The 1941 Wolf Man movie was one of the last of the classic Universal films to be considered a part of the golden age of horror. The film was about a man who is attacked by a wolf one night and slowly becomes more in tune with his primal nature. The movie is all about how he copes with it and ultimately what he must due to deal with it. An American Werewolf In London follows this same path and in many ways is the spiritual successor to the classic Wolf Man film. An American Werewolf In London does have some very unique components to the way they handle werewolves.
In most films if a werewolf attacks you there are only two possible outcomes. The first outcome involves the character being mutilated and ultimately dying. This grants an end to that person’s suffering. The second outcome involves one where the person is attacked but manages to survive and awakens the part of our heart where the beast within us dwells. An American Werewolf In London though created a third outcome. One where a victim dies but is stuck in a state of purgatory never able to pass on from this existence. They aren’t zombies since they aren’t corporeal. They aren’t truly ghosts either since they are fully conscious of their predicament. Those killed by a werewolf are forced to endure the decomposition process appearing more decomposed each time the viewer sees them.
This creates an additional internal struggle for the main character. David Kessler is tormented by those that he kills as they visit him and request that he commits suicide. John Landis gave into one trope with this film and provides David with a love interest. This is another point where this movie splits from the original Wolf Man. It isn’t a fear of hurting her that weighs heaviest upon his heart but the words of his victims and their desire to be free of their purgatory.
In 1941 when Lon Chaney Jr. played the wolf man no one had ever seen a transformation process like the one they did in the movie. The transformation was done using a combination of stop motion and makeup. To achieve the effect they would apply one layer of makeup and film a frame. Then apply a second layer of makeup and film a frame. This process continued until all of the makeup had been applied. Throughout this process Lon Chaney Jr. was not able to move from the spot and had to maintain his exact position. A similar technique was used in An American Werewolf In London. By gradually applying the monster prosthetics the audience is really able to see the pain that David endures when he transforms. Audiences witnessed David’s bones stretching and reshaping to become wolf like. This film won the very first academy award for best makeup.
I could discuss this movie for ten pages. It has been hard to keep this review as spoiler free as possible up to this point. The bottom line is that this film is easily found and everyone who likes: monster films, werewolves, and dark comedies should watch this movie. The film can be streamed through most providers so there is really no excuse to not watch it.
Written By: Kiba