Often times, after I finish watching a film, I spend a bunch of time online looking at message boards and reading reviews, trying to see what other people thought of the movie. But if a film contains some noteworthy special effects, chances are I’m nerding out doing fx research and scouring youtube. The technical aspects of a film and what goes into that process, anything from the camera work to the makeup, has consistently been my favorite thing to dissect in movies. So for a while now I wanted to start up a series here displaying my passion and I figured what a better time to start than with this month’s Lamb Movie of the Month: An American Werewolf in London.
WHAT’S THE MOVIE ABOUT?
An American Werewolf in London is a film by John Landis and stars David Naughton, Jenny Agutter and Griffin Dunne. In the movie, two friends David (Naughton) and Jack (Dunne) are attacked by a werewolf while backing packing in England. One is killed while the other escapes mauled, although he soon finds out that he has now become a werewolf. The movie is funny but scary and has a rewatch factor that soars through the roof. While Landis received praise for the film and audiences embraced it over the years, AWIL is widely known for it’s makeup effects.
WHO’S BEHIND THE FX?
An American Werewolf in London appeared during the first year the Academy Awards included the ‘Outstanding Achievement in Makeup’ award on the ballot. It won the first of many awards for special effects makeup master Rick Baker. Baker is the man in his field, holding both the most nominations and awards won in the Makeup category.
Baker learned the ropes as an assistant to Dick Smith, one of the absolute pioneers in makeup effects work. With his work for American Werewolf, he was able to showcase a spectacular and believable transformation of man to werewolf on screen, making him a legend.
This first one is pretty damn easy because it is hands down, the film’s most memorable scene. The one that changed it all, the transformation. If this doesn’t give you a practical FX boner, then I don’t know how to help you:
The scene is fucking incredible. It makes me question what I’m doing with my life. Like, what the fuck have I done today? Drink some coffee and write a blog post? Rick Baker was 30 when he and his NINETEEN YEAR OLD crew members put this together.
Another scene worth noting is the dream sequence David has in which mutant Nazis attack his family at his home. It shows off some creepy mask work and a nice throat slit for good measure, check it out:
BEHIND THE SCENES:
The big thing here: prosthetics and robotics. No CGI ladies and gents. Certain body parts, namely the arms and head are robotics that Naughton would wear. They were designed to move and change on screen, in real time. Here’s a look at the head work:
The arms created had movable fingers and stretched through a series of inflatables connected by tubes and syringes. The same method was used for the growing spine. When the team needed the hair to grow before our eyes, hairs were literally drawn on to the skin and then filmed in reverse. When the full body is shown, the actor is mainly under the floor in a cutaway, with the fake body on top. All of the effects blend together seamlessly with the brilliant cuts and editing of the scene.
So here’s what we learned: AWIL is a cult classic, in part for its mix of humor and horror from John Landis, as well as it’s amazing effects work from Rick Baker. The film holds up well and serves as a great reminder to the magic of movie monsters.