“The Howling” vs. “An American Werewolf in London”

(Artwork courtesy of Phil Gormley Illustration)
Phil Gormley

“An American Werewolf in London”
This is one of my favorite films. Probably my favorite horror flick not directed by John Carpenter. “An American Werewolf in London” was the reason I went trick-or-treating as a werewolf in the third grade. I was really looking forward to seeing John Landis at New York Comic Con 2011, but he cancelled his appearance, but it was cool because I made a good friend while waiting in line.

David Naughton and Griffin Dunne starred as David and Jack, two American teenagers backpacking across Europe. Trekking across the Welsh moors, they enter a foreboding pub called the Slaughtered Lamb. They receive an unkind welcome from the locals and get booted when they question the pentagram etched on their wall. David and Jack are warned to stick to the road, advice they do not heed. They hear eerie howls and realize that they are being stalked by something unknown in the darkness. Such a scary scene. A beast attacks and Jack is savagely killed. David is badly injured, but gets rescued by the patrons of the Slaughtered Lamb, who had a change of heart. The beast is shot dead, but only the body of a nude man is visible to David before he loses consciousness.

David awakens in a London hospital. Despite being greeted by an attractive nurse, Alex (Jenny Agutter), he suffers from horrific nightmares. Then, he is visited by the mangled remains of Jack, who is quite jovial considering his circumstances. Jack informs David that their attacker was a lycanthrope, a werewolf, and that David is cursed to turn into a wolf during the next full moon. Jack will remain in limbo until the wolf’s bloodline is severed, meaning that David must die. A grim prognosis, but David is able to distract himself until the next full moon. Alex invites David to stay with her while he continues to recuperate and they hop in the sack almost immediately. Clearly, David has the best health insurance ever as very few hospital stays end with the patient being seduced by a sexy nurse.

Frank Oz, the voice of Yoda and Miss Piggy, cameos as a delegate from the American embassy. Dr. Hirsch (John Woodvine) takes it upon himself to investigate the validity of David’s story, making a pilgrimage to the Slaughtered Lamb. Hirsch is greeted with same surliness which David and Jack had received. Prominently featured in the pub are a chess player played by Brian Glover and a barmaid played by Lila Kaye.

Jack continues to pester David, looking more decomposed than he did before. David is still in his state of denial, shrugging off Jack’s appearances as a mental disorder of some kind. Alex is working the nightshift at the hospital when the full moon rises and David painfully transforms into a wolf, the most celebrated scene in the entire movie. Special makeup effects were designed and created by Rick Baker. *hold for applause* Baker’s hope was for a bipedal werewolf in the tradition of the Lon Chaney, Jr. makeup created by Jack Pierce, but John Landis insisted on quadruped, a demon dog, a hound from hell. David’s killing spree includes three hobos, a yuppie couple, and snooty businessman.

David finds himself in the wolf cage of a zoo the next morning and has a hard commute to Alex’s apartment (or flat as they call it across the pond) because he is buck naked. He hears about the killings and finally accepts the horrible truth. He decides to take his own life by slitting his wrists, but he cannot go through with it. He then meets up with Jack, who is practically just a skeleton at this juncture, in the back of a Picadilly Circus porno theater. All of David’s victims are present and stage an intervention of sorts, dependent on him to commit suicide. Apparently, he wouldn’t require a silver bullet to accomplish this feat. Too little, too late as the full moon rises and David transforms again, going on a rampage through Picadilly Circus. He is cornered in an alley by a S.W.A.T team. Alex races past the police barricade and tries to reason with the beast, but to no avail. Just as the werewolf is about to attack her, the police gun it down. Alex sees the wolf turn back into David and she breaks down in tears.

“An American Werewolf in London” proves that a horror / comedy can truly do justice to both genres. John Landis successfully provided the audience with laughs and scares. There was a pseudo-sequel in 1997, “An American Werewolf in Paris,” which could do neither. And, even though is was sixteen years later, the special effects were inferior to the original.

Phil Gormley 2

“The Howling”
As I kid, I held “The Howling” in low regard compared to “An American Werewolf in London.” I needed to mature a bit before I could appreciate Joe Dante’s film based on the novel of the same name by Gary Brandner. Joe Dante initially pegged Rick Baker to create the special makeup effects, but Baker resigned so to work with John Landis on his lycanthropic opus, which he had committed to several years prior. Rob Bottin, who had previously worked on John Carpenter’s “The Fog,” playing Blake, the head ghost pirate, was a more than antiquate replacement. Rick Baker was still billed in the credits of this film as a “consultant.”

