An American Werewolf in London


Don't you just hate it when you wake up naked in the woods?

Don’t you just hate it when you wake up naked in the woods?

(1981) Horror Comedy (Universal) David Naughton, Jenny Agutter, Griffin Dunne, Frank Oz, Don McKillop, Paul Kember, Michele Brisgotti, Mark Fisher, Gordon Sterne, Paula Jacobs, Nina Carter, Geoffrey Burridge, Brenda Cavendish, Michael Carter, Lila Kaye, Paddy Ryan, David Schofield, Brian Glover, Sean Baker, Rik Mayall, John Woodvine, Anne-Marie Davies. Directed by Jon Landis

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In the early 1980s the werewolf genre underwent something of a renaissance, with gaggles of new films that redefined the genre, including The Howling, Wolfen, Teen Wolf and this horror comedy. Landis, the director of Animal House, used the excessive gore of the period to offset the droll comedy which mostly was character-driven and while it wasn’t a huge hit, it has become an iconic film of its era.

David Kessler (Naughton) and his buddy Jack Goodman (Dunne) are on a walking tour of Northern England. The weather is cold (it’s England, after all) and the hospitality less than exemplary. As they walk out on the moors after an unsettling experience in the pub of a small village, they are attacked by an extraordinarily large wolf. Jack is killed and David badly injured.

David is brought to a London hospital where he is befriended by nurse Alex Price (Agutter) who once David is discharged, puts him up in her apartment since he literally has nowhere else to go. Soon David begins to have disturbing visions and unexplained things begin to happen to him. He wakes up naked in the zoo in an exhibit of wolves, for example, with no memory as to how he got there.

Worse, he’s seeing visions of his buddy Jack who informs him that they weren’t attacked by an ordinary wolf – it was a werewolf that killed him and now David has become one himself. He is also being haunted by the ghosts of his victims who are urging him to kill himself. David is understandably reluctant to do it – he and Alex have fallen deeply in love, after all, and he has a lot to live for but his new condition could endanger the life of the woman he loves. What is he to do?

This is in every sense of the word a horror classic. It is terrifying throughout and even though Landis keeps a light touch, there is always that air of menace and impending tragedy hanging over the entire film. He sets up the werewolf kills beautifully and doesn’t imbue them with camp. Landis clearly has a deep respect for not only the Universal horror films that inspired this but also the British Hammer horror films, although curiously the things that are Hammer-inspired tend to work the least well in the film.

Naughton at the time was best known for a series of commercials for Dr. Pepper in which he danced and sang “I’m a Pepper, he’s a Pepper, She’s a Pepper, We’re a Pepper, Wouldn’t you like to be a Pepper too? Dr. Pepper, drink Dr. Pepper…” Look ‘em up on YouTube if you want to see them. At the time they were pretty popular. There were some who thought he was destined to be a huge star, but it didn’t happen – this was really the nadir of his acting career. Still, he acquits himself well and makes a pretty solid tragic hero. He’s no Lon Chaney however.

Agutter, an Australian actress who also had some notoriety playing the romantic lead in Logan’s Run five years earlier is also strong in her performance. While people scratched their heads that a seemingly pragmatic nurse would invite a total stranger to live with her after knowing him only as a patient (hey, it was a different era), the character is strong and sexy.

Dunne – who went on to a career as a pretty decent director – gets the lion’s share of the great lines. Most of his screen time takes place after he’s dead and it’s a bit of an in-joke that with each scene his appearance gets more and more gruesome. Jack and David have a bit of an early bromance going on and the interactions between them feels natural and unforced; it’s one of the best attributes of the film.

The gore here can be over-the-top, particularly for modern audiences that really aren’t used to it. People sensitive to such things are advised to steer clear; although the comedy does offset it somewhat, some of the scenes of mayhem and murder are pretty intense. The transformation scene in which David morphs into becoming a werewolf is absolutely amazing – even 35 years later. It is one of the best sequences of it’s kind ever filmed and in many ways is the crowning achievement of the great Rick Baker’s career and one in which he deservedly won an Oscar for.

