Dead Man's Shoes
The Last Horror Movie
Shaun Of The Dead
The Weekend Murders
Kiss Of The Vampire
The Devil's Men
Three Cases Of Murder
Darklands
O Lucky Man

An American Werewolf In London
1980

If, like me, you're of a certain age, this is probably one of the first horror movies you ever saw. And I have to say that it's so totally, utterly, shit-your-pants scary that it probably wrecked the whole genre for me. Honest. No film since that terrifying night when they first showed this on BBC1 all those years ago has even come close to giving me the same total feeling of fear that I felt whilst mesmerised by this. You youngsters, with your Screams and your Bride Of Chuckys, have no idea what a scary film is.
It took me three years to pluck up the courage to see Nightmare On Elm Street, and when I finally did, it was nothing. Not compared to this, anyway. An American Werewolf In London is the scariest film ever made.
The evidence? Okay, your honour...
For a start you have the classic set-up of the slight shock, followed by the really big one. As in Jack's famous last words: "You really scared me, you shit head." Words that I'm sure have been levelled at director John Landis on more than one occasion.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm sure you all know the plot - American tourist sees friend get ripped apart by monster, tourist turns into monster, tourist goes on kill-crazy rampage. So instead, I'll revel a bit in the great dialogue and the wonderful set pieces.
The pub is the first sign of greatness that the film shows. Haven't we all walked into a rural watering hole only to notice a pentangle on the wall? We being English types, we just politely ignore it and ask for half a bitter and a packet of cheesey Wotsits.Jack and David say "Remember the Alamo!", immediately setting up a rapport with the odd-looking natives. For those of us who've seen the film several times, there's also a reference to Picadilly Circus at this point, which gives the film a nice, warm, cuddly circular feel. Probably.
Then of course, you get the famous "You made me miss..." darts line, which is actually only funny if it formed the drunken pub ramblings you had with your mates whilst a student in Leicester during the late 80s. So that's just me, then. And Mike Webber. Perhaps.
And finally, you have Jack and David's realisation that they've messed up big style: "Keep to the road... ah."
And how gory are those first two deaths? Jack is quite liderally ripped apart by his unseen assailant, and the wolfman doesn't fare much better, lying there naked and steaming, great gouts of blood pouring from his flabby white body. Ew.
Once in London, we're treated to Jenny Agutter. In a nurses uniform. "Shall I be forced to feed you, David?" Yes please.
And then you get those bad dreams:
David-cam view as he runs through the forest.
Naked David running through same forest and killing a deer with his bare hands.
Nurse Jenny standing over David's bed - without any warning, his face turns into that of a blue-skinned, yellow-eyed monster with huge, pointy teeth.
A bunch of Nazi zombies lay waste to David's family home with machine-guns and knives.
And finally, the piece de resistance, David thinks he's woken up... but of course, he hasn't. "Holy shit" indeed.
Then without giving the poor audience any time at all to recover from that (possibly the most terrifying moment in cinema history, I think you'll find), Jack appears, with the immortal line: "Can I have a piece of toast?"
To which David replies: "I can't take this..." which was
A thought probably not far from the minds of the cinema audience of 1980. Jack's make-up is revolting.
Of course, nurse Jenny takes in this obviously insane young man (happens all the time...) and the way is paved for the most famous scene of the film. No, not the spectacular transformation scene you dolt - the bit in the shower. Which, it has to be said, is far tamer than you'll remember.
Just to digress slightly, the late 70s touches are excellent. There are only three channels on the telly, Doctor Hirsch drives a rubber bumper MGB GT (I used to have one of those... it was the most rubbish car I've ever had the misfortune to own), and the London Underground is full of punks. There's also a top advert for the News Of The World at one point: "The Naked Truth About Naughty Nina".
David changes, and it's still fantastic, all these years later - showing CGI effects for the waste of space they surely are. He offs some yuppies, assorted tramps and a humourless bloke in the Underground:
"I can assure you, this is not in the least bit amusing" (oh, it is...)
"I shall report this" (who to? The werewolf inspector?)
Amazingly, after the earlier bloodbath, there's very little on show here at all. The look on the yuppy's face when he finds the severed hand is priceless, as well. Of course, David wakes up none the wiser, and has to be told about the night's hi-jinks by the narrator from Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels: "'E must be a real right maniac, this feller" (there's a Cockernee understatement, if ever I heard one, guv'nor).
More Fonzie cool points must go to David's attempt to get arrested: "Queen Elizabeth's a man! Prince Charles is a faggot! Winston Churchill was full of shit! Shakespeare was French!"
And I've also got to mention the dialogue from the porn film:
"You promised you'd stop doing this!"
"I never promised you any such thing!"
"Not you, you twerp - her!"
"I've never seen you before in my life!"
"Oh, sorry."
Finally, like a speeding train, the film races towards its uncompromising ending, with the fantastic conversation between David and his victims, the hugely entertaining and gratuitous Leicester Square massacre, and the dreadful "bom der der bom der bing der bing bing" musical finish.
If you haven't seen this for ages, it's worth searching out. If you haven't seen it at all, you must, as it's quite possibly the greatest horror film ever made. And for all the right reasons. Bloody hell - it's still as scary as it was 20 years ago. How many other films can say that?

Director: John Landis Writer(s): John Landis
Cast: David Naughton - David Kessler, Jenny Agutter - Nurse Alex Price, Griffin Dunne - Jack Goodman, Don McKillop - Inspector Villiers, Paul Kember - Sergeant McManus, John Woodvine - Dr. Hirsch, Joe Belcher - Truck Driver, David Schofield - Dart Player, Brian Glover - Chess Player, Lila Kaye - Barmaid, Rik Mayall - 2nd Chess Player, Sean Baker - 2nd Dart Player, Paddy Ryan - First Werewolf, Anne-Marie Davies - Nurse Gallagher, Frank Oz - Mr. Collins/Miss Piggy

Sounds

Not only is American Werewolf one of the best horror films ever made, but it contains some sparkling dialogue, which actually stands up well on its own. Sample some typically British pub talk, a particularly nasty death, a fantastic old News Of The World TV advert, Oscar nominated "art film" See You Next Wednesday, and more...

David and Jack debate whether to enter the Slaughtered Lamb 66k
The extensive pub menu 33k
Remember the Alamo! 43k
The entire crap joke about the "crasheeng pleen" 126k
Excuse me, but what's that star on the wall for? 17k
You... made me miss... 79k

Beware the moon, lads 5k
Stay on the road - keep clear o' the moors 10k

Santa Lucia... 45k

Did you hear that? 88k
Ah, shit David - what is that? 8k

You really scared me, you shit head 49k

The naked truth about naughty Nina 65k

David tries to get arrested (unsuccessfully) 110k

Some of the fantastic dialogue from "See You Next Wednesday". Good movie... 48k