Teetering on the gore-spattered brink of a luminous premiere, Paul Davis' groundbreaking documentary explores An American Werewolf In London with unprecedented reverence and creative verve. Commemorating the twenty-fifth year and re-release of this iconic monster, Beware The Moon was unleashed at London's prestigious FrightFest weekend. Faye Coulman quizzed the horror aficionado on lycanthropes, superfluous special effects and the mechanics of terror.
Hi, Paul. How are you?
Iím good, thanks. Itís been a crazy, crazy week, but Iím loving every second of it.
What was your response on learning that Beware The Moon would be receiving its premiere at FrightFest 2009?
Well, Iíve always been a FrightFest fan. I can remember going to The Dead all-dayer that they put on, which featured the premiere of Dawn, Day and eventually Land. Iíve been with FrightFest from the very beginning and, when I met with the publicist for Universal in L.A., the idea of festivals and whatnot came up. I suggested FrightFest and they said, ďWell, thatís international. Are there any American festivals that you want to do?Ē So I said, ďNo, give me FrightFest.Ē When we got in touch with Universal, the documentary was put forward as a studio presentation so it wasnít actually submitted the way most films are. When they said yes, I was absolutely gobsmacked. The whole thing has been totally overwhelming and I really canít believe that in two days itís going to be up there on the big screen in front of 1,300 FrightFest fans. I couldnít have imagined anything better.
We still havenít fully comprehended it yet.
An American Werewolf in London, along with your documentary, is to be released as a Blu-ray edition. Aside from keeping up to date with technological trends, do you think this format will make for an altogether more unsettling experience?
Thatís an interesting question. I think that what happened in the late nineties with the laser disc will apply in a similar way to the current Blu-ray trend. Companies are always looking for a new collectible medium, which allows them to push their films out and make money on them. I personally donít think itís going to be the next DVD. I just made the switch to Blu-ray and certainly donít intend to change up all my DVDs Ė the VHS change up was bad enough. The thing that bothers me most about Blu-ray is that sometimes the picture ends up looking far too clean and the artistís vision is often lost as a result of that. John Landis actually supervised the making of the American Werewolf Blu-ray and forced them to go back, add some grain and make the whole thing look as dark as he originally intended it to. Itís entirely wrong to compromise the directorís vision and that is something John feels very strongly about. I noticed the effect Blu-ray has on classic movies particularly when I watched The Shining. The whole thing looks far too crisp and exactly the same thing happened when The Texas Chainsaw Massacre was updated to DVD format. It used to look sort of like a snuff movie, which was part of its charm. However, American Werewolf has never looked better and the special effects look amazing in high definition. I was astounded by the end result and although John hasnít seen it yet, I know heíll be blown away. Itís one
of the few horror movies that has been enhanced by Blu-ray.
Though most will consider the high definition version a modernisation of sorts, do you believe that the re-release was equally motivated by a desire to preserve tradition?
I think so, because the important thing is that John Landis has just sold the rights for a remake and I honestly donít see how An American Werewolf can be remade because it has aged very well. Apart from the haircuts, it still looks like it was made yesterday. Some of the fashion is a little bit iffy, but on visiting some of the sets from the movie, we realised that certain things never change. We actually went back to be pub which is known as The Slaughtered Lamb in the film. It has since been modernised, but the moment we walked through the door I noticed the locals staring at us in precisely the same, stereotypical manner as those featured in the film. So in some respects, it really has stood the test of time. Nothing else can equal, let alone better, An American Werewolf in terms of creating a horror movie that uses humour to elevate its shock factor. This adds to the realism of the film because youíre seeing people who are responding in a very realistic way to all the horrible things that are going on around them. For instance, if a zombie was stood in front of you, of course youíd laugh in disbelief because they donít exist in the real world. Itís called a horror comedy a lot but itís not. It is a horror movie thatís funny. Shaun Of The Dead is a horror comedy because its main purpose is to make you laugh. Sure, the jokes are in An American Werewolf, but theyíre only there to elevate the horror and to add to the realism of the film. They managed to get that emotional blend just right and, because of that, the film has endured for almost thirty years now. And, with the advent of Blu-ray, weíre going to be reintroducing it to a whole new generation and I just hope that that magic is felt again Ė at least before this remake comes out, because god knows what they going to do, unless it involves the werewolf being trapped in one of the pods of the London Eye
While on the subject of technology, do you agree that the art of filmmaking is increasingly sacrificed in favour of superficial special effects?
