An American Werewolf in London

Two backpackers walk into a bar…wait, this isn’t the premise of a joke. It’s this twosome in An American Werewolf in London, friends Jack and David, who are cold and hungry and looking for sustenance at The Slaughtered Lamb pub.

In-group out-group dynamics send the men packing, but not before this warning from the unfriendly denizens: beware of the moors.

Rattled, the guys take off on foot, and out of the shadows emerges a giant, furry, clawed beast.

Jack is mauled. David survives, confined to a London hospital bed (hence the title of the film) and he’s none the worse for ware, save for a few scratches.

After (more than) hitting it off with a tending nurse, and ending up back at her place, he starts to feel strange symptoms. But this isn’t because of an STD. It’s the first signs he’s about to transform.

The effects come courtesy of the guru himself, Rick Baker, and boy are they spectacular. The muscles spasms, the jutting snout, the newfound taste for red meat…

It’s a toss up as to what’s the best modern werewolf horror. Obviously, you’d have to give nods to Wolfen, The Howling and Ginger Snaps, but perhaps the most spirited and best-paced is An American Werewolf in London, comedy director John Landis’ foray into the horror genre.


Imagine being camping in woods and being set upon by assailants, who steal your boots and make off with your supplies. Wait, that’s the Canadian tax-shelter survivalist horror, Rituals.

Along the same vein, Preservation (2014), a horror with sassy, smart chops and an interesting dynamic that sputters out midway with a long skid into silliness.

The Neary brothers, Mike and Sean drive into the wilderness with Mike’s wife, Wit. Minute One is the survivalist-horror trope of the long, meandering drive into nowhere to establish sense of place.

Sean is a hard-drinking no-nonsense veteran (the doer), Mike his white-collar corporate counterpoint (the thinker). Wit is caught in the middle, especially when Mike suspects Sean has designs on her.

There’s some interesting chat about the ethics of hunting, as well a wild and inspired slurred campfire speech by Sean about Artemis, daughter of Zeus, and goddess of the Hunt.

After a night of boozing, the turn in. So far so good.

In the early AM, they awake to find assailants have made off with their belongings (including firearms), their German shepherd is missing, and their foreheads marked for target practice.

There’s a lot of wasted opportunity here:

  1. for starters, the group’s destination — a national park — doesn’t appear particularly off the beaten track, despite being closed for the summer (Aqueducts and drainage pipes which doesn’t exactly lend themselves to a sense of remoteness).
  2. Key moments appear off-screen, including an animal trap escape (really tired, as an aside, of traps)
  3. Nothing transpiring in the dark. Darkness combined with remoteness produces additive horror.
  4. The masked antagonists. Even since the Purge series, masks have been over-used
  5. The idea behind the killers was interesting, but not handled as well as it could beFor survivalist alternatives, check out the Aussie Killing Ground, or the Canadian flicks, White Raven or Rituals.**1/2 (out of 5)