October 21st -- An American Werewolf in London
As I stated in my horror comedy list previously, combining the scary and the funny is no laughing matter. John Landis' classic "An American Werewolf in London" is one of those films that manages to get them both dead on.
A couple of American college students are back-packing on the English moors when they're attacked by some sort of animal. One of the friends is killed, while the other is injured. While recuperating, the student is visited by the increasingly rotted visage of his dead friend, proclaiming grave danger when the moon is full. The student doesn't pay heed, of course, and experiences the kind of body hair growth not known since puberty. Needless to say, things don't end well.
One of the key factors in this film's success is its outstanding use of locations. The pub and moor settings are both immensely creepy for very different reasons. In fact, I daresay that the moor attack may be one of the tensest, creepiest horror scenes around. There's such a strong sense of place that it makes it easier to accept the scenario and just roll with the punches: at no point does "AAWIL" ever feel like a cheap B-movie, which is much to its credit. David Naughton is excellent as the tortured werewolf-to-be, but Griffen Dunne nearly steals the film as his wise-cracking best friends. Even while dead, Dunne gets some of the film's best lines ("Have you tried talking to a corpse? It's boring!") and his relationship with Naughton feels genuine.
Rick Baker's makeup and effects work is the stuff of legends and the transformation scenes may be some of the best in the storied history of werewolf films. Despite the breakneck pace and humor, however, "An American Werewolf in London" is actually a deeply tragic story. Alive with the bloom of death, the film examines the always heartbreaking end of life at a young age. As with Chaney's immortal Larry Talbot, we feel deeply for Naughton's David and this increases the horror exponentially. Definitely one of the classics of the field.