feel like people. It’s actually one of the strengths of the Conjuring, that every performance is balanced and well done enough that the characters fears are played to their most subtle and nuanced.

The story by the Hayes brothers, Chad and Carey, is set back in the 70s and focuses on a family who move into an old farmhouse. Shortly after they move in they begin to see and experience strange events, mostly centered around the children. To make matters worse the father Roger (Ron Livingston – Office Space) Perron is a truck driver who could be away for days at a time. The mother Carolyn (Lili Taylor – The Haunting) is even being attacked by these entities and reaches out to a married couple who specialize in Paranormal investigations. The couple Ed (Patrick Wilson -Insidious, A Team) Warren and Lorraine (Vera Farmiga – The Departed) Warren give lectures on the exorcisms and events they have helped people through. Much of their focus tends to be on the demonic and they even keep a collection of possessed objects in their home as a kind of museum. When the Warren’s arrive in the Perron home events begin to escalate to horrific conclusion. Where Ed must make a choice to save the lives and souls of the Perrons.

I’ve spoken briefly on the acting already. Every actor performs amazingly leaving nothing on the floor and holding nothing back. To be clear this isn’t over acting, but actors, adult and child alike, who put their everything into the performance. They get close in the final act to overacting due to the nature of what they must do and playing out an exorcism. I have to admit Wilson, Livingston, Taylor and Farmiga make this more intense than the Exorcist for me.

The technical aspects of the film are sufficient enough where they rely on the jump scares more than any other technique. The make ups for the dead and possessed are at this time getting a bit overwrought and while I cannot condemn them for it, I can say it’s maybe time to move to a new type of genre. The make up can only be done so many times and anything after this is getting redundant. The CGI when it happens is used to enhance the make up and create transitions to show claw marks, burns and other manifestations. These are definitely to the movies credit. I also cannot complain about movie that relies strongly on camera tricks and practical effects over CG.

TL;DR

I can see why the conjuring was successful and while this new breed of horror isn’t my cup of tea it works. The inspired and based on real events is also getting old, but again when you consider that there are tapes of the interviews between Ed Warren and Carolyn Perron from 1971 it adds a certain element of horror to it that cannot and should not be denied.

Overall I have to say it’s a solid film, and while it didn’t scare me, that will scare more than enough people out there. I do think Hollywood needs to stop while it’s ahead and get to a new genre before they milk this one dry.

Tomorrow’s review knows where the bastard sleeps.

Darke Reviews – Let The Right One In (2008)/Let Me In (2010)

As one of the more interesting vampire movies in the recent years I wanted to talk about the Swedish film Let the Right One in, and it’s Americanized remake Let Me In. I watched both movies simultaneously tonight, writing this review as I watched.

This falls into a recent trend of films to be made in another country and then be remade within the States. The Japanese have taken the brunt of this foreign film exploitation; and lets be honest folks that’s what it is, the Norwegians are now experiencing it as well (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Troll Hunter). We, as in Hollywood, are letting other countries create new ideas, new takes on old ideas and rather than try to distribute THAT film here, the producers hire a team of monkeys, er writers and directors to remake and re-imagine the film within a few years of its release. A vast majority of the ghost stories we’ve had, starting with the Ring, were originally Japanese. Why not actually let us watch that one in a theatre? Sadly the answer my friends is us. The audience doesn’t want subtitles, they want faces they recognize even if the foreign actors are remarkable, I am sure there are other reasons that are just as BS.

So how do these two films compare? American vs Swedish? Interestingly. I warn you now to avoid spoilers (contrary to my norm) skip to the TL;DR.

The story focuses on a young boy (Oskar/Owen) living in a run down apartment complex, who sees a girl (Eli/Abby) his age moving in . He is bullied at school, being raised by his mother alone. He spends his time not in school alone outside in the snow in the complex courtyard playing with a rubix cube or stabbing trees imagining the tree is a bully. The boy and girl quickly become friends and he uncovers her secret, that she is a vampire. As their relationship grows, the girls relationship with her caretaker begins to wane. Things at school escalate with the bullies and the boy, while things further deteriorate around the girl and the body count rises.

The story is the same, though the names change. The US version is nearly a shot for shot remake of the Swedish. There are, however, some interesting choices between the two.

As expected, or should be, the Swedish version plays out more dramatically beat for beat. The american one starts out far more dramatically with an ambulance racing through the highlands of New Mexico dealing with an acid burn victim, while the Swedish version begin focused on Oskar alone and establishing his awkwardness. I suppose Matt Reeves (Cloverfield), director and writer – see what I mean from yesterday? – felt that a more romantic/dramatic start would disengage his audience and he needed to create an artificial bit of excitement to start. The US version also does not stay 100% practical and that is a massive failing of the film, where the CGI attack by Abby is no where near as intense or visceral as Eli’s practical one. It’s proof once again that CG is not better than a good make up or skill in shooting.

Lets talk about the actors and characters a bit, but I want to this in reverse order starting with the bit parts.

The Bullies. I hate Bullies, I laugh when they are mutilated, eviscerated and otherwise punished brutally in film. It brings me no end of joy. So while the nature of the bullies in the US version are more deserving of their fate, they are also two dimensional entities that you can have absolutely no sympathy for. The Swedish version, while they are still inhuman in their own right and have earned their Karma and pay it, have some depth. They pause, they have moments where the three of them are not all “complete” villains.

The Caretaker. Still a better love story than twilight. No seriously, it’s a love story between him and his vampire. In all the years and vampire films I’ve watched I have never seen one handle this so interestingly and creatively. While the man is clearly in his late forties in both films, if not mid fifties, there he is the caretaker to a twelve year old. To an outsider he would be the parent, but to a careful observer and viewer you see that they are more than that. He hunts for her nightly, killing people and bringing their blood for her to feed on. He is getting old however and making mistakes. In some of his final moments you get a true grasp of his relationship with the girl. Tenders touches from her, eyes closed and a sense of peace from him. His final acts, after a final failure is sacrifice. His love for her is that complete that he would not only pour acid on his face, but
then to let her feed from him because she had been unable to. It almost makes my black heart melt.

Lets talk about the boy. Oskar (Kåre Hedebrant) and Owen (Kodi Smit-McPhee). Hedebrants Oskar comes across more damaged. There’s a pleasure in his eyes when he finally stands up to the bullies. An eagerness as he stabs the trees mimicking the taunts of the bullies. There’s also a certain eagerness to which he embraces Eli, even as he tries to deny their relationship. The broken nature even shows as he torments her briefly to find out what happens if she isn’t invited in, though that scene is tempered by his care for her. Smit-McPhee comes across more of a victim throughout, eternally vulnerable and even as he stands up to the bullies there’s no real strength there and no hidden sadism. Though for cinematic reasons he puts Abby through the same lack of invite, there is no sense that it was even for a moment malicious. In fact he looks as if he’s about to jack rabbit the entire time until the very last minute. Even during a moment where the theoretical worm turns, Hedebrant plays the stronger boy willing to draw a blade to defend and simply turn his back on a murder. Smit-McPhee plays the same scene weaker, pleading and even trembling. Both boys play the vulnerable, weak love interest to their girl rather well and the inexorable slide into her grasp is entertaining to watch; which makes their final decision complete and logical from the way the story has been executed.

On to the girl, Eli (Lina Leandersson) and Abby (Chloë Grace Moretz – yes my favourite young actress). For the purposes of the story and relationship (that gets it’s own section this time), Chloë acts as well as ever but the nature of her looks weaken one of the plot points in the relationship. Lina’s performance is actually a bit darker due to her androgynous features. She looks twelve and neither pure girl nor pure boy and is a bit more haunting as she carries out several of the kills. Both girls deliver a remarkable performance as a vampire, but Lina is given the option to use her body language and a minimal amount of effects to achieve monsterousness, while Chloë is not afforded the same. Though she, much like in Carrie, has the body language down and performs fully has some of her performance masked by too much blood and too much CG overlay on her make up.

The romance needs to be talked about here as much as anything. It was controversial for several reasons when the original Swedish version came out. I was worried when I saw the US release if they would do the same. There’s an entire series of dialogue half way through the film, where she joins the boy in his bed in the middle of the night. She had already asked him if he would like her if she was not a girl; now he asks her to go steady to an interesting reply.

“I’m not a girl.”
“You’re not?”
“Does that bother you?”
“No.”

Now as she is prepubescent there’s debate as to what she means. Is it that she isn’t actually a girl, is it that she is but doesn’t consider herself one as she never even reached her teens, or the fact that she is a vampire makes her gender-less in her own mind? The conversation alone and it’s implications, much less his response, make it an interesting film. The options are also questions that are never answered which is a nice change of pace. It’s also fascinating to wonder as you look at the movie and understand the Caretaker that while the boy cares for her; you must ask yourself if she cares for him. Is she manipulating him to get her needs or are her emotions in such flux because of being eternally twelve? Again questions never answered and best left to interpretation. Even through the end of the film where the Caretaker cycle begins anew you just don’t know. Ultimately the viewer must decide, is it love or is it a monster – perhaps both.

