Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who's down for a beer at the Slaughtered Lamb?

Day 11 - My Favorite Horror Comedy 
An American Werewolf In London

Everyone should have a dead best friend. It would keep us in check.
Is this movie a horror comedy? Probably not. But do I laugh when I watch it? Yes.

John Belushi "Animal House"
John Landis is known for directing movies such as Blues Brothers, National Lampoon's Animal House, Trading Places and The Three Amigos. Naturally, the guy is in touch with his funny bone. He also enjoys working on horror, though. With his quirky sense of comedy, his horror projects become the perfect marriage - campy, a tad slapstick, dry humor, but still intense and faithful to the horror genre.

Michael Jackson's Thriller
Landis is also the man we can thank for Michael Jackson's classic video, Thriller (1983). As creepy - and absolutely wonderful - as this video is, one can easily feel the comedic elements in it. And Thriller would have probably never happened the way it did, if it weren't for An American Werewolf in London (1981). It was this movie that inspired Jackson's desire to work with Landis on his groundbreaking video.

Landis not only directed American Werewolf in London, but wrote it - first draft was completed in 1969. But enough about Landis, what about the wolf! This movie set the bar for special effects makeup in the 80's because of the transformation scene - thanks to makeup artist, Rick Baker. (Also worked on Thriller.)

l-r: Jack (Griffin Dunne) and David (David Naughton)
American Werewolf in London is commonly quoted between me and my younger sister, Mandy. (She cites this as her favorite horror movie). Throughout the movie "moon themed" songs are placed. It opens with Bobby Vinton's dream-like version of "Blue Moon" as it shows scenes of the English countryside... the moors. We are quickly introduced to two best friends who have decided to backpack their way to Italy - David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne). You grasp a great deal of character and chemistry between the two of them quickly in their witty dialogue. The boys (young men) are genuine, a very appealing attribute for characters in a horror movie.
"The Slaughtered Lamb. Where's the Lamb?"

Another awkward moment (admit it, awkward is funny, when it's not happening to you) is early on when they stop off at the Slaughtered Lamb. Who names a pub the Slaughtered Lamb?! Jack's response to the sign is hilarious as he asks not only where the lamb is, but what kind of marketing they think they're using. Things turn intense as they enter, realizing that the barmaid and the patron all carry a secret about their little village. Shortly before they leave they are warned, "Stick to the roads, stay clear of the moors....beware the moon."

Clearly, some funky stuff is going on here. Does this startle the guys? Heck no! This just means they're going to continue hiking and making jokes about the moors. Upon the first howl, though, the two guys become consumed with fear. But even in their fear, they're still cracking jokes at one another. Maybe it's because it keeps them calm? Doesn't matter. It makes me laugh and it feels very realistic.
Zombie-Ghost Jack (Griffin Dunne)
I believe one of the most realistic scenes I have ever seen is when jack gets attacked by the werewolf and David runs, leaving Jack behind. Sheer fear. Only after a few hundred feet does David realize that he has left his best friend to be eaten by a wolf and he runs back for his friend. I relate to this well. That whole "You're a good friend, but if the zombies start chasing us, I'm tripping you"... I totally get this. Just ask my best friend, Matt. Some of us *cough, cough* are more selfish than others.
Yeah, I can own up.

Decomposing Jack (Dunne) and David (Naughton)
So, our beloved Jack is dead. David has been scratched and will therefore become a werewolf during the next full moon. It turns serious now, right? Not at all. The bloodline of the werewolf will see its victims, completely at unrest. Jack continues to show his decomposing face throughout the entire movie until there is nothing left. And does his demeanor change? Not at all. He complains to David that he hates talking to a corpse because they're so boring. He encourages David to kill himself before he becomes the werewolf and kills. Jack also makes comments about David's new bed-partner, nurse Alex Price (Jenny Agutter) and during their love scene we are grace with another "moon" song - Van Morrison's Moondance.

Even David's nightmares, vivid and violent, are quite goofy.

So we have a very serious situation, scary and with intense effects. This is beautifully mixed in with a matching soundtrack about moons - whether it be a blue moon, a dancing moon, or a rising bad moon - a zombie/ghost friend who continually makes wise cracks, funky dreams about the Muppets and green military monsters, a naked morning after (trapped in a zoo) and to top it all of we have two detectives from Scotland Yard who have that whole British humor down pat. You can't tell me that this is not funny!

The movie does not end on a funny note - unless you count an instant roll of credits accompanied by The Marcel's version of Blue Moon. (There are three different versions of this song in the movie.) The death scenes can be pretty scary. Maybe funny or comedy isn't the word I'm thinking with this.
John Landis - Writer and Director

Clever. That's the word.

Sure, An American Werewolf in Paris may actually be funnier, but it wasn't cleverly funny. the humor was too obvious. This one has it hiding in the cracks of dialogue, soundtrack and character.

Maybe it's the movies quotes that keep me coming back for more.

By the way, for those of you who feel as though you can never accomplish anything by talent and luck alone... John Landis was a high school drop out.

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