Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Underrated 90s horror comedy: An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)

Following on from my last post about Freaked I thought it might be a nice to review another film written (at least in its original draft form) by the same writers - Tom Stern and Tim Burns. An American Werewolf in Paris is the very belated sequel to John Landis' landmark werewolf film An American Werewolf in London. Upon release the film was almost universally panned as being an inferior film but taken on its own terms, divorced from the earlier film, it's actually pretty good. Well, in my opinion anyway.

The film sees Tom Everett Scott play Andy, one of three American backpackers on a tour of Europe. The three guys have been doing daredevil stunts in every city they stop at and Andy plans to make Paris the biggest one yet by sneaking on the Eiffel Tower at night and bungee jumping off. However as he is about to make his attempt he sees Seraphine (Julie Delpy) try to commit suicide and ends up saving her life. As the two are drawn together Andy discovers that Seraphine is actually a werewolf and pretty soon he gets bitten too. Can they stop Seraphine psychotic ex-boyfriend Claude from unleashing his army of werewolves?

As I said reaction at the time was along the lines of “Why the hell are they cashing in on making a belated sequel to a classic movie that no one wants?” Little did we all know that one year later John Landis would do the exact same thing to his own Blues Brothers movie with the god awful Blues Brothers 2000. As far as the original American Werewolf in London goes, I'm not a massive fan. It's an okay movie but it feels very disjointed and doesn't really have much of an ending. Don't get me wrong the special effects work by Rick Baker is awesome but the story and acting are only so-so.

As I said, despite the similarities in plot - American backpacker falls in love with nurse, gets turned into a werewolf - you really need to take An American Werewolf in Paris on its own. It's far more of a straight forward comedy where the original film was very much long stretches of horror punctuated by comic overtones. For the most part I think the film succeeds, it's very much an over-the-top farce with werewolves. Don't be expecting the bleak ending of the original either, I don't think it ruins anything to say that the ending is very much a happy one.

Tom Everett Scott does a great job in the lead. He's very reminiscent of an 80s Tom Hanks (which is likely why he got cast in That Thing You Do). Julie Delpy looks a little lost by comparison but gamely gets topless in one scene. Best of all of them is Vince Vieluf who plays Brad, one of Andy's friends, who gets turned into a horrifically ripped up ghost corpse (like Jack in London). There's some brilliant visual gags where only Andy can see and talk to him but everyone else sees him talking to thin air. In one part Andy points at Brad and says “You're dead, they pulled you out of the river” but everyone around him sees him pointing at a cooked trout.

I'm not denying there's some bad points in the film. The CGI, which drew a heavy amount of criticism at the time, is quite ropey in some scenes but I don't think it ruins the film as a whole. It would have been nice for the effects to be practical models but with all the werewolf on werewolf action it would have probably looked even worse. Pick any one of The Howling sequels to see what happens when you try and do practical effects on a budget.

The director Anthony Waller, who also co-wrote the script, keeps everything moving at a great pace. The whole film saturated in that yellow-y glow that all European cities have. It's disappointing that he didn't take advantage of more of the city's locations to give it more of a French flavour. Waller stages some nice thrilling sequences though, such as a rave club that turns into a werewolf attack (not unlike Blade) and a creepy bit with a paraplegic werewolf. There's also a very witty bit where one of Andy's friends who escapes the evil werewolves having been crucified by dragging this huge crucifix on his shoulders.

In the end, I think this is one film that got a bit of unfair press on release that is actually pretty enjoyable. I'll be looking at Anthony Waller's earlier film Mute Witness next, which again shows his penchant for witty horror comedies.


  1. You know, I did not like this when it first came out. I actually went to the theater to see it and even before then, I felt the same way you did. "Why make a belated sequel to such a classic that nobody wants?"

    I guess I'll have to give this one a chance again. I didn't like the effects, but you're right, it was CGI in it's infancy. It would have been nice if they had gone with practical effects, but those weren't the times we were or "are" living in these days. And I also have to agree with your point on Landis doing Blues Brothers 2000. The first Blues Brothers was probably my first "favorite all time" movie I can remember being obsessed about. Well that and "The Last Dragon", but I was a die-hard fan of that film and when they decided to do a sequel with a really crappy name (What the hell does 2000 stand for anyway?), and songs that were not catchy or even that good, and without John Belushi, well I wasn't happy. That was probably one of his worst career moves, and he's had a lot of bad ones. lol.

  2. I think I probably enjoyed Paris because I wasn't exactly enamoured with London in the first place. I'm not saying it's a fantastic film but it's pretty funny little horror comedy. There's not enough horror comedies nowadays so you kind of have to take them where you find them.