Where werewolves make us laugh: An American Werewolf In London

Werewolves are wanderers like vampires, but they have the benefit of leading a normal life with the exception of three nights a month.  A werewolf is the release of our id.  The person transforms when the moon is full, the time of the month when oceans pull back and the polarity of the world is in flux.  The werewolf is our release, it is when all the troubles of life pile up and we can’t take it anymore and we let the wolf out.  It is the easy way out, instead of dealing with trouble and pain we just allow our darkness to take over all of our bodily functions.  The werewolf just kills everything in its way.  It is an animal; it is our animalistic-primordial state.  It is when we put ourselves on auto-pilot and allow ourselves to live only by instinct alone.  This can seem like a source of freedom, but it is also de-evolving.  We are a progressive species; we are the only animal whose brain grows before the skull does.  We need intelligence before we need protection.  So, it may seem like a werewolf is the power we have in ourselves, it is nothing more than reverting to a more primitive state or in a sense, regressing.

Werewolves have been a dying breed of monsters within the horror film until most recently with MTV's Teen Wolf or the terrible Jacob from the Twilight series.  To rephrase our former statement good werewolf films are few and far between.  Among the great films that depict lycanthropes John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London can be seen as a large landmark not only within werewolf lore, but in horror cinema as well.  Before Werewolf in London, films like this showed the transformation with jump cut dissolves, but after Werewolf in London horror films knew that to make a successful werewolf film, it is all in the transformation.  Rick Baker designed the special effects for Werewolf in London and recreated how we watch horror films.  Before Baker innovated techniques and won awards for his contributions to cinema, werewolves were created by overlapping dissolves and the addition of yak hair.  Rick Baker was among the three most talented minds within horror film special effects.  Baker, Rob Bottin and Stan Winston perfected make-up designs to incorporate a face elongating and becoming wolfish.  They showed us how humans contort and twist into lupine shapes and how canines grow into sharpened steel. In American Werewolf in London, David Naughton’s character, David Kessler falls to the floor of his apartment and his hand becomes elongated, he grows fangs, his back tightens, his nose and mouth stretch out, hair sprouts from his skin and he becomes a wolf.  This scene was the first to show full detail of a transformation.  The monster within us comes out.  David is an introvert who normally allows others to step all over him; you can tell his aggression has been bottled up, so you can logically see how anyone like this could erupt.  In David’s case the beast that comes out of him is powerful and ferocious, things that David could only wish to be in real life. 

An American Werewolf in London set another new precedence in most horror films to follow.  The film showed in equal amounts that comedy and horror can work together.  It was not a spoof; it showed that realistic life is funny.  A sense of humor is all we have in some cases.  This provides a release of tension within a horror film.  Unlike exploitation and slasher films of the seventies that showed a build up of suspense with unrelenting force, An American Werewolf in London shows that it is okay to laugh in a horror film.  This blend of dark humor made the film successful, it wasn’t only a werewolf movie it was a self-reflexive horror film.  The film shows that werewolves are preposterous by nature, they are lore and legend, they are make-believe.  The audience gets into the plot, but they also know they are being entertained because it makes them laugh.  There is a scene at the end of the film where David goes to a porn theater (Landis always refers to the fictitious film See You Next Wednesday, here it is portrayed as a porno) and is confronted by his friend Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) who died the same night David was cursed.  His friend tells him that to free the souls of the people that David’s killed, David must die.  The souls of his victims are trapped in limbo until the last of the werewolf’s bloodline is severed.  His friend forces him to meet the people he viciously attacked.  There is a group of homeless men, a married couple, and another man who all tell David to commit suicide.  They give him ideas on how to ‘off’ himself, and the genuinely nice tone of the married couple telling him to “blow your brains out” is hysterical.  For me, my favorite moment of the film is the very end when David is gunned down and his girlfriend Jenny Agutter, stands over his naked corpse crying and the credits begin to roll with really upbeat music playing over them.  This juxtpositioning of music and context of the film cause an uneasy reaction within the viewer, it causes confusion.  It allows us to laugh, because normally when music is used in film it is non-digetic anyway.  The music comes out of nowhere and takes us out of the moment in the film, especially when the mood of the music doesn’t match the mood of the images.  The music takes us out of the film and places us back into the seats of the theater.  Werewolf in London works on many levels to engage the viewer, even to the point of laughter, one of the first films in the horror genre that tried to generate a large range of emotions, instead of just fear.

