Indisputably the archetypal modern werewolf film, An American Werewolf in London became immensely influential, so much so that Michael Jackson hired director John Landis for his now-famous Thriller video based on the success of this film. That would seem to speak of how good this one is all around, but watching it, I couldn’t help but have a different thought run through my head: if it weren’t for the special effects, this would not have made the list at all. I don’t really know how to put it without being unnecessarily harsh toward the film, but if you took the special effects out of this one, you’d have a substandard werewolf film with basically nothing to go for it.
David and Jack are two Americans backpacking in Ireland when they end up at a small reclusive town nearby the moors. Despite the cold reception they get at the local pub and the warnings given to them by the locals, they set back off and soon find themselves lost on the moors under a full moon. Sure enough, the warnings are true, and the pair are attacked by a werewolf; Jack is killed, but David survives. Soon, he is having nightmares and visions of the deceased Jack, who explains that his spirit is caught in limbo until the werewolf’s bloodline, which now continues in David, is exterminated, and that David must kill himself before he transforms at the next full moon and begins taking his own victims. I could go on a little further into the plot, as the film has about enough of a plot to fill up one of my regular-sized paragraphs, and is still somehow almost 100 minutes long, but of course, the reason to watch this isn’t for the riveting plot. The reason to watch (and the reason this made the list at all, I suspect) is the groundbreaking makeup effects by Rick Baker, in particular David’s first transformation into a werewolf. The makeup effects were so impressive that An American Werewolf in London won the inaugural Academy Award for Best Makeup, so to say that An American Werewolf in London is an Academy-Award-winning film is technically true, though it does imply something altogether different, something that in my opinion would be incorrect.
Frankly, this wasn’t even an average picture all around, and I don’t mean it was so far above it that to call it average would be a gross understatement. The acting was stilted, the script was hackneyed, and the only other thing the film basically credits as its selling point, that it’s a black comedy, is also a failure – I think I grinned at one amusing aspect in the entire film; the rest was just watching poor quality filmmaking try and salvage 30 minutes of plot into over an hour and a half of running time. I don’t even know that John Landis himself warrants a spot on the list at all; this is here for Rick Baker’s work, and for nothing else, and it shows painfully. Bonus points for the makeup and special effects, but everything else was just tawdry at best.
Arbitrary Rating: 6/10