A Nite to Dismember: An American Werewolf in London (1981)

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A Nite to Dismember — October 31, 10pm – 8am (Buy Tickets)

A Nite to Dismember is Nitehawk’s first all-night horror movie marathon happening Halloween night from 10pm to 8am. We’re playing five of our favorite horror films that night (An American Werewolf in LondonBurn Witch BurnFright NightThe Burning and Dawn of the Dead), and to get in the spirit, we decided to discuss our favorite scene from each of the Nite to Dismember films here on the blog.

Fangoria.com Managing Editor and Nite to Dismember co-host Samuel Zimmerman weighs in his favorite film, An American Werewolf in London.

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I’ve seen An American Werewolf in London projected four times now in my adult life, three of which were accompanied by special guests. Talker extraordinaire and director John Landis intro’d and spoke after the first, FX legend Rick Baker attended the third and just this month, the meat loaf himself, Griffin Dunne talked briefly before the fourth. Each screening, and subsequent article and documentary that mentions the film also touches on its poor reception. It’s always some semblance of the filmmakers being told they couldn’t have it both ways, to be funny and scary was too much to handle, too tricky a balance.

Each time I revisit this, my favorite movie of all time, I’m dumbfounded this was an actual argument against the picture. That detraction seems reserved for the countless films that attempt this tightrope and misunderstand how one complements the other. American Werewolf’s comedy does not alleviate the horror, it reinforces the tragedy.

Werewolf stories are often tragedies. The beastly side of a man is unleashed and he is doomed from the first transformation. From their introduction, the fates of David Kessler and Jack Goodman are similarly sealed. First appearing in a truck bed full of sheep and then attempting to find warmth in a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, it’s not hard to see they’re backpacking in the wrong place, under the wrong moon.

Throughout it all though, from Jack’s death, to flirting with Nurse Price, to Dr. Hirsch visiting East Protcor, to the greatest transformation of all time, to visits from the beyond, David has something of a support group. Jack, whilst bitter at being in limbo, can’t fully mask the tenderness toward his best friend with rotting flesh. Each warning is more desperate, and always turns just a little sad because there’s clear best-friend affection between the two. “Please don’t cry,” ends one exchange. Later, just prior to David’s final rampage, he’s confronted by his undead victims. Savaged, bloody and brutalizing to see, Jack remains by his friend’s side, defending the human underneath the monster.

There are very clear gags in American Werewolf, as when Sergeant McManus bumbles around the doctor’s office, but that’s a physical styling. What’s mistaken as being comedy in the film’s witty exchanges is actually just authentic good nature between humans who have real chemistry.

The way David and Alex speak with each other is raw, open and affectionate. It’s similar with Jack, just toting a few more ribs. It’s what’s missing from a great deal of horror, the sense that terrible things happen to decent people heightens both dread and tragedy, and in the case of American Werewolf, makes for something very special indeed.

It’s something of a cop-out to eventually label my favorite part of An American Werewolf in London the film’s relationships, so if that’s not acceptable: it’s totally when David’s undead victims offer him suicide suggestions.

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