Meta-comedic with B-movie charm, simplistic backpackers premise, foggy U.K. location sets, campy fun in werewolf deconstruction, & screen-stealing Naughton protagonist, AWIL is a definitive horror-comedy that set trends-to-follow. 8.2/10.
Plot Synopsis: David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne), two American college students, are backpacking through Britain when a large wolf attacks them. David survives with a bite, but Jack is brutally killed. As David heals in the hospital, he’s plagued by violent nightmares of his mutilated friend, who warns David that he is becoming a werewolf. When David discovers the horrible truth, he contemplates committing suicide before the next full moon causes him to transform from man to murderous beast.
*Possible spoilers ahead*
Werewolves? London? Cult classic Landis piece An American Werewolf In London is a concoction that shouldn’t work on paper taking two polar opposites melded together in the most unusual of ways. Yet, somehow it did for an unforgettable indie that is or damn close to the best werewolf movie to date. Meta-comedic with B-movie charm, simplistic backpackers premise, foggy U.K. location sets, campy fun in werewolf deconstruction, & screen-stealing Naughton protagonist, AWIL is a definitive horror-comedy blend setting genre-bending trends to follow.
The werewolf deconstruction in a backpackers’ motif. AWIL’s biggest selling point is its horror-comedy mix that cleverly tackles & has bloody good fun with the werewolf premise. From referencing/pointing-fun at Universal’s The Wolf Man to animal control locking him with the wolves at the zoo to tons of lycanthropic jokes, Landis’ movie is hilarious with a campy fun ’80’s tone that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Make no mistake though, it fits in some terrifying horror too showing you don’t have to only go for one or the other, achieving gory glory in sadistic kills in both unlikely-London and perfect natural location sets.
The soundtrack, location sets, and Baker’s make-up. I’ve never seen a soundtrack that is so perfectly matching not only in genre of punk to classic rock to swing, but even in the words of the premise – all of them having ‘moon’ or ‘wolf’ in the main chorus or title. The location sets are phenomenal too from mossy backwoods sheep-lined backpackers’ hiking roads and pubs to the big city of London whose train stations, dumps, and flats are the last place you’d expect a werewolf to be hiding. Baker’s make-up is absolutely legendary – a prolific talent whose skill in making people look like rotting corpses and werewolves look realistic is a triumph of filmmaking (even more so considering it was on an indie budget in the ’90’s.
Naughton and the love arc. No, what is really the best part about AWIL is its lead. David Naughton’s personality-bursting, bubbly, infectious lead is a character they could’ve built a franchise around – whose presence and sheer charisma is the best I’ve seen since Bruce Campbell in Evil Dead. The rest of the performances are strong in support too – especially Jenny Agutter’s stunning femme fatale Nurse whose inimitable chemistry and love story make for a fantastic B-arc wholly unexpected in such a brisk, 1.45-hour romp as a nice surprise giving it some emotional levity and rom-com flair (as well as a tragic ending referencing the original 1941’s Wolf Man too) amidst all the silver bullets.
Flaws are pretty much singularly-limited towards the suicide angle – though it’s a huge problem. The film’s nonchalant attitude towards suicide and taking one’s life is a bit callous and insensitive – that is what people do when stricken by unrecoverable tragedy and depression and should absolutely NOT be taken lightly in the slightest, especially when it’s not even critical the plot there being so many ways to get around it and tread lightly. It’s also tonally inconsistent with the rest of the film’s campy atmosphere such a dark distinction – again – wholly unnecessary and ill-advised. Finally, the ending is a bit over-the-top silly in crowds of people for some reason running towards the police telling them to get away because there’s a freaking car-sized wolf on the loose.
Overall, AWIL is one of the most side-splitting, refreshing, smart genre-blends of the early ’90’s that stands as also one of the best – and, for some reason, few – werewolf movies to date. Meta-comedic with B-movie charm, simplistic backpackers premise, foggy U.K. location sets, campy fun in werewolf deconstruction, & screen-stealing Naughton protagonist, AWIL is a definitive horror-comedy blend setting genre-bending trends to follow.
Official CLC Score: 8.2/10