The Cult Class Collection

An American Werewolf in London (1981)

Starring: David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, John Woodvine, Brian Glover, Rick Mayall

Directed by: John Landis

Rating: 1 2 3 4

David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffin Dunne) experience Yorkshire hospitality in the Slaughtered Lamb

Vampires schmampires. Seems like the pasty-faced buggers are everywhere these days: at the pictures, on the telly, standing on your doorstep demanding chocolate with menaces (or perhaps that's just my neighbourhood). But wait! Is that the patter of hairy paws I hear, as the Wolf Pack bares its teeth and locks jaws with the Twilight vampires, shapeshifter Sam raises his doggy  hackles in True Blood and Benicio Del Toro turns feral in a remake of The Wolfman? Arooo!

So it's fitting, then, that Hallowe'en 2009 should see a return to the big screen of John Landis' howlingly great horror classic, An American Werewolf in London, re-released in a beautiful, pristine print that shows it off in all its gory glory.

You probably know the plot: David and Jack (David Naughton and Griffin Dunne) are young American backpackers on a tour of Europe. After taking a wrong turn somewhere north of Rome, these cheerful innocents abroad have ended up in Yorkshire. And, caught between the ominously named Slaughtered Lamb pub and its surly, unwelcoming locals (a poster for British tourism if ever there was one) and the lonely wuthering moors bathed in the light of the full moon, you just know it's not going to be a jolly holiday.

Having survived an attack by a mysterious 'escaped lunatic' that kills Jack, David wakes up in hospital in London, under the care of pretty Nurse Alex (the lovely Jenny Agutter, looking as if she's been spirited in from Casualty 1909 – God, sometimes 1981 seems a really long time ago). When the decomposing ghostly corpse of Jack first appears in his room, warning him that in two days time he'll turn into a werewolf and start killing people, David assumes he's dreaming.

David (David Naughton) mid-transformation into An American Werewolf in London

But, discharged from hospital and left alone in Alex's flat as the full moon rises, he discovers it's all too true, in a lycanthropic transformation moment that looks as jaw-droppingly awesome now as it did 28 years ago. Who needs CGI, ey?

While in Hollywood (and Hammer), the vampire myth is often used to dramatise the allure and danger of burgeoning sexuality, the werewolf reflects the less glamorous side of growing up. From Oliver Reed in Curse of the Werewolf to Michael J Fox in Teen Wolf, it's all about that hair that suddenly sprouts from nowhere, that growly voice that appears when least expected, those strange nocturnal changes in the body. Sexy it ain't – which probably explains why the poor werewolf has remained the hairy, embarrassing cousin in the corner while the sexually confident vampire takes the stage.

 American Werewolf, however, is not just a gory body horror about excess fur: it's a buddy movie about a young man coming to terms with the death of his best friend; a doomed romance about two strangers who find love in an unlikely situation, but who are destined to be kept apart; a thriller about a smart doctor and two dumb cops attempting to unravel a series of mysterious murders; a comedy starring a wisecracking corpse that bears more than a passing resemblance to the late Michael Jackson.

And with ingredients like that, it's no wonder it's worn so well, as funny, scary, intriguing and moving as it was when I first saw it as a teenager – and the tongue-in-cheek soundtrack is still superb. All I can say is that the remake, pencilled in for release in 2011, has a lot to live up to.

As the vampire's empire crumbles, the werewolf will rise as his most fitting successor. And that's okay with me if it's okay with you-oooooo…

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