Monday, May 17, 2010

Bad Moon Howling

Pinky spent the night at her place yesterday so I had the night to myself.  After catching up on all the crap I had DVR’d while hockey games were on, I decided to put on a movie.

As you may know, I love horror movies, especially monster movies.  It occurred to me that I hadn’t seen one of my all time favorites in quite a while:

Note:  If you have never seen this movie and you do have plans to, stop reading right now, because I will be discussing dialogue and plot points.  By all means, see it!  It’s freakin’ brilliant.  And I can’t be too concerned about spoilers when the movie’s been out since 1981.  

As much as I love horror movies, Pinky hates them.  She gets squeamish any time someone dies on a TV show, or God forbid, they show a dead body.  It’s kind of hard to have a scary movie without those.

But still I try to find an angle to get her to watch the good ones with me, like American Werewolf in London.  So I’m thinking, “Maybe if we just zap the first killing, (which is by far, the worst one), she’ll go for it.”

The thing I love about this movie is that it is as funny as it is scary, so much so that it John Landis couldn’t get it made until he became a big enough director.  It wasn’t until he made Animal House and The Blues Brothers that he could persuade the movie execs, who didn’t know how to market the movie, that it would draw. 

So I figured I’d watch this movie I love, with an eye towards whether I can self edit it enough to make it Pinky-Palatable. 

The premise of the movie is that a werewolf attacks 2 young guys backpacking across England.  One guy, David, (played by former “Pepper” David Naughton) is wounded while his friend, Jack, (played by Griffin Dunne) is killed.  As everyone knows, those that are wounded by a werewolf are destined to become one.  So at various intervals, Jack appears to David to try to convince him to kill himself. 

One of my favorite lines comes right at the beginning, when David is in the hospital.  Two nurses are lingering in his room when a very proper British doctor comes in and wants them to go on about their business:

Doctor:  Surely you perform some function here at the hospital?
Nurse:  Yes, Doctor.
Doctor:  Then get on with it.

I used to actually use that line when I was a store manager and my staff was loafing, but unfortunately, it didn’t come off nearly as much “dry wit” as it did “me being a prick”.

When Jack first comes to visit David, he appears in the state he was in immediately after he was attacked.  In other words, pretty much shredded.  It is an incredible make-up effect.

It’s funny because the actor, plays Jack so cheerfully, even when he looks grotesque.  And all you can do is focus on that one little wiggly piece of flesh hanging off his neck.   Nope, there’s no way Pinky could handle the wiggly piece.

The nurse that ends up taking care of David is played by the very yummy Jenny Agutter.
According to the commentary track to the DVD, both young actors had it bad for Miss Agutter, but apparently she wouldn’t give either one the time of day.

She patiently tells him that he’s dreaming and his dead friend couldn’t possibly be talking to him.  Which brings me to the dreams… David keeps having these bizarre dreams, the worst of which involves his family getting killed by a horde of Nazi-themed ghouls while he is forced to watch.

Nope, can’t have Pinky watching that one… I’d have to edit that one too.  Which is a shame because it sets of one of the best bits… As David wakes with a start from that dream, he finds yummy Nurse Alex at his bedside.  She decides he needs a little sunlight and as she pulls the blinds open, another Nazi Ghoul pops out and stabs her repeatedly.  Then he wakes up again, saying, “Holy shit!

First time I saw that sequence, it was a huge shock, but it was brilliantly done.  David wasn’t the only one going “holy shit!

Nurse Alex takes David home to her flat… I wonder what kind of HMO he has… I want some of that…  Then it’s time for the love scene.  The music they used for it, “Moondance” by Van Morrison, was perfect.  Believe it or not, seeing the movie was the first time I’d ever heard it.  I was still on college radio at the time so I started playing it regularly after that.

After the lovin’, Jack appears to David again.  He’s still shredded, but this time he’s starting to turn green.  Again, he tries to get David to kill himself, before he kills others.  This is when David comes up with my favorite line in the movie: “I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!”

The high mark of the entire movie comes when Alex leaves David at her apartment while she goes to work, and that evening, he turns into the werewolf.

The transformation scene is breathtaking.  Every scrap of the change was done right there, physically, on screen under bright lights.  Remember, this was 1981, there was no computer-generated animation.  You see his hand and feet elongate, the hair sprout, ears pop out, and most nauseatingly, the nose push out into a snout. 

And even amid all this, they still bring the funny.  As he’s changing, David looks up at the Micky Mouse doll Jack had been holding earlier and says, “I didn’t mean to call you meatloaf, Jack.”

Now we’re onto the montage of werewolf attacks.  This part, I think Pinky could tolerate.  For the most part, all you see is a quick cut of the wolf’s jaws, then you’re off to the next scene.  Although there is a rather harrowing sequence in the London Tube, but it is not bloody.  Then the next thing you know, David wakes up naked at the zoo, in the wolf cage.

