For some reason I thought John Landis directed Groundhog Day. Apparently not. Apparently it was not Ivan Reitman either. Harold Ramis directed Groundhog Day and John Landis directed An American Werewolf in London. John Landis and Harold Ramis are vastly different directors despite creating some of the best loved comedy films of the 80s. Landis has his impressive CV of Animal House, Blues Brothers, Trading Places, ¡Three Amigos!, Coming to America and of course Michael Jackson's “Thriller” video; Ramis created Caddy Shack and was in Stripes and Ghostbusters. Not even arguably, Landis is a better director. His work is more diverse, more daring and more quantitative. You could never envision Harold Ramis directing one of the greatest horror films ever. Maybe it was just because both their surnames end in “is”.
It is a rare balancing act combining horror with comedy in a manner that is both scary and funny. Scream manages it, as does Shaun of the Dead. The blueprint for mixing the two genres effectively is An American Werewolf in London. Witness Werewolf's opening scene: David and Jack walking down a country road, their rambling semi-improvised conversation spiced with David's punchline-less Knock Knock joke. This is the film's fleeting air of familiar normalcy, a scene to lull the viewer into a false sense of security before the Slaughtered Lamb's crash of impending terror. An observed difference between American and British comedy is that in American comedy the characters themselves are funny whereas in British comedy the situations are funny – this is especially the case in An American Werewolf – the characters crack jokes, others laugh, but the situation they are in is deadly serious. The tone also switches radically, after their ostracising from the pub their banter is light-hearted and amusing a few seconds previous to the brutal face-shredding violence of the wolf attack.
A trope that is used often, especially in Disney films, is a character embracing who they are, which in turn leads to personal fulfilment. This happens in An American Werewolf with David as a tourist, and later as a werewolf. Initially he is completely at odds with his new surroundings, portrayed perfectly in the when first seen in the back of the sheep-filled truck (also an allusion to the idiom “a wolf among sheep”). Denial and especially the word “no” reappear frequently: no hot food or coffee at the pub, the little boy with the one word vocabulary, and finally that David is not hungry in the hospital. In that final case, his “no” is turned into a “yes” by Alex, who introduces him to English culture with its multiculturalism, punks, underground tube system and famous sights. You gain a lot more from travelling if you are open to new experiences, and the same is true of lycanthropy. His acceptance of his werewolf-ism later in the film brings about a virility, a new found energy and general all-round personal good feeling, despite the murder.
One element that changes from horror to horror is the character's awareness of the situation based on cultural-knowledge, sometimes they are completely in the dark about what is happening, sometimes they are more clued in and this is especially apparent in horror-comedies. In Scream the characters know the methods of serial killers based on their consumption of slashers like Halloween or Nightmare on Elm Street, while Shaun of the Dead's characters are fully aware of the walking dead and how to dispatch them. An American Werewolf's David is fully aware of werewolf mythology and quirks due to viewing 1941's The Wolf Man featuring Claude Rains and Bela Lugosi. This is not the only point in the film where pop-culture is referenced, most notably the scene where David's family are watching The Muppets on television. This sets An American Werewolf In London in a relatable universe, one that could potentially be ours which increases the fear factor. This is seemingly not too far-fetched a scenario, in spite of the dream-dwelling mutant Nazis.
See Also: Blues Brothers (1980), ¡Three Amigos! (1986)
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