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.

April Fool’s Day

Confinement adds a bit of an intrigue to a slasher, whether it’s the high gate in Hell Night or the dreamscape of A Nightmare on Elm Street. April Fool’s Day smartly employs an island to get more mileage out of its Ten Little Indians conceit.

[Check out our accompanying April Fool’s Day podcast]

A group of college seniors gathers at a dock for a spring break getaway. And compared with other films of this ilk, these folks are positively restrained when it comes to all the good vices. Instead, they talk about their futures (this was back when college students had a future. Today, the average student loan borrower has US $37,172 in student loan debt, 20k higher than a decade and a half ago). Unsolicited advice: pick a trade and stick to it.

They mug for the camcorder and banter about utility curves and Paradise Lost (to the extent that that’s even possible) before sailing over the island, accessible only by ferry and complete with its own sprawling mansion (the family home of Kennedy-esque WASP elite Muffy St. John, the host of the shindig).

As the group settles down to supper, they experience a slew of April Fool’s-related pranking that includes falling doorknobs and spray faucets.

When one goes missing, the joking ceases. And they have to contact cops on the mainland, post haste.

Fred Walton directs (he who gave us the sporadically fun if overly procedural, When a Stranger Calls) and he’s in full command of his craft here, as there are some legitimate little scares. But the real star is writer Danilo Bach (Beverly Hills Cop) who gives April Fool’s Day whip-smart dialogue, almost too good than it deserves (an outlier for the slasher boom, that’s for sure, which was sputtering to its end around the late 80s)

Like Sleepaway Camp, this one will be mostly remembered for its top-notch denouement, a dynamite pretzel-worthy twist.

***1/2 (out of 5)