Escape from the zoo is funny, as the naked David pinches some balloons from a young boy who is wearing an Angus Young schoolboy suit.  The boy then goes up to his mum and says, “A naked American man stole my balloons.”

OK, that’s not really funny unless you see it.

David doesn’t remember anything from the night and is alarmed when he hears that there have been 6 horrible murders across London.  He approaches a bobby to try to get arrested, but surprisingly, the copper won’t arrest him.  He tells him to watch his language though.  Figuring this was his ticket to a nice secure jail cell, he starts yelling to the crowd:

Queen Elizabeth was a man!
Winston Churchill was full of shit!
Shakespeare’s French!  (I love that one…)
Fuck!  Shit!  Fuck!  Shit!

But the cop won’t arrest him.  Finally, he ditches Nurse Alex and spots Jack waving him into a porno movie.  By this time, Jack is nothing but a skeleton in a parka.

The movie is hilarious… horrible 70’s music and style, bad porn ‘staches, and in the middle of the darkened theater sit all 6 of the people David just killed… all are a slashed up bloody mess.  Now David is being tag-teamed by all 7 of them, happily suggesting various ways to kill himself. 

David facetiously thanks Jack for this “meeting”.  The subway guy turns and says, “This isn’t Mr. Goodman’s idea.  He is your friend, where as I am a victim of your carnivorous lunar activities.”
It’s all so perfectly buttoned up and British.  How is it that the British are able to speak without moving their jaws?

Turns out, David is still too much of a wuss to kill himself and later that night, goes werewolf again right there in the porno theater.  At one point a bobby goes in to investigate the disturbance and finds the wolf gorging himself on a bloody lump of human remains.
Ewww.  There’s another non-Pinky moment.

The bobby exits immediately and slams down the roller door outside the theater.  As a crowd forms and more bobbies appear to help hold the door, the wolf breaks through and immediately bites the head off the police inspector, which goes bouncing off the hood of a car and into the street.  OK, going to have to edit that too… Pinky is not down with the rolling heads.

Now all hell breaks loose as the wolf runs free across Piccadilly Circus, initiating some epic car crashes and carnage.  The cool thing is that they really did this right in Piccadilly Circus, filming from 2-4am.

The final scene plays out in a darkened alley where the wolf has been cornered.  Nurse Alex breaks through the police line (the police aren’t having a very successful night, are they?) and runs down to talk to “David.”

Tearfully, she tells him she loves him.  You see the wolf’s snarl relax just a bit, as if all the anger has left and he’s about to curl up in a corner.  An instant later, he roars and lunges for Alex, as shots ring out from the police.  Alex melts into tears as the camera reveals David’s bullet-riddled body.  Then…

Jump cut to the credits, as the most cheerful versions of “Blue Moon,” ever, is played.  (The doo-wop version by The Marcels)  In the theater, you’re just sitting there going “WTF?”  You just saw the guy you’ve been rooting for during the last 90 minutes get killed right in front of his girlfriend.  No wonder the movie execs didn’t know what to do with this flick.  It goes against all the rules of storytelling.  But that’s what makes it great.

Not for Pinky though.  I realized I won’t be able to sell this one in a million years.

The Pinky Version:  Two guys walk across northern England.  David is in the hospital.  Cut to the love scene.  Now David is naked at the zoo.  He calls home from a phone booth and goes into a porno theater.  The End.

One last story… I saw this with my buddy Brill when it first came out.  It was a damp, foggy day and when we got home, Brill had to walk two lots down to his house.  There was a big abandoned field in between and it was all overgrown.  For a moment, I had this wicked thought that I should quietly run around behind the lot and creep up into the field.  When Brill walked by, I would howl, like in the movie.

Then I remembered Brill’s heart condition… probably wouldn’t have been the greatest idea.  Poor Brill would have keeled over right there.

Cue The Marcels… "Bow ba ba bow ba bow ba bow bow, dang-a-dang dang, da  ding-a-dong ding Blue Moon…"


  1. I am a total wuss when it comes to horror movies, and while I remember loving this movie, I found it unbearable. Seriously, the decay of Griffin Dunne was so gross, I couldn't deal. I don't know that I could even watch this now. How have the effects held up?

  2. I think the effects hold up brilliantly, especially compared to, say, Jaws. CGI was good for things like Jurassic Park, but beings with hair don't come out quite as well.

    I remember seeing American Werewolf in Paris (a horrible knockoff) which used CGI, and it couldn't hold a candle.

    The brilliance of AmWW was that all the effects were done in physical space.

    The only real shortfall was that they couldn't show the entire werewolf, because there was no back end that was mobile.

