Musings About Music In Film

31 Days: An American Werewolf In London

Our 31 day-long celebration of all things horror starts, right now. Beware the moon... 31awil

Given his history of scoring classic westerns like True Grit and The Magnificent Seven and melodramas such as To Kill A Mockingbird, Elmer Bernstein might have seemed a strange choice for John Landis' 1981 lycanthropus but in retrospect he was a perfect choice. While he actually only provided around nine minutes of music (some of which was unused), the sheer simplicity of Bernstein's score provided an emotional grounding for the narrative, sandwiched between the needledrop Landis favoured for his films of that time. The main theme for the characters of David and Jack - named 'The Boys' - is a beautifully evocative affair, a sublime and somber piano and string melody that immediately underscores the tragedy of the film and which offers a foreboding glance into the fate of both men.

Equally perturbing are David's dream sequences; Bernstein scores these with aggressive determination and doesn't hold back, but the most effective piece comes when Alex walks down the alleyway to find David at the climax of the film. Moody and fatalistic, it's a haunting prelude to the final moment and exchange: "I love you, David." What's equally brilliant is the silence that follows, no fanfare, no big emotional climax, just Alex's sobbing as we see David's naked and very dead body lying before us. Cue The Marcels.

The only official soundtrack release of the film came at the time of the film's release. Called Meco's Impressions of An American Werewolf In London, it was a hodgepodge of score interpretation, song covers, and original tracks, all recorded by infamous disco dude Meco Monardo. It veers from the brilliant (his version of 'The Boys') to the ridiculous (original song 'Werewolf Serenade' is a particular lowlight) and is at this time unavailable on anything other than the original LP, which can be found at decent prices on the secondary market.

Bootleg CD's of Bernstein's score pop up occasionally, these are combinations of audio taken from the film and the photo gallery feature on the DVD that features a portion of the score isolated. They're easy to put together (I've done so myself for my own private use) so, as with all bootlegs, I don't recommend paying out for them. Unfortunately, the length of the score makes it unlikely for a release in the future, unless someone puts it on a 7", although a trio of cues were recorded for Silva Screen's The Essential Elmer Bernstein compilation - these are interesting in themselves as they went unused in the film and were eventually reworked for Landis' second shapeshifter picture, Michael Jackson's Thriller. -CB