Second bites of the apple are always warranted if the film is significant…special in other words. Such is the case with my favorite John Landis film of all-time. An American Werewolf in London, from the golden year of such movies, 1981, which included Joe Dante’s absolutely wonderful The Howling, the unexpected Wolfen, and to a lesser extent, Full Moon High to complete the studio concept for the time. Awhile back, I diagramed one of my favorite sequences from the film, here would be another.
Perhaps, the opening sequence is much simpler, more straightforward, but it brings a sad smile still.
Traditionally, the shapeshifting tale that is the werewolf of popular fiction is tied with the wild, as in wilderness; and therefore takes place in a countryside setting. So it’s no surprise AAWiL quietly opens to such a landscape after the obligatory Universal/Polygram emblems splash past, and even if the city of London of the title is nowhere in sight. It’ll manifest itself soon enough, but for now, the relatively sedate atmosphere of the Welsh moors1 sets the title sequence in sunless tranquil motion.
Seemingly barren and without people or dialogue, the credits open customarily enough2; the wind heard at the start is what one would expect witnessing such an expanse as the dawn breaks. The whole of the sequence to introduce what our plucky Yanks will soon find themselves in. The cold, blustery panorama the filmmakers made use of to establish story and frame the movie’s titles against. The terrain shifting periodically amidst the static camera views as credits appear upon the backdrop before our heroes show.
All this taking place under a “Blue Moon.”
Literally, perhaps, as An American Werewolf in London takes place within the span of two full moons3, but more so in song. Ironically, AAWiL used mostly upbeat, needle-dropped song4 referring to the moon to augment Elmer Bernstein‘s score. Famously, three distinct covers of Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart’s ballad, “Blue Moon”, were inserted into the soundtrack. Originally written for the 1934 movie Manhattan Melodrama, it was eventually reworked into popular song during the ’40s.
Though successful for Billy Eckstine and Mel Tormé in 1949, it became an international hit in ’61 for the doo-wop group The Marcels, the version which closes the film. Sam Cooke’s softer, bittersweet cover from 1959 plays during the agonizing transformation scene, leaving Bobby Vinton’s to hauntingly presage it all in this sequence. The same angelic voice that brought “Blue Velvet” a similarly evocative quality5, gave this opening scene, like its opening lyric, a mournful tone, which was in keeping with the werewolf tale’s tragic nature.
“Blue moon/you saw me standing alone/without a dream in my heart/without a love of my own”
- “The moors were filmed around the Black Mountains in Wales, and ‘East Proctor’ is in reality the tiny village of Crickadarn, about six miles southeast of Builth Wells off the A479.” ~ The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations ↩
- The type of energetic and dazzling title sequences of designers Maurice Binder or Saul Bass this is not. ↩
- The phrase has nothing to do with the actual color of the moon; a “blue moon” is an additional full moon that appears in a subdivision of a year: either the third of four full moons in a season, or a second full moon in a month. ↩
- Van Morrison’s “Moondance” and Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Bad Moon Rising” being the others. ↩
- Bobby Vinton’s most popular songs have “Blue” in their title: “Blue on Blue” (#3 in mid-1963), “Blue Hawaii”, “Blue Moon”, with “Blue Velvet” likely his most definitive cover (followed “Blue on Blue” to reach #1 in ’63). ↩