Rating: V/V

Audition For Your Role In Hell

This film has us stumped, not in the sense that we don’t have any theories on its ending, but in the way that the experience was so perfect it has left us with writers block.

The film begins with Aoyama’s wife dying and his seven long years of loneliness.  This leads him to need to remarry – “men can’t maintain without female support.”  He and his friend Yoshikawa set up a fake film audition for a project called “Tomorrow’s Heroine.”  Asami is one of the applicants and through spilt coffee Aoyama is completely smitten.  The titular event is creative in the way it is edited – a montage of mixed questions and answers (i.e. have you ever been involved with the adult film industry? This is the scar from my first suicide).  The only straight forward audition is Asami’s.  Over the course of what seems like weeks the two finally stay the night together in what we consider the biggest scare within the film – commitment.  It ends badly, full of regret.  After their tryst Asami vanishes, this is the point in the film where Miike begins to cross genres or emulate his influences.  The fist third of the film is meditative, slow, uneventful and framed in long shots and long still takes causing a subconscious or archetypical feeling of what complete loneliness means.  It is isolation, the un-nerving quietness, the infinite moments of pause we’ve all felt when alone for long enough, and as Aoyama begins to obsess over Asami we begin to do the same for the film. 

A lot of Aoyama’s long shots in the start of the film are from far away and only show his back – we are not even able to help him as an audience.  Yoshikawa fills this silent space with drunken misogyny to which Aoyama’s - equally inebriated - agrees to his friend’s views.  This is the point in which the feminist interests prick.  From here we have a man caught in a web of sexual inequality – where his beliefs in finding a mate that is ‘obedient,’ ‘talented,’ and ‘pretty,’ are qualities that are not only old fashion patriarchal, but superficial and a recipe for disaster.  This disaster’s name is Asami whom from a feminist standpoint represents an image of revenge – a poster child for equal representation.  Other readings of this film suggest that love in Asami’s life has always been tied to abuse and pain – so for her to share this with someone is to love them.  She could also just be an actress that gets really pissed off when she doesn’t get a role.  I think its variety of reasons is what appeals to us the most - the ambiguity. 

The second third of the film plays out like an Argento or Bava giallo film where flimsy clues lead to the truth.  On this journey to find Asami we find a character that rivals Denis Hopper’s gas inhaling Frank from Lynch’s Blue Velvet, this character plays the piano in an abandoned dance studio with his back to us and Aoyama.  He asks questions about Asami and the man reveals he is in a wheelchair with two false legs.  The disgusting man asks about Aoyama’s trysts with Asami, “how did she smell?”  “Did you hold her?”  Each time he asks a question he lets out a malicious laugh.  We learn later that this character is Asami’s step-father and had abused her after her aunt and uncle already ruined her purity and innocence.  From her childhood experiences she has become a lonely woman who believes that only through pain can she love. 
The end of the film is the most discussed aspect of Audition because it features excruciatingly disturbing images cut together by a style of editing that could be called cross-cut reality.  This end sequence sums up my belief that Audition was somehow inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.  The film cuts between Aoyama being drugged, the complete truth of Asami, her music director tied in a bag rolling around (still scares the hell out of us), even back to the night of making love and everything works out and Asami stays.  Miike cross-cuts back to Aoyama who is paralyzed and being tortured by Asoami.  The quiet normal world immediately cuts to the scary place of Asami’s world where she cuts his left leg off.  Aoyama was warned of her three times but didn’t heed the advice: his son, his friend, and his maid all told him to stay away or not be fooled.  The ending is amazing, after waiting and being drawn in slowly the film pays off in getting under your skin.  We feel as though we're being tortured every time we hear “kitty, kitty, kitty” which means deeper, deeper.  We can still feel those acupuncture needles.  This surreal and abstract nightmare of dream and reality could be a hallucination – a way to take himself out of the pain and try to give reason for her insanity, but no matter what he ends up with his leg cut off.

“I want you to love me and me alone, do you promise?”  If loneliness leads to this we better find mates quickly, but ask for other’s opinions instead of relying on a prophetic sign in spilled coffee.

Rating: V/V