  3. I was never into horror films, and in fact, I actively avoided them until I met my boyfriend. He's reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeally into horror and seems to have seen everything there is from every country and every subgenre, so I've been forced to watch quite a lot of it in the 3+ years we've been together. I used to be scared of it, but now I realize that most of it is funny.

    BUT. One day a few months ago, Kamran was napping, and I was left to entertain myself. American Werewolf in London happened to be on, and I never even considered that it might be scary, but YES. IT IS. I can't handle wiggly bits without Kamran there to laugh at them with me, evidently.

  4. Mundane,
    But it still holds up, doesn't it?

    The fact that it's genuinely funny AND scary is what makes it so great. There were so many great lines and parts to the movie I couldn't cover here, without just parroting half the script... the whole pub scene, for example...

    I probably saw this at least 2 or 3 times in the theater, and each time, I couldn't peel my eyes off that wiggly bit. And according to the supplemental features on the DVD, I wasn't the only one. Rick Baker, the makeup guy on the film said that was one of the most frequent comments he got about it... that wiggly bit.

  5. These movies look incredibly freaky and I don't plan on seeing any of them fucker!!!

  6. CB,
    Why do you think I put all those wild pictures in? Good luck getting to sleep tonight, Ashley!

  7. I'm with Pinky on this one. I can't even watch Jurrasic Park. Thanks, though, for talking about the plot. I will now at least know what everyone's talking about when the topic comes up.

  8. I love "The Pinky Version" - that's great stuff right there. I used to LOVE horror movies, but I'm not into gore for the sake of gore. Does that make sense? I've never seen this one, but I like that it has funny bits, esp if they're British wit - that stuff's awesome. So, I may consider it.

    I drank up a few of the Nightmare on Elm Streets (until they became more cheesey than scary) and several others that are full of those "crap, it's around the corner!" moments. I LOVE those! I need to watch more horror movies!

    This is a great recommendation - thanks! I don't even care about the spoilers - if anything, they'll help me along if I don't get something. Thx.

  9. Glad to be of service, DG.

    But I hope you at least clicked the YouTube clip… ya gots to see The Change… more “cool” than “scary.”

  10. Cristy,
    Thanks for the opening… I wanted to put this angle in the post but decided against it, for brevity’s sake.

    I don’t like horror movies that are gratuitously sick or violent.

    AmWW was great because despite a good deal of blood, there was also a good deal of restraint. Every incident advanced the story.

    But a good horror movie uses the dread of the scary thing as much if not more than the scary thing itself.

    I can pull a perfect example from my youth… the original “Halloween”. I was in High School, and the trailer scared the bejabbers out of me. I was basically shamed into seeing it by my friends. But between the music, the pacing, the indestructibility of the villain, the hot chicks in danger and the claustrophobic terror of seeing what the characters don’t see, it maximized the scary and minimized the gory.

    In fact, I don’t think there’s any blood in it at all. But it worked.

    So then high off that experience, I went to see the original “Friday the 13th”. Bad move. That was nothing but hacking and slashing. It’s one thing to see a cute girl in danger… it’s another to watch her get an ax buried in her skull right in front of you. I didn’t like that series at all… it was the very definition of gratuitous violence.

    The modern horror movies are like that now… I’m thinking the “Saw” series, “Hostel”… stuff like that. They call it “gore porn”; made for people that get excited by seeing graphic depictions of people getting tortured and carved to pieces.

    Not for me. Bleah…

    “Jaws” was another good one… sure there were some bloody parts, but the worst scene was the first attack, where there was no blood at all. But it was the fear of the Unseen Attacker that made it so scary. (OK, that and the churning water and audio effects.) The other thing is that it is an actual, plausible situation. There may not be indestructible boogiemen, but there ARE big sharks in the oceans.

    Anyway, I hope you check out AmWW… it’s really a riot. Grab your man and cuddle up for a good fright!

  11. Oh, Bluz. Yet another thing we have in common. I LIVE for horror movies. I've actually never seen An American Werewolf in London, though.

    Consider it Netflixed.

  12. Hope I didn't blow too much of it for you. Quick, go get sloppy drunk! Then you won't remember anything you just read...

  13. You make me want to go out and rent it again. As a general rule, I hate horror movies, but I remember really liking this one. Actually, I don't hate horror movies, I hate freaky scary movies like "Halloween" and "The Exorcist." Horror is OK.

    What made you pull this out? I mean the movie for god's sake? Kind of random.

  14. Guy,
    This was totally random... except that I just had a hankering to watch it again and that made me think I should write about it.

    I've meant to write about movies ever since I started blogging, but I just never seem to get to it. Plus, it's hard to figure out how to do it...

    Plot recap? Star power? Cool effects? Review?

    I don't know... I just love to talk movies. I finally decided to combine plot points with production, and add how it affected ME... ie the Pinky Factor.


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