An American Werewolf in London

Austin Chronicle

DIRECTED BY: John Landis

REVIEWED: 11-02-98

It may come as a shock to today's teens, but Scream wasn't the first horror flick to be self-referential and genre-savvy. See, we children of the Eighties know movies that reworked the classic monster-movie archetypes -- Wolfman, Dracula, Frankenstein -- to fit modern style and sensibility when Kevin Williamson was still in diapers, or at least in Members Only sportswear.

Far superior to Michael J. Fox's imminently forgettable Teen Wolf, the other wolfman redux of the Eighties, American Werewolf in London, written and directed by yukmeister John Landis (Animal House, The Blues Brothers), finds David Kessler (Naughton) backpacking through the moors of Scotland when he and college pal Jack (Dunne) are mauled by a werewolf. Shipped off to a London hospital and minus one shredded friend, Naughton recoups only to fulfill the prophecy of the movie's title. Startling dream imagery and some flashes of gore poke fun at horror movie archetypes, but are also genuinely scary. Anyone who endured last year's marginally related Julie Delpy-Tom Everett Scott sequel can testify that 15-plus years of technical wizardry sometimes don't mean diddly. Most enjoyable, however, is the goofy fun Landis and company are having playing against audience expectations. And as the American Werewolf at the center of it all, Naughton proves sarcastic, bright-eyed charmers existed long before George Clooney was learning the Facts of Life.

In his campy vamp time capsule of Eighties chic, Schumacher uses a cast jam-packed with Bop bigshots along with gory comic book goofiness to tell his story of rock & roll nightstalkers in the fictional "murder capital of the world" Santa Carla (real-life Santa Cruz). For these wayward cool kids of the night, it's all mesh tops and mousse, long hair and leather jackets (plus one dangling earring). But equally as interesting is looking at these actors in terms of their career tracks: Watch then-unknown Jason Patric debut his chiseled jaw and ram heads with then-cool Kiefer Sutherland years before they were rivals for Julia Roberts' love; watch Jami Gertz in her brief stint as a screen siren; watch the two Coreys at the 14-minute mark; and who knew Dianne Wiest was in this thing? Unlike more complicated takes in the vampire canon, Lost Boys maintains a fairly blue-collar attitude toward the mythology: It's just holy water, blood sucking, and stakes through the heart here. But like the memorable INXS soundtrack song of the same name, Schumacher is more interested in giving us a "good time tonight," as he intersperses shots of the glitzy, towering rollercoasters, the shrill cries of those riding it out, all to remind us: Hey, you love this stuff.

Even sillier is Frankenhooker, the ridiculous cult knockoff of the gothic classic that, although it opened at the beginning of this decade, still maintains the Eighties offensiveness of a pre-PC era. When tinkering scientist Jeffrey's fiancée is sliced and diced in a bizarre gardening accident, he seeks out the perfect body with which to reassemble her sundry parts. Armed with his special strain of "supercrack," he lures a gaggle of big-bosomed, drug-loving hookers to his hotel room who, upon smoking the stuff, are impelled to do such things as scamper about scantily clad, rubbing each other in ecstasy until -- quicker than you can say Marion Barry -- their bodies explode. It's easy to jeer at the appalling dearth of acting talent here, or at the ludicrous plot barren of plausibility or suspense. It's simple to be provoked by such angry, hostile treatment of female body parts. I contend, however, that it is more difficult to find the traces of Mary Shelley's 19th-century novel. Okay, it's impossible to find. But Frankenhooker does offer an assortment of laughs, especially for the discriminating connoisseur of soft-core porn, and while not quite as technically adept as the former two, any movie with a beefed-up überpimp named Zorro fretting, "Where my bitches at?" gets my vote.

--Sarah Hepola

Other Films by John Landis
Blues Brothers 2000
Susan's Plan

Film Vault Suggested Links
Scream 2
The Sore Loser

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