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An American Werewolf in London

This is a classic werewolf movie about a couple of Americans on holiday who fall foul of a beast on the moors of Northern England. Written and directed by John Landis it's a funny and inventive take on werewolf mythology and remains one of the best werewolf movies ever made.

David and his friend Jack are backpacking in Europe and under protest from Jack they've started their adventure in Northern England (though this scene was actually filmed in Wales). Hiking through the rain soaked moors they decide to take shelter at a small village pub ominously called The Slaughtered Lamb. The locals are less than friendly and clearly have a secret to hide but when Jack asks about the pentagram on the wall they become even more withdrawn and the two are forced to leave before things turn nasty. They soon forget the advice of the locals and find themselves out on the moors with a full moon and the terrifying sound of a howling beast nearby. Jack is savagely gored and the beast turns on David the locals arrive at the last minute to save him from death but not before he gets bitten.

David wakes up in a London hospital three weeks later and is incredulous to learn that Jack is dead and that the locals claimed an escaped lunatic was responsible. He protests about the obvious cover up but no-one seems very interested. David forms a romance with a nurse in the hospital, Alex (played by Jenny Agutter) and when he recovers she takes him home. However he has been having lucid nightmares and claims his dead friend Jack came to visit him and told him he would become a werewolf. Sure enough when the full moon rolls around David transforms and roams the city streets in search of victims. The murders catch the interest of Dr Hirsch from the hospital and he begins to investigate David's story.

The film starts out in clichéd fashion like monster movies of old but soon becomes something quite different. The writing from Landis is excellent and he expertly weaves moments of comedy gold in amongst the horror. His direction is similarly skilled with some horrific werewolf action and the nightmares that David suffers from are especially well realised.

The cast is excellent with David Naughton extremely well cast as David and Griffin Dunne giving a great turn as his pal Jack who comes back as a zombie to try and persuade David to kill himself so the curse can be lifted. Jenny Agutter is perfect as the straight laced nurse Alex and John Woodvine is the terribly British Dr. Hirsch. The supporting cast are good too from the inhabitants of The Slaughtered Lamb, who bizarrely include Rik Mayall, to the bumbling Sergeant McManus, played by Paul Kember, who provides some comic relief.

This was released back in 1981 but film makers are yet to improve on the werewolf transformation scene. In fact the effects and make-up were so impressive they prompted the creation of a new Oscar category, Outstanding Achievement in Make-Up and the film was a well deserving winner.

While the direction and acting performances are strong the real strength of the film is the sharp and witty script which works perfectly. An American Werewolf in London is an essential watch for any horror fan and it's astounding to think how easily Landis made the transition to horror, albeit with touches of comedy, having released the terrific Blues Brothers just the year before.

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