An American Werewolf in Paris (1997)
"Things are about to get a little hairy"
Andy McDermott and his two friends are on a trip to Paris where they plan to sneak up the Eiffel Tower after closing time and bungee jump off. They are interrupted by a French woman, Serafine, who jumps off in an attempt to commit suicide. Andy bungees down to save her, knocking himself out in the process. When Andy awakens in hospital, he becomes obsessed with her and tracks her down to her house, where he meets her brother, Claude, who invites them to his night club and arranges so that they can meet Serafine there. However, the club turns out to be a haunt for werewolves and Andy is bitten in the process. Now he will become a werewolf when the full moon rises unless he can kill whoever bit him. When he finds out that it was Serafine who bit him, Andy has to fight his love for her and do the right thing before more innocents are killed.
An American Werewolf in London is one of the horror genre’s classic films. The 1981 landmark werewolf flick was an Oscar-winner (Rick Baker for the superb special effects) and, along with The Howling, not only revitalised the werewolf genre for the modern era but ushered in a whole new range of practical effects driven monster films. Rumours of a sequel were rife for years but never materialised. Then, some seventeen years later, this ‘sequel’ finally emerged, though it is a sequel in name only with a sole token credit for being based on characters created by John Landis being the only tenuous link between the two. An American Werewolf in Paris a shameless and blatant re-tread of the original, following the film’s overarching narrative of an American teenager visiting a European capital, being bitten by a werewolf and falling in love with a local woman. Throw in the undead best friend scenario and you’ve got an inferior copy from top to bottom.
That’s not to say that An American Werewolf in Paris is terrible because there’s enough going on here to warrant some praise but when you have a significant amount of time between sequels and have bigger and (supposedly) better special effects at your disposal, you’d expect something resembling a true follow-up, balancing the mix of comedy and horror with a sharp script which knew when to make the audience jump and when to make them laugh. An American Werewolf in London had a rather unique mix of outright horror and zany black comedy and that’s the approach this one goes for, though without any of the finesse of its predecessor on both counts. There’s nothing coming close to the chilling walk along on the moors, nor the effective subway stalking sequence from the original. Here, the dominance of the CGI special effects seems to have given the director a licence to show more of the werewolves, to the detriment of the atmosphere. I can’t recall too many moments, if any, where the film really got under my skin like those aforementioned sequences from the original.
The comedy seems goofier too, with more verbal silliness on show rather than the madcap moments of sheer insanity from the original (the zombified Nazi soldiers breaking through the door and machine gunning everyone in the house comes to mind). Characters appear to have been written to be silly, firing off childish jokes and daft quips here, rather than being relatively normal and just finding themselves in ludicrous situations which needed comedy to lighten the mood. The $22m budget seems to have given the filmmakers more of a licence to stretch their limbs out a bit, throwing all manner of weird and wonderful ideas into the mix like having people trying to develop a cure for lycanthropy (which means that people believe it, a far cry from the disbelievers in the original) or an underground werewolf club (something Blade would re-visit with vampires in 1998) where unsuspecting victims are lured in with the promise of sex, drugs and alcohol.
Going back to the special effects, it’s tragic to see how badly this has dated since 1997 in comparison to the original which was made in 1981 – and I’m not even talking about the werewolves. The overuse of green screen and matte painting work here, particularly during some bungee jumping sequences, is horrible and hasn’t aged well at all. The werewolves, a far cry from Rick Baker’s legendary make-up, look awful in their CGI forms. And worst yet, the film has a habit of showing them in brightly-lit scenes to really hammer home how poor they are. CGI hair/fur was still difficult to replicate at this time but the question always remains – if they couldn’t do it better with CGI, why not just use the same techniques as the original? In the few scenes where you do get a look at some actual physical practical effects, the werewolves don’t look too bad at all.
Both Tom Everett Scott and Julie Delpy in the lead roles do what they can with the script and they’re arguably one of the film’s best points. Everett Scott has a likeable enough charm about him, despite the script basically turning him into some depressed stalker who pines for Delpy’s character and frequently turns up at her house unannounced. Delpy is the star of the show, with her attractive European-ness giving her character some fascinating depth, just through her looking at the camera. The chemistry between the two is really good and adds a fair amount of emotional attachment to the characters – we do want a happy ending for them.
An American Werewolf in Paris works far better as a standalone werewolf film than it does as a sequel to its superior predecessor. There’s enough ho-hum action and violence in here to keep the running time ticking over but it lacks the charm, wit and horror that made the original such a unique hit back in 1981. It’s also definitely a product of it’s 90s time, with the obsession over cheap computer-generated effects really harming the quality when watching back in 2020.
An American Werewolf in Paris
Director(s): Anthony Waller
Writer(s): John Landis (characters in An American Werewolf in London), Tim Burns, Tom Stern, Anthony Waller
Actor(s): Tom Everett Scott, Julie Delpy, Vince Vieluf, Phil Buckman, Julie Bowen, Pierre Cosso
Duration: 98 mins