An American Werewolf in Paris
Hollywood has been mixing horror and comedy at least since James Whale’s The Old Dark House in 1932, but John Landis’ An American Werewolf in London (1981) was probably the first horror-comedy that managed to comment on the genre without being openly parodic. That film’s smirking college-student hero — David Kessler, who found himself turning into (you gotta be kidding me, right?) a werewolf — can now be considered the precursor of the wised-up horror fans in the Scream movies. Landis’ hero didn’t believe his predicament any more than we did — until the movie got scary and David (and we) got a reality slap.
The original American Werewolf blended big laughs and bigger scares so seamlessly that one wonders exactly how Landis pulled it off. He wrote it when he was 19 and held onto it until he had the clout to get it made his way; it’s his best film and his last good one. The belated sequel, An American Werewolf in Paris, doesn’t feel like a movie that sprang full-blown from the fevered brow of an aspiring filmmaker. It feels like a movie passed from writer to writer and director to director over a period of five years — as, indeed, it was. It’s a needless sequel — it has some scattered good moments, but it’s fundamentally lame. (To be fair, Landis’ own sequel concept, which he described in a Fangoria interview some years ago, was even lamer.)
The American werewolf this time is Andy McDermott (Tom Everett Scott, the Tom Hanks lookalike from That Thing You Do!), a college student vacationing in Paris with two buddies. Preparing to bungee-jump off the Eiffel Tower, Andy spots a suicidal French beauty, Serafine (Julie Delpy), who’s also preparing to jump — sans bungee cord. Why? Because she’s a werewolf — the product, it turns out, of a night between David Kessler and his English nurse girlfriend (Alex Price, who appears here as a ghost laden with make-up intended to hide the fact that the moviemakers couldn’t get Jenny Agutter to reprise the role).
Andy, like David, gets scratched by another werewolf and soon begins acting lycanthropic: a ravenous appetite for raw meat and sex; strange dreams and visitations from gross-looking undead people. Landis handled all this with a straight face that made it funnier (and creepier); the director here, Anthony Waller, goes for broad effects most of the time. Since Waller did such subtle, witty work in his debut, the 1995 thriller Mute Witness, I’ll chalk this up as the sophomore slump of a gifted director swamped by a bigger budget and too many special effects.
Speaking of which: don’t get me started. The werewolves of Paris, a combo of latex and CGI, are uniformly cheesy-looking. Motionless in the dim light of the full moon, they’re all right; photographed full-on, charging at the camera in jerky movements that scream “CGI,” they’re embarrassing. In a way, though, I’m grateful: This review provides the perfect opportunity to point out that Rick Baker’s effects for the original American Werewolf sixteen years ago — done entirely with latex — still wipe the floor with almost any computer-generated monster I’ve yet seen.
Waller’s sly use of the frame (as seen in Mute Witness, which you are required to go rent right now) occasionally brightens Paris. A few gags get their laughs by having odd things happen in the background, and Waller’s best, scariest moment here comes when two people are trying to fire up a lighter, illuminating and concealing the werewolf slowly approaching in the background. But the script, written by Tom Stern and Tim Burns (Freaked) and revised by Waller, is overplotted and doesn’t get much mileage out of several promising ideas — such as the ghost of Andy’s one-night stand (Julie Bowen, who’s funny) coming back to haunt him, or the development of a serum that speeds up the process of lycanthopy, or the idea of a subculture of werewolves hanging out in rave clubs that keep changing addresses.
I won’t give away the non-ending, but I think it should have ended the way Landis had the courage to end his film: tragically. It should have ended with Andy kneeling over Serafine with a knife and getting popped by the cops, like Gregory Peck in The Omen. Then they could have used the idiotic final scene (it involves the Statue of Liberty) as a bit of hallucinatory wishful thinking on the parts of the dying lovers. As it is, it seems that Hollywood Pictures was hoping for a second sequel (Two Ex-Werewolves in America?) — which may have been wishful thinking on the studio’s part, but certainly not on mine.