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An American Werewolf in London (1981)
Rated R

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, and Griffin Dunne

Rating:
****1/2
out of
*****

Many people have probably seen clips from An American Werewolf in London and not realized it. Many horror movie compilations or "best of" shows frequently use the initial transformation sequence from the film to demonstrate the wonders of Rick Baker's makeup effects. And that type of honor is deserved -- the effects won Baker an Academy Award. But, the movie is what I want to concentrate on and it's a good one.

Two college students, David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), are travelling across Europe on their summer break. Their first stop is England and as they travel across the moors, they enter a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb for a bite to eat.

In the pub, they inquire about a five-pointed star on the wall. The pub's patrons, who seem to be a bit squirmish about giving any details, throw the two starving students back out into the cold night with a warning: "Stick to the road and stay off the moors."

As the two hungry young men walk along, recalling the odd behavior of the pub's customers, they wander off the road and straight into an encounter with a werewolf. Jack is killed and David is attacked, but the beast is killed by the villagers before it can harm David seriously.

David is transported to a hospital in London, where Nurse Alex (Jenny Agutter) takes a liking to him. Before David is discharged from the hospital, he begins to have visitations from the spirit of his dead friend. The decaying Jack warns David that because he was bitten by a werewolf, he will become one during the next full moon. Jack advises David to kill himself before this can happen because he will harm a lot of people if he doesn't.

The movie, directed by John Landis, has a strange comic tone that manages to endear the characters to you while doing nothing to lessen the fright factor. The scares are as genuine as the laughs. Some of David's dream sequences are truly frightening and demented. Even the cliched "is it a dream or not" bits work well. The only thing doesn't work so well is the attempt at romance between Alex and David. There is little chemistry between them -- but this is a horror movie so I won't get too picky about that.

This movie never seems to get the acclaim it deserves in the horror genre. I found it on video in the mid-1980's and it's been one of my favorite movies ever since. A throughly enjoyable horror film that delivers honest thrills and a very unexpected ending.

Trivia: All of the songs in the soundtrack have the word "moon" in the title -- like "Bad Moon Rising" and "Moondance." (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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