“The Purfuit Of Happineff”: Happy 4th Of July To All My American Friends!

Hip Hip Hooray! Let’s Hear It For The US Of A!

“You can’t do this to me, I’m an American!” – Marion Ravenwood. 

Howdy!

For this Post, considering how the majority of you live Stateside, thought it best to write something worth reading, or do something worth writing.

As far as one can remember, America always had something bigger and better to offer. British television: yes, all three channels, just two if you include the broadcasters’ strike (one of many in various sectors to cripple the UK during the late-’70s) languished in the doldrums. Even Doctor Who – that longest-running bastion of SF TV, its already-miniscule fx budget hindered even further by a technicians’ strike at the BBC!  – could not compete against the flashier, more expensive likes of Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, or The Muppet Show, The Incredible Hulk, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak(!) (et al, etc. etc.) for that matter. Who (else) did we have? Metal frickin’ Mickey, that’s who – who?? Exactly!! 

Compared to the subsequent decade, The British Film Industry offered larger, more expensive than usual, but ultimately unattractive movies, but nothing like those two gargantuan smashes of 1977 and 1980 respectively (you know what they were!) that sent cinema queues trailing down the street. And then around the corner. 

So finger-lickin’ good: American comics, American toys – heck, even American words – dominated our school playground. Yay, our precious post-punk platters led the way in the pop parade, but let’s face it, our own Claire Grogan was cute, but Debbie Harry was gorgeous.

Still, my father actually spent some time in the US during the ’60s, and was that close to getting a really great job in aviation – so, for that brief time (28 years ago) Brad found himself the centre of attention for once! Until one of the other kids announced that his Dad actually was American, and the throng gravitated to his side of the bike shed, eager to catch a glimpse of the bigger and better delights he could reveal from his Starsky & Hutch satchel. 

Gah!

Anyway, one of the various quality products that my father brought back with him – and enriched my childhood – included a classic Stan Freberg long-player (in Stereo!) 

It’s in, it’s very in! 😉

“Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn” – Benjamin Franklin.

Now, onto American music.

Generally, my music tastes gravitate towards the Blues, Soul and Jazz – all the phenomenal African-American essentials. 

Which is my favorite American band, you ask?

Gee, that’s a toughie. 

The Doors immediately excite the senses, but what gets me every time has to be Creedence Clearwater Revival. Ever since Bad Moon Rising caught my attention in An American Werewolf In London, they have held a very special place in my heart. And my record collection!

During the Vietnam War, thousands of American servicemen were stationed @ U Tapao, Nong Kok and other bases in Thailand. Countless bars – playing music of that era, including Creedence, sprang up all over the place. Most of these guys left long ago, but, most of the bars – still playing music of that era, including Creedence – remain. 

This was always my go-to tune on Karaoke Night:

“My God! How little do my countrymen know what precious blessings they are in possession of, and which no other people on Earth enjoy!” – Thomas Jefferson.

Just thought it would he groovy to fill this gap to ask:

How will you be celebrating today? Where will you go? What will you eat? How many fireworks are required? 

Is it the same every year? 

Will be thrilled to read your Comments! 🙂

Chon Wang: “The English are not very friendly.”

Roy O’Bannon: “They’re just sore losers.”

Chon Wang: “What did they lose?”

Roy O’Bannon: “A little thing called the American Revolution, Chon… They came over with about a million men. We had a bunch of farmers with pitchforks and beat ’em like a drum.”

Politics! Hoo-boy…

The political systems in both the US & UK these days are as mad as a bicycle. And then some. 

Today, your fest may not have the right zest, or your grub may lack the necessary relish, whilst grudgingly knowing that such a deplorable doofus is running your country (into the ground), but your Brit correspondent here would like to assure you that my thoughts are with you during these very trying times. 

You will NOT see Brad meddling in politics – by Jove, no!

Why, the very word itself is detestable: consisting of “poli” which means “more than one” – yours truly is an old-fashioned type o’ fella: can only handle one lousy inconvenience at a time. While “tics” are bloodsucking parasites. 

You see? Not my scene.

At all…

Couldn’t proceed without this BBC comedy gem from 1980, the year in which current affairs analysts on both sides of The Pond could not envisage a ’50s B-movie star in the White House. 

Jumpin’ Jehoshaphat! How times have changed…

“When I was a kid, my Mum said: ‘Work hard, you can become President!’ because I grew up in a Disney film. That was back when we believed that Presidents were righteous and honorable… Here’s the kicker: according to the odds, there is 40% chance that, as President, somebody is going to try to assassinate you, but there is a 100% chance of character-assassination…” – Rich Hall. 

Fact: Brad did not travel overseas until his early-20s. 

As my inaugural trip outta Blighty, guess the only one desirable destination that sprung to mind.

Yep! That’s right: during May 1996 – one of the highlights of this boy’s life – Brad spent a fortnight on YOUR side of The Pond. Manhattan, to be exact – sight-seeing (searching for those crucial movie locations, mainly). There was no need to fret over how to wrangle a cab to get me to the IYH (International Youth Hostel) – sitting next to me on the flight was a British businessman who kindly offered to give me a lift Uptown. And, as a regular visitor, he gave a few tips on how to get by.

Can vividly recollect waking up on my first morning in another country.

The temperature was scorching; the city noise every bit as cacophonous as my craziest dreams had imagined; and as my feet hit the NY street for that very first giddily-exciting time, which song on my Sony Walkman marked my wild-eyed an’ gawping-gob entrance into Pretzel Central?

Well, goldarn it! It had to be this: 

“See me walkin’ down Fifth Avenue, walkin’ cane here at my side. Take it everywhere I walk, I’m an Englishman in New York” – Sting.

As a member of The British Museum Society, the Manhattan Metropolitan Museum of Art was top-of-my-list and – gee whiz! – it did not disappoint! A whole afternoon was spent mooching around its impressive galleries. Then emerged into the relentless sun to get a hot dog an’ a bag o’ donuts from the multitude of street stalls crowding the pavement – sorry! – sidewalk. 

After visiting the Statue of Liberty, made my groovy way up Downtown to Uncle Huckle-Buckle’s Chuckle Hutch (try sayin’ that after a few Buds!) to sit down and listen to the stand-ups; can’t forget my ears popping in the express elevator to the top of the Empire State Building; and other wondrous sights and sensations too numerous to drone on about here(!)

Out and about in NYC, chances are that you will see some very famous people. One day, taking a route recommended by my Tourist Map, a classy African-American lady marched straight past me – yes! None other than Diana Ross!! Ruminating over which was her best: either Baby Love or Chain Reaction, walked around a corner and almost collided into John Lennon’s widow!! (Don’t forget: you heard it here first). A few months earlier, we had recorded Jackie Mason Live In London – a programme that my father always requested to watch and never failed to reduce him to tears of laughter. So, imagine papa’s envy when listening to my incredible story of hanging around in the doorway of the Waldorf Astoria, standing next to the comedian himself, listening to the joke that reduced two NYPD officers to tears of laughter. 

And upon returning to the hostel every evening, a special, extra-large, local delicacy awaited all tourists on the front desk. Absolutely scrumptious! What on Earth was it?!

Somebody replied:

“We call it ‘pizza’…”

After ten days of intense adventures, no wonder there was no energy left; nevertheless, my last four days turned out to be equally life-changing; just around the corner(!) two important discoveries were made in that “New World”: the Barnes & Noble Superstore (ended up buying two books for myself and two books for Dad); and even more crucially:

TACO BELL!!

Thus, thenceforth, Brad‘s undying love for Mexican food flourished.

Obviously, if and when another Stateside visit occurs, special detours will have to be taken so that, finally, WE CAN MEET and you can regale me with tales of YOUR bigger and better way of life!

Who better to round this Post off than with The Boss himself?!

What better way to sign off than by saying:

Have A Nice Day! 🙂

“Day of glory! Welcome day!
Freedom’s banners greet thy ray;
See! how cheerfully they play
      With thy morning breeze,
On the rocks where pilgrims kneel’d,
On the heights where squadrons wheel’d,
When a tyrant’s thunder peal’d,
      O’er the trembling seas…
O let freemen be our sons;
And let future Washingtons
Rise, to lead their valiant ones,
      Till there’s war no more.”
~John Pierpont (1785–1866), “Independence”

 

 

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“A Naked American Man Stole My Balloons…”

Possibly The Most Entertaining Horror Film Ever Made… 

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“I will not be threatened by a walking meatloaf!” – David Kessler. 

For me, there is no horror movie more shocking, more deliriously funny, more exhilarating than An American Werewolf In London. 

Having gained considerable success with the riotous comedy: Animal House (1978), John Landis unleashed “a different kind of animal” in 1981. People went into Landis’ next feature expecting something just as hilarious. Many walked out, clearly not prepared for the gory and grisly drama that would unfold.

The UK TV premiere came (very late at night, of course) in 1984. It was shown not long after we had bought our very first VCR. After much pleading, my father agreed to stay up and tape it for me. The morning after, watching it avidly, a strange, spine-tingling sensation soon gripped me and held my attention throughout all 97 minutes of it.

One thing for sure: there would be many repeat viewings.

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“I mean, look around. Isn’t this a fun place?”

The film’s opening shot features the Yorkshire moors at dawn. Over a montage of such serene vistas, the first of three versions of Blue Moon (by Bobby Vinton) is played. Actually, in his original script, Landis wanted Moonshadow by Cat Stevens, but Yusuf Islam wouldn’t budge. 

After hitching a ride in the back of a farmer’s truck, backpackers: David Kessler (David Naughton) and Jack Goodman (Griffin Dunne) arrive at East Proctor, supposedly in Yorkshire, Northern England, but the location photography was done in Powys, Wales. Especially love the gentle piano score by Elmer Bernstein as they find a traditional little pub called: The Slaughtered Lamb. These exterior shots were taken outside a private house in Crickadarn, a village in Powys. 

“Those sheep shit on my pack…” 

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“‘Ere, Gladys! Tom! Did you hear the one about the crashing plane?”  

The “nice-looking group” inside the warm and cosy Slaughtered Lamb just happens to include some of the most recognisable character actors in the British film industry at that time.

That’s Brian Glover (the warden from Alien 3), the chess player telling that Alamo joke; his opponent is Rick Mayall, a well-loved TV comedy actor; David Schofield (a scheming senator in Gladiator), a disturbed darts player; and there’s even Pat Roach (who challenged Indiana Jones to a bare-knuckle fight in Raiders of the Lost Ark that very same year). These interior shots were filmed inside The Black Swan, at Martyr’s Green, in Surrey. 

“Excuse me, but what’s that star on the wall for?” 

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“You made me miss! I’ve never missed that board before…” 

This is certainly going to go down as the highlight of David Schofield’s career. No action, no gore: just a genuinely chilling moment. Still gets me three decades later. 

Taking drastic leave from The Slaughtered Lamb, after Jack dropped that bombshell, it’s back to the moors they (inexplicably) go.

As they trudge away, the heavens open. Love the way they’re bawling Italian opera without a care in the world…

“Then murder it is! It’s in God’s hands now…”

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“Ah shit! What is it?!” 

Feel the tension as we cut back to The Slaughtered Lamb and the frightened expressions on the locals’ faces as the distant cry of the werewolf is clearly audible.

“You hear that?” “I heard nothing!”

Of course, the two boys have to stop in the middle of the cold, dark and wet moorland to reassure themselves that there are no coyotes in England… 

With every viewing, the gradual loudness of the wolf’s howls is unsettling – fantastic sound effects and a skilful upsurge in suspense as the boys have nowhere to run.

And then! The howl comes (from offscreen) directly in front of them! In their panic, David slips, Jack leans in to help, and suddenly, the beast attacks. Jack is mauled to death; the wolf is shot down by the villagerswho arrived a minute too late. Before passing out, David turns to look at the beast, only to find a dead man lying beside him…

“Maybe that pentangle was for something supernatural…”

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“Mr. Kessler, try not to excite yourself!”

Here you go: yet another reason why An American Werewolf In London is well-cherished – especially among my generation.

Confused and disorientated in a London hospital, David receives a visit by a Mr. Collins from the American Embassy. As soon as you hear the voice you realise: yes! That’s Bert from Sesame Street! Miss Piggy (who actually has a cameo during a dream sequence – how freaky is that?) and of course: Yoda from the Star Wars saga. 

Up until then, Frank Oz had been an anonymous, yet amazing, puppeteer and voice artist, but to see him here:

one couldn’t help but get excited!

“These dumbass kids, they never appreciate anything you do for ’em…” 

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“I’ll send someone in to keep you company…” 

Holy shit! 

Just as you are convinced that this is five-star fare, Landis (and Baker) crank it up to an even more awesome level. Having suffered a few dream sequences already, David drifts off into his most terrifying yet: at home, his siblings are watching The Muppet Show; there’s frantic knocking at the door… 

Get this: a band of Nazi ghouls wielding sub-machine guns shoot up and burn down his home, slaughter his family (even kicking Kermit – the fiends!) then kill him. Will never forget how exhilarating it was watching this scene for the first time all those years ago; reckon the tape was rewound twice to savour each delicious, unbelievable frame! 

At such a young age, this was by far the most mind-blowing sight these wide, disbelieving eyes had ever seen! It remains one of my all-time goosebump moments. As this sequence was sooo cool, it gets two pics. 

And – hey! – we haven’t even got to David’s transformation yet…

“That’s Punch and Judy – they’ve always been violent.”

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“Can I have a piece of toast?”  

With every viewing, the first view of the undead Goodman boy never fails to astound. The make-up applied to Griffin Dunne here by Rick Baker is sensational, but would this scene be outstanding if it did not begin with that absurd line?

This is a pivotal intervention as Jack explains how he died “an unnatural death and now walk the Earth in limbo until the werewolf curse is lifted.” 

“Shut up!”

“The wolf’s bloodline must be severed; the last remaining werewolf must be destroyed… It’s you, David!” 

This is my kinda drama!