I watched this again recently and have to admit that it actually holds up pretty well. A lot of movies from that era feel dated, but this one is pretty timeless. It remains one of those movies that pops up every so often and when you re-watch it, you wonder why it’s been so long since you’ve seen it. There are a few who don’t care for the film but it remains a favorite for a lot of horror buffs and cinema fans to this day.

WHY RENT THIS: The by-play between Naughton and Dunne is realistic and fun. The film’s transformation scene is perhaps the best ever filmed. Naughton and Agutter give credible performances.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: The Hammer horror influences don’t really fly as well as they might.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of violence/gore, disturbing images, sexuality, foul language and adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film to win the Academy Award for Best Make-up Effects, a category established in 1981. It remains the only film directed by Landis to win an Oscar.
NOTABLE HOME VIDEO EXTRAS: The original 2001 DVD includes outtakes (without sound) and interviews with Landis and Baker. The 2-Disc Full Moon Collector’s Edition DVD from 2009 as well as the Blu-Ray includes a featurette on Baker and the documentary Beware the Moon in addition to the original content.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD/Blu-Ray Rental only), Amazon, iTunes, Vudu
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $62M on a $10M production budget.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: The Howling
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT: Six Days of Darkness concludes!

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Cub (Welp)


I am NOT Groot!

I am NOT Groot!

(2014) Horror (Artsploitation) Maurice Luijten, Evelien Bosmans, Titus de Voogdt, Stef Aerts, Jan Hammenecker, Gil Eeckelaert, Noa Tambwe Kabati, Ricko Otto, Louis Lemmens, Thomas de Smet, Pieter De Brabandere, Jessie Tweepenninckx, Isah de Zutter, Hauke Geimaert, Ebe Meynckens, Ymanol Perset, Nabil Missoumi, Jean-Michel Balthazar. Directed by Jonas Govaerts

What could be more natural than a bunch of young boys, scouts in fact, camping in the woods? It’s one of the rites of boyhood throughout the world. Of course, the boys are supervised by a pair of scout leaders and a den mother, but still, there’s something liberating about ghost stories of werewolves and monsters in the woods in the dead of night. But what if the monsters are real?

Kris (de Voogdt) and Peter (Aerts) – the later of which goes by the name of Baloo – are the said scout leaders. Jasmijn (Bosmans) is the den mother/camp cook/Peter’s girlfriend. Among the boys are David (Kabati), the troop leader and Dries (Lemmens), the timid bespectacled boy who is bullied by the bigger ones. And then there’s Sam (Luijten).

Sam, who has had a difficult childhood, has been bullied by all the others all his life. He has seized upon the camp leaders’ tale of Kai, the werewolf and is looking high and low for the feral boy, even though the tale is just a legend. Then Sam finds Kai (Eeckelaert). Of course, nobody believes him; Sam has been known to tell a tall tale or two throughout his life. This time, though, he’s not fibbing. He runs into a feral boy who wears a wooden mask, giving him a kind of primeval feel. He looks awfully scary at least.

It turns out that when the local school bus factory was shut down, there was a rash of deaths in the woods. Most of the local townsfolk like the go-kart riding delinquents Vincent (Perset) and Marc (Missoumi) are uncomfortable going into those woods. There are traps set all over the woods, some of them lethal. Someone is watching them…all of them and what they don’t know is that they’ve blundered into the territory of a madman who will see all of them dead – no matter how young.

This indie horror opus hails from Belgium and gives us a little bit of insight into  Belgian life. I was unaware that there was that much antipathy between the French and Flemish communities, but I suppose that ill feelings for those not belonging to the same group as you is pretty much universal.

It is also pretty much universal that the woods are a beautiful place and the cinematography here is nice and lush. It really is a pretty looking film, despite the fairly significant amount of gore. One doesn’t always find decent camera work in an indie horror film, so when there is a movie that has some you can’t help but be grateful for it.

I also liked the score, which is organ heavy and reminded me of the Goblin-scored giallo films of the 70s, which for a horror buff like myself brought back some pleasant memories; less experienced horror buffs may feel less nostalgic about it.