Absolutely. I mean, how many 3D movies are coming out right now? Do you really think that My Bloody Valentine wouldíve made so much money at the box office if it hadnít had 3D at the end of the title? At the end of the day, itís just a Halloween knockoff that they managed to tag a gimmick onto the end of. Again, thereís the Saw 3D and Final Destination which will be coming out on Friday. Itís nothing we havenít seen before and goes back as far as Vincent Price and the House Of Wax. Itís been there since the 50s when it had a heyday as a B-movie, which they tried to relive in the 80s, but that ultimately fell on deaf ears. Horror movies always move in cycles. Perhaps in five years, youíll get ten ghost movies, then maybe ten torture movies and ten remakes after that. It always goes full circle and as long as people keep spending money on it, theyíll keep making it.
Itís the same in the horror genre as in all walks of life. People are always complaining that there are too many remakes, but if people stop seeing them, the film companies will stop making them. Probably the worst thing about horror fans is that we are stupidly loyal. I went to see Rob Zombieís Halloween, which I absolutely detested and was a true disaster of the horror genre. But as soon as Halloween II comes out, Iíll go and see it because Iím a horror fan and thatís what we do. However, I thought The Devilís Rejects was amazing, but it felt more like a western than a horror movie. Iíd actually love Rob Zombie to make a really good western because heís able to capture that redneck mentality so perfectly.
What inspired your decision to create Beware the Moon?
An American Werewolf In London was the first horror movie I ever saw. I was three years old. In 1984 my parents recorded the film and I absolutely loved it. By the age of five I was into the Nightmare On Elm Street movies, and when I was nine I watched The Exorcist - Iíve always loved the horror genre. I was writing for HorrorHound magazine throughout 2006, and was the only Brit on the staff because theyíre based in Ohio, when they asked me if I would like to do a retrospective on American Werewolf. It was like a light bulb had flickered on in my mind, as Iím a real fan of in-depth documentaries. I thought, well if I donít do this someone else will and thatís where the project started. I got in touch with my partner at the time and asked her if she wanted to produce it with me and she said yes. We started our own production company and got in touch with a guy who weíd met at a convention in Manchester who just happened to have a camera.
I then began emailing and calling all the cast and crew to organise interviews with everybody.
How was the concept received by director, John Landis?
It was an interesting one with John. The guy is so wired that itís like Red Bull is rushing through his bloodstream 24/7. Heís so hyperactive and animated. He initially told me he was flattered, but confused as to why we wanted to do it and what the hell we would do with it when it was finished. The rights were owned by Universal so we wouldnít have been able to license, let alone sell it. When we first got in touch he actually turned it down, but I managed to charm him round to the idea. I told the rep at Universal what the project was about and she agreed to speak on our behalf. They took a look at it and thatís when John came on board. But even if Universal hadnít approved it, it wouldíve still made for a fantastic, glorified home movie.
Given your specialist knowledge of classic horror, how do you view more recent interpretations of the werewolf genre?
I absolutely adore Dog Soldiers. Neil Marshallís one of those filmmakers who grew up with the same movies that a lot of people in my age group did.
He really gets the genre. Ginger Snaps I thought was fantastic, particularly in the way that it used the werewolf theme as a metaphor for puberty. Thereís certainly a lot of underlying stuff in that movie. Then there was Cursed, which, the less said about the better. Twilight is practically porn for teens, and Seth Green as a werewolf in Buffy was totally unconvincing. Werewolves and vampires will always be a part of that cool pop culture thing. As much as I love the old Universal movies, I think that werewolves and vampires are the only two monsters that can really be used to tap into our world Ė as far as popular culture goes. And the likes of Twilight, Buffy and True Blood are so successful because theyíre extremely marketable. So, as long as movies are being made, there will
always be werewolves.
"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Paul.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."