Movie Review: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Synopsis: While hiking together through Britain, Americans David Kessler and Jack Goodman are attacked by a giant wolf. Jack is killed but David survives after villagers shoot the animal. However, as he is recovering in a London hospital, David is visited by Jack's undead spirit, warning him the animal was actually a werewolf and he would change into one at the next full moon. 

Who's in it? The movie stars David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine and Anne-Marie Davies.

Review: My wife was still feeling under the weather and, since that meant a quiet evening at home, I looked for a movie to watch. I came across An American Werewolf in London on one of our movie channels and since it had been probably a good 20 years since I last saw it, I gave it a watch. After seeing it for the first time in two decades, I can say I was surprisingly impressed.

Based on when this movie was made, I expected it to have some limitations. However, it wound up being a lot better than I even remembered it being. 

For one, the overall plot is pretty good. There's not a whole lot of werewolf scenes but it ultimately didn't need a lot of them. Watching David's (Naughton) slow transformation into a beast while also creating a situation where his given a chance to avoid it (by committing suicide) but doesn't know if he's really seeing his dead friend (Dunne) or is imagining Jack's ghost, made the film entertaining even before the killing started. 

The love story between David and nurse Alex Price (Agutter) added another intriguing element. I found it a bit amusing she was ignoring his red flags (even if he wasn't a werewolf, I would think David constantly seeing his dead friend would have been alarming). However, at the same time, I wasn't sure if it would be a love story that would eventually save the day or end in tragedy. 

As far as special effects go, I also had no complaints. Yes, they might have been a bit dated but were still effective. The wolf version of David was reasonably believable, the transformation scene made me cringe in a good way and the blood and gore weren't anything that I would consider too much. At minimum, I can say the filmmakers worked around the limitations by only showing glances of the werewolf rather than making it the focal point. A lot of other movies should do that.

My only real complaint is I wasn't a huge fan of the ending. It felt like a throw-back to some black-and-white monster movies I've seen, with the conclusion seeming a bit rushed and no effort to give any real closure. The movie was only 97 minutes long. There was room to tack on a few extra minutes to do that if they wanted to.

Final Opinion: There are many werewolf movies out there but only a few do things right. This is one of the few I would list in that category.

My Grade: A


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