Most of the attention here centers on the three adults – or teens, which would probably be more accurate, and on Sam. The rest of the kids get little screen time, which is probably wise; good child actors are hard to find. However, Luijten is a find. He plays the timid, put-upon bullying victim, but he’s also stone cold at times. He shows some impressive acting range and I wouldn’t mind seeing him in more films someday.

In many ways, this is a bit of a throwback sort of horror piece; while there are a few too many camping-in-the-woods horror cliches here, for the most part this compares favorably with movies of the 70s and 80s that could be called the golden age of slasher films. There are some clever traps here, including one involving a beehive and a bow and arrow, that make the death scenes less rote than other, less imaginative films have given us.

While there are some hints of sexuality here, there really isn’t a lot that is overt; I think the movie would have benefited from less subtlety in that department. Also, we don’t really get a good deal of background about Sam and why he is the way he is and I think a little bit more explanation would have been helpful as well. Still, these are quibbles and this is quite impressive, not just for a first-time director on a micro-budget but for anybody. This has made some appearances on the festival circuit here on the states and is fixing to get released on DVD and Blu-Ray here on August 18. This isn’t a game-changer but it is a well-made horror movie in a sub-genre that is fairly crowded, but it acquits itself pretty well by comparison. Definitely recommended.

WHY RENT THIS: Nicely executed. Some clever traps.
WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: A few too many kids in the woods horror tropes. Some character background might have been nice.
FAMILY VALUES: Plenty of gore and images of terror, children in peril, foul language and a smidgen of sexuality
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The scouts camp near a village called Casselroque, a sly reference to Castle Rock where Stephen King set many of his stories.
NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: The Blu-Ray edition includes a music video and a short film; both editions feature an SFX reel.
BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: Not available.
SITES TO SEE: Netflix (DVD rental only), Amazon, Vudu
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Friday the 13th
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT: Brighton Rock

Local Legends


Say gang, let's put on a show!

Say gang, let’s put on a show!

(2013) Comedy (Motern Media) Matt Farley, Sharon Scalzo, Elizabeth M. Peterson, Tom Scalzo, Kevin McGee, Charles Roxburgh, Matt D., Millhouse G., Chris Peterson, Rachel Farley, Ryan Desmarais, Jon Cross, Jim Farley. Directed by Matt Farley

There are people who consume music and films, people like me. Someone else writes the songs, records the tracks, works the camera, constructs the script and does the acting. I just listen and/or watch. Other people aren’t content to do that; they need to create. However, their vision may not necessarily be grand – at least by certain standards. They don’t need stardom. They do what they do because they love doing it.

Local Legends takes a quasi-documentary approach. Shot in glorious black and white in and around Manchester, New Hampshire, local artist Matt Farley shows us more or less what his life is like. While a goodly amount is fictionalized there’s also a bit of truth going on here as well – it’s really up to you to determine which is which.

Matt is a stand-up comedian/musician/filmmaker/actor/songwriter/entertainment guru. He does all these things himself essentially without help or guidance from anyone, or at least not a lot. He works nights at a care facility for the elderly, mostly sleeping his way through work and only rousing himself to change the diapers when one of his charges has an accident.

During the day he writes and records songs, a lot of them – at  the time of filming he had over 13,000 songs on iTunes (that part is true) under various band names (go to the movie’s website and they’ll point you to a whole lot of them) which are mostly just Matt. Out of college he was in a group called Moes Haven which was a more or less serious band but Matt noticed that the only songs that were selling on iTunes were the novelty songs so after years of unjustified obscurity he and bandmate Tom Scalzo (who plays himself here) called it a day and moved on.

Matt and his friend Soup (Peterson) play one-on-one basketball during the day, each pretending they’re an NBA legend (such as Reggie Miller v. Bill Laimbeer – it gets confusing when they decide to pit Karl Malone against Moses Malone) but Matt generally hangs out most of the day recording songs. Some of them are fairly complex but some can be as simple as Matt repeating a person’s name over and over again against a catchy tune, or Matt waxing poetic on the joys of regular bowel movements. He has recorded more CDs than you can shake a stick at – not that there’s any good reason for you to shake anything in the general direction of a compact disc.

