Tuesday, 5 May 2009

The undead surround me. Have you ever talked to a corpse? It's boring! I'm lonely! Kill yourself, David, before you kill others.

No 107 - An American Werewolf in London
Director - John Landis

John Landis is a great comedy director. After all he gave us Animal House and Blues Brothers. Iconic, cool comedies. However, during that time he had a pet project.... this film. A beautiful meld of comedy and horror and bleakness. A celebrated cult classic.
How could I never have watched it? It is the premise of a huge joke in Spaced.... I feel I have cheated Mr Pegg.

Simon Pegg was the first person to introduce me to this film (not in person... I'm not that cool), firstly with Spaced and secondly with a deleted scene from Shaun of the Dead. In the deleted scene the taxi driver talks about how the zombie epidemic Puts you in mind of the great plague of London. Now... I love Paul Putner so was happy to see him in the film (well, deleted... but on the DVD) but was even happier to see that the influence for this scene is SO MUCH COOLER.

I much prefer the line "Puts you in mind of the days of the old demon barber of Fleet Street, don't it?" and it is delivered by a young Alan Ford. Fucking BRICK TOP. I love Brick Top.

This seems like a strange way to begin this blog, but now that I am on the subject of voices, it was not just the dulcet cockney twang of Alan Ford which excited me. For as David lies in his hospital bed, who should visit but Frank Oz.... and Frank Oz is one of the last surviving king of the muppets. Frank Oz sounds EXACTLY like the Great Gonzo. How are you expected to stay involved in the scene when the Great Gonzo is there as a US ambassador......

Now that I have gotten that bit off of my chest.... let me talk about what I thought of the film. I really liked this film. It has a beautiful mix of the funny, the scary, the bleak and the down right bonkers.
The most bonkers elements coming from David's dreams and hallucinations after he has been bit. I love that he can see his friend, Jack, who was killed by the werewolf. I love that his friend decomposes as the film continues. But mostly I love the nightmare where Nazi Werewolves machine gun down his entire family. That was a definite high in the film's inspired insanity. By now you may have clicked on that YouTube link and watched it for yourselves. Let us take a second to just look at the words that formed that sentence. Nazi. Werewolves. Machine gun (well.... Uzi). It is amazing! It is pure insanity! It is no surprise that Rob Zombie took some inspiration from it when making his equally insane Grindhouse trailer.

As we reach the topic of cinematic inspiration, I will hit the obvious topic. Rick Baker's amazing special effects. This film boasts an amazing transformation. One that still holds its own today. One that is still shocking and one that has inspired almost every werewolf transformation since (especially the excellent shot of the face lengthening into that of a wolf).
It was the first film to suppose that turning into a wolf might be quite a painful process.... One that was explored in more detail on the brilliant BBC3 show 'Being Human'. Even Harry Potter referenced it.
Hell! Even sheep have gotten in on the act.

But there is much more to this film than an amazing (and some would say cinematically pivotal) transformation. This film is clever through and through. Each track used in the film references the moon. The clever (and never jarring) mix of comedy and horror throughout - this is an accomplished piece of cinema.

With very cliched views on Great Britain.

I have to begin by saying that I love cliches. I love that in about 80% (probably less these days though....) of Movies or TV from the states Britain still comes off as being very 'pip pip, jolly good' toffs or being 'knees up muvva brahn' cockneys. It is a constant source of amusement. So every cliche in this film filled me with joy.
  • The northern pub. Complete with everything stopping when the strangers enter. I also love that when we return to the pub the doctor asks for a campari and soda. WAY TO BE INCONSPICUOUS! Who drinks campari and soda anyway? What a ridiculous drink to ask for in a remote country pub. I come from the country. This was a pub where you ask for ales. Not campari.
  • The Londoners are either stupid middle class toffs or cheeky cockneys.
  • The Police are proper 'Ello Ello Ello' bobbys on the beat.
  • There is a man, wearing a bowler hat and using an umbrella as a cane.
  • Tea. Tea crops up everywhere. As well it should, because this country was built on tea.
But best of all.... I don't think any of it is ironic. Oh happy days.

But they also get some of it dreadfully wrong.... mainly Nurse Alex Price, played by Jenny Agutter. firstly it is nice to see Tessa from Spooks all young and sprightly. However her character is a nurse. In London. I know nurses in London and they could not afford to live in the type of massive house Alex lives in. Maybe such things were possible in 1981....... No, probably not.

As I start to close this blog up I feel I need to address something. I may have misrepresented the film. I have chosen to focus on the insane moments, the black humour, the strange cameos, the bad cliches. What I didn't talk about is the horror. There is a very good horror mixed into the comedy. Some of Dave's visions are horrific. The wolf itself is a true snarling monster. A vicious predator and not something I'd want to cross.
Whilst the ending is abrupt, dark and shocking.

This is not a film about hope.

(ps.... I'm halfway through season 4 of BSG, then I'm done.... so I'll get my arse into gear and crack up the frequency of these posts)

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