19. An American Werewolf in London
directed by John Landis
One of three werewolf movies to be released in 1981 (the others being Joe Dante’s The Howling and Michael Wadleigh’s Wolfen), John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London stands head and shoulders above the pack with its tight and funny script, its wonderful performances, and, above all, Rick Baker’s still-impressive makeup effects. It’s rare for a horror comedy to be genuinely scary and genuinely funny without becoming a parody of itself or the genre, but this movie completely delivers. While Animal House and later Blues Brothers are cartoonish in their approach, An American Werewolf in London makes the humor very much a part of the reality of the story and actually makes the circumstances seem all the more believable. Who wants to see archness all the time? Laughter and scares are very close together on the reaction spectrum and Landis gives us enough jokes to lull us into a false sense of security before pouncing on us with a well-timed Nazi wolf monster behind a curtain. Griffin Dunne’s ever-decaying Jack giving David Naughton advice is gruesome, funny, and expository all at once and are among the most memorable scenes. And if anyone has ever wondered what it would be like to turn into a werewolf, the scene in which David painfully, bone-crackingly transforms in the full light of the living room answers that question and makes sure no one would ever wish that to happen. Still 100% effective today, the movie stands as the best werewolf movie ever made.