In order to get the word out about his music, he has to resort to creative means of marketing. From time to time, he’ll leave free discs in various places around Manchester. While doing this one afternoon he comes across his friend Millhouse G., a local promoter, putting up flyers for a Manchester comedy fest that he’s running and Millhouse invites Matt to take part, enthusiastic that he’s secured a 1,500 seat venue. Matt of course is all in.

Matt also meets Abby (Sharon Scalzo) after a comedy show. She invites him to her apartment with the lure of a complete Billy Joel collection. Matt, whose romantic cluelessness is part of his local legend, agrees but is disappointed to find out that her idea of a complete Billy Joel collection means that she has all of his Greatest Hits albums. Abby is clearly interested in Matt but is in a relationship with a guy named Norm (which is always a bad idea; guys named Norm are notoriously bad boyfriends) that is on again and off again by the hour. The good-natured Matt puts up with her particularly since she’s headed to Boston in a short time to attend art school – she wants to design costumes for display only. The thought of someone actually wearing them in a play or performance turns her stomach.

Abby’s constant attempts to spend time with Matt begin to irritate him but he doesn’t know how to get rid of her politely. Also the comedy show is beginning to get scaled down – it finally ends up being put on in Millhouse’s basement – well, to be more accurate, the basement of Millhouse’s parents. In the audience is Genevieve (Pearson) who also seems to be interested in Matt – but this time he’s actually interested in her.

This is what I call a “backyard movie” – one literally shot in the area around the filmmaker’s home and with a production budget approximately equivalent to a used car (a comparison that Matt uses during the film). Most of the actors are friends and family – during the comedy show scene in Millhouse’s basement, that’s Matt’s mom who comes downstairs in her bathrobe to get the laundry from the washing machine and Matt’s dad is in the audience. Surprisingly, the movie looks pretty good if you don’t mind fairly standard camera angles  – there isn’t anything fancy about the way Local Legends is shot but the movie nonetheless looks appealing. Manchester looks like a pretty cool place to live, although my wife and I once drove through New Hampshire and were advised throughout that there were moose crossings. We never saw one moose while we were there and concluded that moose are mythical creatures like unicorns and centaurs, which was proven  wrong when we ventured to Alaska. Screw you, New Hampshire!

Anyway, what I really like about the movie is that the more I watched the more it grew on me, like having a warm favorite blanket wrapped around you on a cold day. I got the sense that hanging out with Matt would be a good way to spend your time; he’s got a self-deprecating sense of humor and is unfailingly polite and good-natured. In fact, he informs you that the phone number he posts during the film is his actual phone number and if you give him a call, he’ll actually chat with you – and this is also true. He’ll even write a song about you if you ask him nicely (“I’m shameless,” he says disingenuously when asked about it). .

You’re unlikely to find this in a local theater and chances are it won’t ever play your local film festival either. However, you are in luck; you can see it for free on YouTube. If you’re interested, the link is right here. Just click on the word “here”  – not that one, the one that’s blue or possibly some other color and is in boldface. Otherwise click on the picture above and that will take you to the production company’s website where you’ll also find the link.

It took me about 15 minutes to really fall for this film but fall for it I did. While it has a Woody Allen-esque quality (without the neuroses) it also reminded me a little bit of Seinfeld in that the movie really isn’t about anything; it’s just a slice of this guy’s life. And let me tell you this, judging on what I see here, I really wouldn’t mind living it.

REASONS TO GO: Charming and grows on you the more you watch. Subtle and low-key.

REASONS TO STAY: Black and white isn’t everybody’s cup of tea. Those ADD sorts might start squirming after about 20 minutes.

FAMILY VALUES:  This is actually pretty family-friendly, although the humor is geared more towards adults rather than kids. However, no violence, no foul language and no sex.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: The open-mic stand-up performance that opens the movie was filmed at the weekly Laugh Free or Die show in Manchester. So far as we know, nobody died.

CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/11/13: no scores on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic.

COMPARISON SHOPPING: Annie Hall

FINAL RATING: 6.5/10

NEXT: Last Night