A classic monster whose image was on the wane burst back onto the scene thanks to not one, but three back-to-back werewolf movies in the early ’80s: An American Werewolf in London . Each of them found its own audience and is regarded as a classic — one of them, however, brought in more box office than the other two combined, and is arguably the more definitive picture in the werewolf Pantheon. But that’s hardly surprising, since American Werewolf arrived armed to the teeth with secret weapons that the other lycanthropes never saw coming. Such as?
Secret Weapon #1: Muppet Co-stars
Not only does Frank Oz play a minor role in the movie, but there is also a nightmare sequence in which Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy are shown on television. Because that episode of The Muppet Show had never been aired before, the footage wasn’t considered archival, resulting in Kermit and Piggy earning credited performances in the the movie. It also suggests that there’s not a movie in the universe that wouldn’t benefit from a Muppet cameo!
Secret Weapon #2: Makeup and Special Effects
The Howling‘s werewolf transformation was considered a marvel, but American Werewolf‘s set the gold standard, picking up the first ever statue in Best Makeup — previous to that, it had been occasionally awarded as a special prize at the Academy’s discretion. We’re so used to hearing “And the award for Outstanding Achievement in Makeup goes to…” that it’s hard to believe it didn’t exist until 1981. Hope that the crew of this year’s winner, Edith Piaf biopic La Vie en Rose, knows that their statues originated with a wolfman.
Secret Weapon #3: Comedy
Despite director John Landis having written the script when he was 19 years old (or perhaps because of it) American Werewolf put a cap on the grim, joyless B-movies of the 1970’s and got audiences laughing nearly as often as they were screaming, sometimes within the same moment. Landis stripped his plot to the bare bones and let the fun come from the actors instead of the scenarios. The snappy dialogue set the standard for fun ’80s horror… if only more movies had bothered living up to it!