Karen White (Dee Wallace), a popular news anchor, is being used as bait by the police to apprehend her stalker, known only as Eddie, who they suspect is also responsible for a series of savage murders. Eddie (Robert Picado) uses smiley faces as calling cards and lures Karen to a peep show. Eddie undergoes a metamorphosis before being shot dead by the police. Karen suffers from post traumatic stress disorder following this encounter and cannot recall what she saw. Kevin McCarthy plays the real unsympathetic head of her network, who puts Karen on the air in hopes of boosting ratings, but causes her to have a public freak-out. Karen’s husband Bill Neill (Christopher Stone), a former collegiate athlete, is helpless to help her though this crisis. Dr. George Waggner (Patrick MacNee) recommends that Karen and Bill spend time at his wilderness self-help commune. This character was name after the director of “The Wolf Man.”

Chris (Dennis Dugan) and Terry (Belinda Balaski), romantically involved colleagues of Karen’s, are digging up dirt on Eddie. His full name is Eddie Quist. Terry’s last name is Fisher, named after Terrence Fisher, director of “Curse of the Werewolf.” Eddie’s body has mysterious disappeared from the morgue. They do further research and learn about werewolves from a bookstore owner played by Dick Miller. According to this version of the legend, a shape-shifter can transform day or night and is in no way reliant on full moons, but silver bullets are still effective, along with fire. “An American Werewolf in London” followed rules which were in direct opposition. Full moons were required, but silver bullets were not necessary. Any old bullet would suffice.

Karen and Bill are introduced to some bizarre folks up at the commune. John Carradine, who had portrayed Count Dracula back in the 1940s, plays a suicidal elderly gentleman. Marsha (Elizabeth Brooks) is the resident vixen, with eyes on Bill. Her borderline feral brother, T.C. (Don McLeod), drools over Karen. It is painfully obviously to Karen that they need to leave this place, but Bill is attacked by a wolf. Dr. Waggner advices them to wait until Bill recovers before they travel. Bill gets drawn by instinct to Marsha since she was the werewolf who bit him and they engage in the most unnerving love scene in cinematic history. The unbridled lust of these beasts was a strong theme in the original novel and meant to serve as the main appeal to life as a werewolf.

Terry visits Karen and Bill at the commune, which I think is the scariest sequence in the movie. Even as a kid, I had a strong feeling that Terry was not going to survive, so I just kept waiting for the moment of terror. She discerns from artwork left behind that Eddie Quist had spent time at this commune. She also learns that Marsha and T.C. are Eddie’s siblings. While on the phone with Chris, Terry gets attacked and killed by an enormous werewolf. This wolf turns out to be Eddie. Karen discovers Terry’s body, then she gets cornered by Eddie, who begins the transformation again. It’s hard to measure up to what Rick Baker created in “An American Werewolf in London,” but Rob Bottin still did an amazing job. Karen waits until the transformation is completed before she throws acid (?) in his face.

Chris comes to her aid, armed with silver bullets. His first confrontation is with Eddie, whose face is almost dissolved down to the bone. Eddie refers to Chris as “bright-boy,” a moment parodied in Kevin Smith’s “Dogma.” Next, Chris saves Karen from the rest of the werewolf colony. Dr. Waggner had tried using self-help techniques to modernize his brethren, but a revolt is underway. Chris backs them into a barn with his rifle, locks them inside, and sets the barn ablaze. Karen and Chris escape, but not before she gets bitten by a werewolf who turns out to be Bill. Karen opts to go out in a grand fashion, turning into a werewolf on live television. Unlike all the other werewolves in this film, Karen looked like a cute shih-tzu when in werewolf form. Chris shoots her with a silver bullet before the feed gets cut. Some viewers believed what they had seen while others thought it was just a hoax. It was left unclear whether or not Karen’s death was in vein, but Marsha is revealed to have survived the inferno in the barn.

Thus far, there have been seven sequels to the “The Howling” and they are all terrible. Joe Dante went on to make “Gremlins” while Rob Bottin worked with John Carpenter again on “The Thing.” Whenever I would see Robert Picado as the hologram on “Star Trek: Voyager,” it was hard to connect that performance with Eddie Quist, the deranged and perverted werewolf from “The Howling.”

*I was initially going to pen an article entitled “Werewolves of 1981,” which would have included “Wolfen,” starring Albert Finney and Edward James Olmos, but I could not get myself motivated to critique that particular film at this time. I also neglected to declare a winner between “The Howling” and “An American Werewolf in London” as each individual reader can reach their own verdict.

**Forrest J. Ackerman, the famed collector of movie memorabilia, cameos in “The Howling” during the bookstore scene. Ackerman also cameos in the Michael Jackson “Thriller” video, in the theater watching a werewolf movie. “Thriller” was directed by John Landis and special makeup effects were created by Rick Baker, the men behind “An American Werewolf of London,” so Ackerman has six degrees of separation thing happening here.


About domcappelloblog

New York based screenwriter.

Posted on October 3, 2013, in Horror and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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