TL;DR
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While your tastes may vary and I do like both films, the Swedish version is superior in many elements. It shows a better finesse and love for the story than the US version. The US version is sufficient and still good, but they missed the memo on show don’t tell – especially in the final pool sequence. The children all act well, with Chloë 12 at the time of filming.

I can comfortably recommend both and think vampire fans will enjoy (if you haven’t already seen).

No hints for tomorrow, since its a film I haven’t seen – it will be the Conjuring.

Darke Reviews – An American Werewolf in London (1981)

If you ever get the chance go to Greenwich Village in New York, check out the Slaughtered Lamb pub. Quite awesome and obviously thematic. This film is widely considered one of the best Werewolf movies in existence. It’s not a huge genre like the ghost story or the even insanely more popular vampire. The films that do exist here are largely junk and partially that lays on the feet of the nature of the creature itself. You see Vampires are easy, their anatomy isn’t that difficult to do make up for. Werewolves have a few ways you can go. There’s the classic Lon Chaney-esque wolf man, which is more of a man wolf. The human anatomy doesn’t change at all, aside from pointed ears and a slightly pronounced jaw that makes for an almost muzzle. The more difficult and more commonly used – and abused – is the wolf head on a humanoid body. It doesn’t work, the bone structure isn’t there. The skull shape is too alien and unusually to effectively morph *and* have the actors effectively emote through and perform. Speaking is right out without ridiculous effects that take most people out of it while they laugh. A handful of films get this effect right, Underworld, Dog Soldiers and of course An American Werewolf in London.

I want to talk technicals right away. This movie won an Academy award for make up effects. Rick Baker who has a handful of credits in the few years prior to this, such as a little film called Star Wars, did an amazing job in designing and creating the practical effects. One of the scenes in the film is hands down the best werewolf transformation scene done without the use of CGI ever filmed. It’s a little ironic that nearly thirty years later he would be the senior make up artist on the remake of The Wolfman. Baker is one of the best in the industry and this movie was just at the start of his career. The raw amount of practical effects that hold up to this day are in a word – astounding.

Lets talk about the other aspects of the film, such as the fact that it was written and directed by the same man, John Landis. That seems to be a trend in the horror industry a written and directed by Credit. Landis is best known for his comedic work such as Animal House, The Blues Brothers and Clue. Those kinds of influences are clearly shown in the comedic and campy elements that make up the non horror elements of the film. While not the first campy horror, this one may be one of the finest blends. Landis brought beautiful dark and somber moments that are highlighted only by quiet music and saddening dialogue where moments before it had been embracing an almost ridiculous schlock and corny dialogue.

The story itself is around two best friends, David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne); Americans backpacking their way through England. While trying to get a bite to eat and a drink they enter the Slaughtered Lamb pub and stick out like a gangrenous sore thumb. They are quickly encouraged to leave and travel across the moor’s not heading the warning to stick to the road. The pair is attacked by a creature in the dark and Jack is killed. David severely wounded watches his friend die before him, only to wake up in a hospital three weeks later. Everyone questions David’s sanity, including himself, as he talks about what he saw. Then Jack shows up clawed face, torn throat and all telling David he is one of the undead, a sort of ghost in this film that cannot find peace. He tells David he is a werewolf and the only way to prevent more death is to kill himself. Of course, no one else can see Jack which makes David question his sanity even more. The rest of the movie centers around David trying to fight what he is to become, ever being tortured/tempted by Jack to do what must be done.
Aside from Landis direction much of the power comes from the performances of the two main actors. Both men have had relatively extensive, but not significant careers since the film. It’s unfortunate, but as movies to have a gem this is a good one. Even as a progressively rotting corpse Dunne’s performance as Jack retains human elements that keep him relatable and also humorous despite the message he is trying to convey to his best friend in the world. David for his part runs the gambit of emotions and lets you feel his pain as the curse drives him to the brink. His performance two thirds through the movie with the rise of the full moon is one that set the stage for nearly every werewolf film to come. He, Landis and Baker made the transformation painful, horrific and as realistic as possible.

Other performances such as Jenny Agutter as Alex Price, Davids nurse and caretaker after the accident, and John Woodvine as Dr. Hirsch help push the story forward while David languishes. There’s also a certain charm to the interactions David has with his other victims as the body count rises in the film.

The end of the film is also one of the few that you will find in Hollywood that ends on such a note. While this form of ending has increased in recent years, few do it so well and end so suddenly.
TL;DR

An American Werewolf In London is an absolute must see camp/horror classic. Nearly every other Lycanthrope film since then is but a pale shadow of this one. The need for CGI over the practical only diminishes newer films further.
Tomorrow will likely come a bit late as it’s a double review. It’s twelve has been twelve for a long time.