I'm trying to build up my tolerance of scary movies. The Shining was pretty good – but not too scary. Now @summerbeth is making me watch An American Werewolf in London.
— Terence Eden (@edent) October 30, 2020
I have a theory about certain movies. Take, for example, “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace“. It is not – so I theorise – a movie designed for audiences. It is a movie designed as an advert for Industrial Light and Magic, the special effects house behind the film. Don’t get me wrong, TPM made money from audiences, but its primary revenue generator was getting movie studios to buy in to the ILM way of making movies. Once a director saw how realistic the special effects were, and producers saw how cheap computer generated sets and extra were – The Phantom Menace had achieved its objectives.
That the same way I feel about An American Werewolf in London. It’s a schlocky, silly film. But it primarily exists as an advert for the way movie special effects could be done. Even today, in an era of hyper-realistic CGI, the practical effect of transformation is stunning. The puppetry is superb and the gore is frightful. And, on that level, it succeeds. It completely changed the way special effect movies were made and had a lasting impact on popular culture.
But it isn’t a scary movie. At least, not until the very end.
I was expecting jump scares – and there are a couple. And gore – which is amply provided. But there’s no sense of lurking terror. Everything is played for laughs. Until the brutal end.
I’d say “spoilers” but this movie is 40 years old.
The ending is distressing. The sheer mundane nature of the deaths. A crowd of people rushing towards danger. Not out of a noble goal of saving lives – but out of spectacle. The grim awfulness of innocent people caught in a literal car crash. All those supernatural murders can’t compare to the visceral horror of poor car safety.