John Pym

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 446

Sophomore humour appeals, if at all, simply because it is sophomoric; thus, there was no dickering with 'sophistication' in the John Landis team's Animal House. [In An American Werewolf in London], however, the material calls for a much lighter tread, so often has the ground been covered by film-makers in hobnail boots. Landis ends An American Werewolf in London with a title card congratulating the Prince and Princess of Wales on their marriage; and hovering above the preceding action is a feeling that it is taking place in a cinematic country of the imagination not far removed from tourist Britain. Trafalgar Square, Tower Bridge, the Zoo and Piccadilly Circus are all used, and all perceptibly draw attention to themselves. What is refreshing, however, about the film's ambience is that these British clichés are neither extended nor dwelt on. The Eros cinema in Piccadilly where the climactic transformation occurs is showing an authentic (though specially made) piece of homegrown tat titled See You Next Wednesday; the pub on the moors, filled with catatonic locals, has a sort of four-square reality, despite the pentangle scratched on the wall flanked by two immense prop-shop candles; the hospital employs an Indian porter, who is inevitably parodied but not, thankfully, in the usual oh-by-golly fashion. It takes perhaps a percipient outsider to bring off such a cockeyed view of Britain's national monuments. Nurse [Alex Price] is also something of a surprise, sustaining herself through the watches of the night (in what might have been a tiresome literary plant, but isn't) with Mark Twain, and displaying both pity and love for the luckless David which just hints, intriguingly, at a deeper tragedy. John Landis' other achievement is to have successfully grafted on elements from his previous work. The young Americans are straight out of Animal House's Faber College, at heart sublimely self-concerned and enthusiastically naive. Entering the Slaughtered Lamb, East Procter's pub, they settle for a pot of tea when coldly informed that there isn't anything to eat and cocoa isn't served. Furthermore, this open quality … is carefully integrated with the plot. Jack returns, ashen, with half his neck missing (at each appearance his putrefaction has advanced), and addresses David in his customary sing-song voice as if nothing really untoward has occurred: his death is a misfortune of the same order as his scuppered chances of bedding the girl he has been pursuing. The film is enhanced by uniformly careful casting in the secondary roles … and no one is allowed to run away with his tempting part.

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John Pym, in his review of "An American Werewolf in London," in Monthly Film Bulletin (copyright © The British Film Institute, 1981), Vol. 48, No. 574, November, 1981, p. 215.

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