I just finished re-watching this movie from 1981, and I was frankly surprised by how well it’s held up. I was also glad to see, once again, the original version, and not the “sanitized for my protection” censored version that always pops up on TV this time of year.
The story is about two American college students on a backpacking tour of Europe, starting in England. Friends David Kessler (played by David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (played by Griffin Dunne) decide to stop in a pub called The Slaughtered Lamb, hoping for some hot food and friendly company on a dark and stormy night. They get neither, or course, and when they foolishly inquire about that strange pentagram carved in the wall, you can feel the temperature in the room drop about sixty degrees. Feeling unwanted, the boys head back out into the night, with only the ominous advice to “Watch out for the moon” and “Stay on the road” to send them on their way.
They wander off the road, as irresponsible American backpackers are wont to do, and get lost. Then they get attacked by the monster on the moors – a werewolf. Jack Goodman is killed, but David Kessler escapes death when some of the men from the pub show up and shoot the werewolf. Kessler wakes up in a London hospital three weeks later, disoriented and telling a crazy tale about being attacked, not by “a lunatic” as the official police report says, but by a giant dog, or wolf. Oh, and he also starts getting visits from his old, dead friend, Jack.
Jack’s visits were some of my favorite parts of this movie. Even though he is a steadily deteriorating corpse, he always manages to say something funny.
The special effects in this movie — specifically the werewolf transformation scene, and Jack’s gradual slide into decay – won Academy Awards, and rightly so. Rick Baker’s work was awesome.
Special effect aside, however, my absolute favorite part of this movie was the soundtrack. Consisting of a bunch of rock and roll classics, all referring to the moon – Bobby Vinton’s “Blue Moon,” Van Morrison’s “Moondance,” Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” – these tunes were a genius addition to the film. Where oh where, you ask, was Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London”? Nobody knows.
A couple of things about this movie that bugged me was the astonishingly naïve Nurse Price (played by Jenny Agutter) who, like an idiot, falls for her crazy patient and then brings him home once he’s out of the hospital. Sigh. I expect that kind of reckless abandon from a doctor, but a nurse?
Speaking of doctors, I really, really, really disliked Kessler’s doctor, Dr. Hirsh, who was so patronizingly dismissive of the nurses at first. But then, for some reason, he decides to investigate Kessler’s story – even going to the trouble of visiting The Slaughtered Lamb on his day off – and suddenly, he’s a character I grow to like. He even treats Nurse Price like an equal (or at least a fellow human being) by the end.
One of the best throwaway bits in this movie involved that strange porno movie playing in the theater near the end where Kessler meets up with Jack again, and Jack has brought along some of Kessler’s werewolf victims from the previous night. The porno movie seems to be nothing but a bunch of sex and nudity interspersed with wrong number phone calls, and mistaken identity encounters. Hilarious.
This film was famous for being both funny and horrifying, and while it definitely was both of those things, it also felt a little abbreviated. The ending was abrupt and unsatisfying, I thought. Instead of some kind of closure, we’re treated to Kessler’s naked, bullet-riddled body lying in a London alley surrounded by his girlfriend and a British SWAT team. The End.
I kind of expected more from the guy who gave us “National Lampoon’s Animal House”, and the outstanding “Blues Brothers.” But what do I know?