An American Werewolf in London now holds such a position of cherished fondness within the annals of the horror genre that its easy to overlook a myriad of structural and tonal faults. Part of the problem is that the film is so keyed in to the emotional receptors of the horror fan that its nigh on impossible to be objective about it. The reason for the close proximity between the film text and horror fandom is that the writer/director John Landis is himself a horror fan. This was Landis’ tribute to the Universal horror films of the 1930’s and 1940’s - most specifically The Wolf Man (1941), and he lays on a sense of nostalgia with a thick brush. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and if one can successfully harness it within a film you’re on to a winner. The nostalgic quality is evoked through an extended prologue set on the inhospitable moors of England (Landis isn’t afraid to throw almost every cliché in the book in) and a series of 1950’s and 1960’s pop songs, all of which comment on the action, sometimes in an ironic manner, in a way similar to that other ‘classic’ of nostalgia cinema American Graffiti (1973). We forgive Landis the cliché, we forgive the structural faults, we forgive the wildly uneven tone which veers from horror to comedy without any sense of purpose. We forgive him, because Landis knows what it is to be a horror fan, and we embrace his film because of his infectious love and enthusiasm for the genre.
© Shaun Anderson - 2010