Two carefree American tourists were warned that there were dashing places in old England, which were extremely dangerous to travel. But the cheerful overseas guys did not heed the warnings of the local residents and in the dead of night, illuminated by the deadly moonlight, left the road. An indescribable nightmare awaited them in the darkness, after which one of the friends was destined to become a ghost, and the other – a bloodthirsty werewolf.
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In the cinema of the eighth decade of the twentieth century, generally quite rich in excellent examples of the ‘lycanthropic’ subgenre, perhaps only three films can be called really key to the horror genre as a whole – Joe Dante’s Howl, John Landis’ American Werewolf in London, and The Silver Bullet ‘Daniel Ettias. Moreover, if you can argue about the third film and name a few quite decent thematic films, then the first two will not dare to throw out of the history of ‘films about werewolves’, I am sure, no self-respecting film fan.
Smile of Fate – All three horror classics have been directed by outstanding comedians. All of them had a great influence not only on the genre, but also on cinema as a whole, becoming a kind of reference points, small revolutions that changed the attitude of the viewer to such films and made filmmakers and critics think, who had not previously taken such cinema seriously. If you choose the most iconic film from this glorious trio, it will most likely be American Werewolf in London. Almost always they speak of him as a masterpiece and a cultural phenomenon, moreover, although he came out a few months later than the no less cult classic Joe Dante, he has a much higher critique rating, a much higher viewer rating, greater commercial success, and Finally, as a trump card, it also has the cherished gilded idiot, which is generally nonsense for the horror genre, moreover, this nomination was largely opened precisely for this film – the skill of make-up artists amazed the academicians too much. (Of course, Dante can say with resentment that it was after the success of his ‘Howl’ that the audience rushed to the theaters for another film about werewolves).
It took Ilya Muromets 33 years to accumulate heroic strength, Landis managed in just 12 years. For 12 years, the desire to film The Werewolf was overgrown with ideas, script additions, for 12 years it was waiting for the director’s rich imagination to be supported by the necessary level of special effects and, of course, funding. In 1981, Landis could already afford to shoot ‘it is not clear what’, in the wake of the popularity of even more iconic and even more unusual ‘Blues Brothers’, ‘American Werewolf’ no longer seemed to the producers a dubious and low-profit project.
With all this, the colossus brought into the world turned out to be simple to a perplexed shrug of the shoulders – where did this formula of success come from, which only the same Dante could really repeat in the Gremlins? What did Landis have at the time? Several classic werewolf movies, like ‘Wolf Man’ and ‘Frankenstein vs. Wolf Man’, but they had one problem – by the 80s they were outdated, not technically, but ideologically. Few people could seriously be afraid of werewolves, those old films were catastrophically serious, and therefore caused only laughter in the viewer. This often happens: any horror movie, when the emphasis is shifted, easily turns into a comedy (sometimes against the will of its creators), thereby neutralizing itself as a genre film. Unfortunately, now this is found at every step more and more often – directors who do not know how to deal properly with comedy or horror make a rather pitiful movie, while Landis guessed the right path almost 30 years ago.
It seems that he invented a new genre altogether – an ironic horror film. The misadventures of the characters in the film have a distinctly ironic connotation. Precisely the shade, because it is in no way a parody or even a black comedy. This is precisely a horror film where really terrible things happen, but the author himself takes it lightly, forcing the viewer to treat it just as easily. They do not try to frighten the viewer with the sickening horrors of torn flesh (the cheapest technique often used by modern filmmakers), on the contrary, fear is born from a non-fictional attitude to events: the easier and simpler the introduction to a frightening moment, the more unexpected and terrible the moment itself will be. Just now we saw a very unpleasantly torn dead man who came to life, how the dead man begins to talk with his friend quite in the style of their live conversations and his appearance no longer becomes an object of fear. And vice versa – we just watched how the hero toils from idleness and amusingly worried, when suddenly he jumps up and begins to turn into a werewolf with all the details! The viewer was preparing for this scene, but still arrives in complete confusion.
And with all this, Landis’s film does not set itself the task of scaring you to a swoon. The werewolf in the film is like a random face. He simply breaks the cheerful harmony of what is happening, you do not feel any hatred and anger towards him. And to say that in the final, good won out over evil. The almost symbolic last scene seems to say: ‘Sorry, but it happened. Such is the arrow of chance! Such is the price of a pleasant meeting in a foreign country.
Irony shows through in the image of the British countryside, the director kind of casually remarks: ‘Hmmm, only in such a country with such nice people and such excellent weather could werewolves appear.’ Landis does not miss the opportunity to sting 3 typical cliches-behavior of the alleged victims: cheerful light-hearted buffoonery with a tragic ending, a long and pointless attempt to escape and collective madness.
Of course, this film is not an actor’s, with all due respect to the charming David Naftan, who heroically tried to hide the shameful places in all possible ways and almost achieved success in this, and to the pretty Jenny Agutter. Their acting functions were minimal. The director’s decisions and, of course, the work of the make-up artist aroused surprise and admiration. If anyone has revolutionized makeup in cinema, it is without a doubt Rick Baker. And the scene of the transformation of the hero into a werewolf has become one of the textbook elements of the technical development of American cinema.
Of course, the excitement, which for many years did not subside around this film, pushed the directors to numerous imitations and borrowings. In the films of Craven and Marshall, Fawceth and Nichols, Hickox and Sullivan, who also understand a lot about horror films, the roots of Landis’ famous film are clearly visible. But Landis’s unique formula still did not find a worthy spokesman. John himself soon finally went into comedy, less and less resorting to genre deviations, and films such as ‘American Werewolf in Paris’, diligently copying Landis’s directorial decisions, look only convulsive twitchings of the copiers who did not understand a damn thing about them.
Of course, anyone has the right to challenge the ‘masterpiece’ label firmly stuck to this tape, to give any low mark – the meaning of this truly cult film will not suffer from this in the least. He said his big word in creating a ‘new movie about werewolves’, and they won’t be able to outshout him soon, if they can at all.
By the way, soon a remake of ‘The Wolf Man’ will appear on the screens, which – yes, yes! – Shoots another comedian, Joe Johnston. Here you will involuntarily start thinking – you see, only a person with a great sense of humor can sincerely be afraid and not take his own fear seriously!
Codec: HEVC / H.265
Resolution: Native 4K (2160p)
Original aspect ratio: 1.85:1
German: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
German: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono