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Insomniac Movie Theater: An American Werewolf In London

by Trevan McGee on July 22, 2010

in Columns,Insomniac Movie Theater

64 million people a year suffer from insomnia and every so often I am one of them. But rather than use the extra time I’ve been given during a given insomniac episode to be productive, balance my checkbook, study for the LSAT or exercise, I instead fool myself into thinking the time isn’t my own and can therefore guiltlessly waste it.

Netflix instant queue is the perfect response to this mentality as it gives me access to countless B and C movies all of which I willingly watch while everyone else is fast asleep. Enter Insomniac Movie Theater, where I subject myself to some of the worst, campiest and outright terrible movies the world has to offer … and the occasional cult classic.

Admittedly, last week’s Insomniac was weak and I blame not on myself, who is clearly awesome, but on the movie itself. “Swamp Thing” was the worse kind of movie for Insomniac Movie Theater in that it was boring and more middling than anything. Even by 3 a.m. standards, “Swamp Thing” never becomes noteworthy, unless you count Adrienne Barbeau’s bathing scene, which I don’t.

Adrienne Barbeau getting a yeast infectionIncidentally, what was Craven thinking with that scene? Did someone from the studio give him a note recommending Barbeau get naked and, so Craven shoehorned a nude scene into an already efficient shooting schedule? That’s the only explanation I can come up with for her inexplicably bathing. In a swamp. I suspect Swamp Thing’s first order of business after dispatching Arcane and healing Cable’s knife wound was taking care of her subsequent yeast infection.

Which brings me to tonight’s feature, John Landis’ “An American Werewolf In London.” The rider to Insomniac says that, in addition to 500 jelly beans of my choosing, I can discuss the occasional cult classic, as I plum the depths of the B movie kingdom.

“An American Werewolf In London” is the right kind of cult classic, which is to say that it’s actucally quite good. Landis’s darkly comedic script never takes itself too seriously, mocking its own convenience on more than one occasion as it follows young David Kessler and his college friend Jack Goodman as they backpack across Europe.

After an awkward interaction at an isolated British pub, the two are sent out into the night where a werewolf awaits. It attacks and kills Goodman but is only able to wound Kessler before it is killed by the townsfolk.

Naturally this turns Kessler into a werewolf and thus, the crux of the movie is established.

Landis’s wry sense of humor comes to bear several times throughout the course of the movie both in one-off jokes and larger, ongoing gags. The funniest of which is Griffin Dunne’s Jack Goodman, who is forced to walk to earth as a zombie until Kessler is killed. Landis uses this as an opportunity to randomly insert the natually funny Dunne into the movie randomly, each time significantly more deteriorated than the last.

Later in the movie, Landis uses Dunne’s character to introduce the newly undead souls forced to Kessler in a porn theater. After the initial and exceedingly British pleasantries, the gang of zombies begin to debate ways Kessler could kill himself and end their torment.

“Pills,” one couple suggest, emphatically. “A gun,” another one says later. “You could put it in your mouth to be certain.”

The music selection is also amusing. “An American Werewolf In London” features “Moondance” by Van Morrison, “Blue Moon” by Bobby Vinton, and “Bad Moon Rising” by Creedence Clearwater Revival. Not only are the selections themselves funny, but the way Landis uses them to punctuate key moments of the movie. When “Bad Moon Rising” begins, the scene could very well have been a deleted moment from “Animal House,” but once the moon shows full, the tone changes entirely.

Speaking of which, it’s impossible not to mention the one scene “An American Werewolf In London” has become known for –– the transformation. Landis worked closely with Rick Baker to get the first transformation perfect and the result is still a marvel of reverse shots, prosthetics, bladder appliances, and more. The scene also creates another funny juxtaposition of serious/horrific with an instantaneous reaction and, again, a poignant, funny soundtrack.

It’s a little out of order in my clip selections, but possibly my favorite scene is the first time we meet zombie Griffin Dunne. Not only is the scene itself funny, but Landis doesn’t even bother to rationalize why Dunne’s character suddenly has all of the answers and proceeds to spoon feed the audience everything.

There’s still plenty wrong with “An American Werewolf In London.” The wolf itself is a horrible, broken animatron. The movie blows through its last act rather quickly. The plausibility of the love story is shaky at best and everyone jumps on board with werewolf theory rather quickly. Still, even the movie’s ending goes out on a piece of sharp humor and almost 30 years after its initial release, it serves as a reminder of what John Landis was capable of and where he ended up.

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