It’s kinda creepy how Jack just carries on as he did before, talking about that girl he fancied, only this time complaining about the insipid company of the undead.

“You ever talked to a corpse? It’s boring!” 

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“I didn’t mean to call you a meatloaf, Jack.” 

Amazing how Nurse Price takes David back to her place – which just happens to be:

64 Coleherne Road, 

South Kensington, 

Greater London. 

– where he receives even better treatment. You simply can’t get that kind of care on the NHS nowadays…

Actually, Dad pressed Pause when the shower scene came on. He let me sit through the gore, but Van Morrison was strictly off-limits… 

Another visit from Jackhe is decomposing rapidly; after taking a quick butcher’s at the nurse’s pad, he sits down to repeat much of what he said earlier, although more desperately this time.

This is where my deep admiration for Creedence Clearwater Revival came from. In that far-off pre-internet era it took years to find out who did that killer song: Bad Moon Rising.

“I’m still not hungry…” 

At last, the full moon; David burns up.

Naughton admitted later that the transformation scene took a whole week to accomplish, with approximately ten hours a day applying make-up, five hours on set, and three hours just to remove it! The Academy honoured Rick Baker’s stupendous contribution to this film, with the inaugural Award for Best Make-up.  

In any other werewolf movie, an ominous (and ultimately forgettable) score would have heralded the coming of the lycanthrope, but here, it’s the highly unexpected choice of Sam Cooke’s Blue Moon. This arrangement is not supposed to work, but somehow, surreally, it does. 

Could not proceed without putting up this scene. In addition to gasping at the ingenuity of the effects, listen to those bloodcurdling sound effects, enhancing what turns out to be a credible and undeniably excruciating transformation. 

Modern CGI be damned… 

Especially dig the nice touch at 2:04, just to remind you that –yes – this dramatic scene takes place in somebody else’s living room…

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“I can assure you I don’t find this the least bit amusing… I shall report this!”  

The first victims: the unfortunate couple – Harry and Judith – arrive at Sean’s place:

The Pryors

East Heath Road, 

Hampstead. 

Then there are the three tramps; Tower Bridge is clearly visible in the background.

The sixth and final murder: Gerald Bringsley in the London Underground holds a particular personal fascination. A regular user of the “Tube” whenever in the capital, it’s always a great thrill to follow the same route through Tottenham Court Road station where a horror legend was made. To see for yourself, take the Northbound Northern Line service (not the Central Line), disembark at Tottenham Court Road and make sure to take the middle Exit. 

Amusing how Gerald could buy chocolate from a confectionary machine on the platform – another privilege denied to us now.

“Oh, Good Lord!”

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“I’m genuinely pleased to see you…” 

David wakes up naked in London Zoo. 

How he manages to get back to Alex’s flat involves a string of hilarious set-pieces, including my all-time favourite line from any horror movie – why not make it the title of this Post?

When Alex tries to bring David back to the hospital, they hail a taxi (on Wilton Crescent, Belgravia).And yes, the driver is played by none other than Alan Ford (best-known as Brick Top from Snatch).

There then follows a very bizarre scene: Jack beckons David over to a porn cinema in Piccadilly to meet his victims. Fresh and still blood-spattered, they each offer ways on how David can take his own life, thus breaking them from the curse.

Jack – in another finely-detailed make-up job – is now a gruesome cadaver, but still keen to help.

“Do you mind? The man’s a friend of mine!” 

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“There’s been a disturbance in Piccadilly…”

The climax involves the chaos as David runs amok once more. The above behind-the-scenes pic could not be resisted. To perfect the sequence in which the police inspector gets his head bitten off, Rick Baker literally had to operate one of his model wolf heads himself.

The director’s cameo is very difficult to spot. Landis is the bearded man who is hit by a car and thrown through a plate glass window.

The end comes far too hurriedly. Always bewildering how Alex doesn’t get shot accidentally; there’s plenty of police marksmen in that dark alley, and she’s standing just yards in front of them…

“What do you mean: how did he look? I’m an orderly, not a bleeding psychiatrist; I push things around!”

Over thirty years later, An American Werewolf In London remains a unique and original feat of film-making – still scary and spellbinding, but has never failed to enthrall… and split my sides. 

The  current crop of horror directors – who consistently fail to create anything half as clever and creepy as this – should be forced to study the ways in which this masterpiece came to be, and succeeded on so many levels. 

How best to describe it?

Is it a zany outing with truly horrific moments:

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…or a horror movie with the most unexpected comedic moments?

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“Hello David!”

Final Thought: To think that studio execs wanted Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi to play the two leads.

The Blues Brothers: as backpackers?! Come off it… 

A naked Aykroyd scampering around London Zoo?! That would have been truly horrific… 

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Happy Halloween!

Beware the moon… and stick to the road…