Roughing It in the Bush of Ghosts

An American Werewolf in London: written and directed by John Landis; starring David Naughton (David Kessler), Griffin Dunne (Jack Goodman), Jenny Agutter (Nurse Alex Price) and John Woodvine (Dr. Hirsch) (1981): Revisionist werewolf movie may be the best thing writer-director John Landis ever did from a stylistic standpoint: he actually seems to be a director here, as opposed to someone pointing a camera at chaos (Animal House, The Blues Brothers).

Landis’s love for old B-movies is an unassailable fact. An American Werewolf in London riffs overtly and implicitly on the Universal Pictures werewolf mythology: characters talk about it, while events follow the logic of the Lon Chaney, Jr. Wolfman in all his tragic, furry glory.

Backpacking American college students on a Great Tour of Europe somehow make their way to Northern England, which turns out to be a terrible idea because, you know, werewolves. Griffin Dunne’s character gets off easily; David Naughton’s character gets infected and wakes up three weeks later in London, England, where the paranoid villagers have shipped him. A whirlwind romance with a lovely nurse ensues. Terrible nightmares that occasionally seem to have been cribbed from Heavy Metal magazine also ensue.

And then comes the full moon.

Landis shows more invention here than in all his other movies combined: his peculiar take on werewolves keeps things fresh and unpredictable despite the fact that the narrative will ultimately be very, very predictable. Naughton’s callow nature and bemused expression grew on me over the course of the movie — he doesn’t have the baffled, confused physicality of Lon Chaney, Jr. as a man whose life has gone to Hell through no fault of his own, but he certainly plays bewildered well.

The transformation effects by Rick Baker and Rob Bottin became justifiably famous and much-imitated to this day. The full-size werewolf ‘puppet’ is a bit less convincing, and should probably have been kept off-screen as much as possible: its best moment comes in a truly excellent and atmospheric extreme long-shot in a Tube station. Still, entertaining, sad, and intermittently unnerving. I’d imagine the English village the students happen upon must be located only a few short miles from the island of The Wicker Man. Recommended.


The Last Halloween (aka Grave Halloween): written by Ryan W. Smith; directed by Steven R. Monroe; starring Kaitlyn Leeb (Maiko), Cassi Thomson (Amber), Dejan Loyola (Terry) Graham Wardle (Kyle), Jesse Wheeler (Brody), Tom Stevens (Skylar), Jeffry Ballard (Craig) and Hiro Kanagawa (Jin) (2013): Surprisingly competent SyFy Channel TV movie about the usual gang of idiotic young people wandering around a haunted woods. It’s the sort of time-waster that’s better than 90% of the theatrical releases made on the same template, but that’s not saying much: there are a lot of bad horror movies out there.

But for a movie whose star, Kaitlyn Leeb, is most famous for playing the three-breasted hooker in the Colin Farrell-starring remake of Total Recall, the bar is pretty low. And Leeb is pretty, though back to two breasts. It’s a TV movie, so there’s no nudity, which is unfortunate.

British Columbia stands in for Japan here. Good old British Columbia! Does it ever get to play itself? A lot of the trees may have previously appeared on Stargate SG-1. College exchange students go into Japan’s “Suicide Forest” (which is real) to make a documentary about Leeb’s attempt to find her birth mother’s body and conduct a ritual to send her tortured soul on to the Great Whatever. This has to be done on Halloween, a holiday I was not previously aware was on the traditional Japanese calendar.

Interesting things happen sporadically until somebody makes the terrible decision to bring on the stereotypical zombie/possession make-up. Leeb’s mother is a possessed Linda Blair from The Exorcist! No wonder things go awry!

But I was entertained. Leeb being nude would have made things more entertaining. Oh, well. I can always look at photos of her winning the Miss CHIN bikini pageant. Lightly recommended.

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