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Friday, April 8, 2011

Three Decades of David: The Music of An American Werewolf in London

It's hard to believe that it's been 30 long years since John Landis' comic horror masterpiece, An American Werewolf in London, was first released to theaters in the summer of 1981. There can be no doubt that this film is one of the all-time greats of modern horror--or of all horror cinema, for that matter. And it deserves recognition during this lofty anniversary. Therefore, in the grand tradition of previous efforts here in the Vault, such as A Quarter-Century of Krueger and Psycho Semi-Centennial, I bring you Three Decades of David--a celebration of all things AWIL that will continue throughout the remainder of the year.

For this, the first installment of Three Decades of David, I'm taking a look at one of the most integral and memorable elements of An American Werewolf in London: The music. Short as it may be, the soundtrack to this film is one of the main reasons why it is so beloved to this day, and stands as one of the most definitive touches brought by Landis to the picture.

Carrying over a popular '70s device (arguably first introduced by Martin Scorsese in Mean Streets) Landis achieved a true masterstroke by introducing familiar 1960s pop tunes into his movie, dropping them into a scenario in which they would seem to have no business being, thus benefiting the film by their very juxtaposition. And yet as "out of place" as these tunes may seem to be, we all know the very simple, clever reason they were all incorporated: All the songs have one thing in common, the word "moon" in the title. And we all know the connection between werewolves and the moon, right? A very simple conceit, there can be no doubt. Perhaps too simple. But who can argue with the results?

Let's take a look at the five "moon" songs included in the film:

1. "Blue Moon" by Bobby Vinton
Played over the opening credits and shots of the ominous English moors during the daytime, this recording was made in 1963 by Polish-American crooner Bobby Vinton. It was already by that time a very well-known pop standard by the team of Rodgers & Hart, and the first of three versions of the song included in the movie. The beautiful melody and vocals would stand in jarring contrast to the shocking content soon to follow.

2. "Blue Moon" by Sam Cooke
The second of the three versions of Rodgers & Hart's 1934 classic to be included, this one is performed by the soulful Sam Cooke, and was recorded in 1960. I'll admit, I would have liked to have seen more varied "moon" songs included, rather than have the same one repeated thrice--"Moonglow", anyone? "I Wished on the Moon", perhaps? "Moonlight Becomes You"? Oh well...

3. "Moondance" by Van Morrison
The title song to Morrison's 1970 album of the same name, this very sexy recording is very suitably used to further dramatize the burgeoning romance between David and his nurse-turned-girlfriend Alex.

4. "Bad Moon Rising" by Creedence Clearwater Revival
Perhaps the most fondly remembered of all the recordings used in the film, this was arguably Creedence's most well-known tune (a #2 hit from their 1969 album Green River), used to lead into the breathtaking Rick Baker werewolf transformation scene. The light-hearted tone of the music, mixed with the ominous message of the lyrics, perfectly sum up the effect of the movie itself.

5. "Blue Moon" by The Marcels
And finally, we have the third and last rendition of "Blue Moon", the boldly reinterpreted 1961 doo-wop version by The Marcels, used by Landis over the closing credits. It kicks in just as we see David shot dead in the street by the woman he loves. Used in this way, the brash, buoyant (standard traditionalists might even say abrasive) vocals are utterly striking.


le0pard13 said...

Fantastic post, B-Sol! This film is one of my all-time favorites. And as much as I enjoy its counterpart, THE HOWLING, Landis use and selection of music throughout this film sets it up another notch. BTW, the director did want to use Bob Dylan's and Elvis' version of Blue Moon, too, but BD wouldn't allow it and ongoing lawsuits prevented the latter. BTW, I did take look at that Bad Mooing Rising scene last year for Halloween, if you're interested.

Great job with this, my friend. Thanks.

B-Sol said...

I never knew that Landis wanted to use other versions of Blue Moon--thanks for the info! And thanks for the link, as well.

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