“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, David – I’m not in the habit of bringing home stray, young American men. I find you very attractive and a little bit sad. I’ve had seven lovers in my life, three of which were one-night stands… I don’t know what I’m trying to say. Perhaps you’d like to watch telly while I take a shower?”
David Kessler is one lucky sonofabitch. OK, so he’s been turfed out of Yorkshire’s dodgiest pub, The Slaughtered Lamb, witnessed his best friend getting torn apart by “some sort of wolf” on t’moors, has been having freaky nightmares in which he mutilates wild animals and, in 24 hours, he’ll transform into a werewolf and savagely murder six people – but, right now, he’s got London’s hottest nurse coming onto him.
Horror movies have never traditionally provided strong roles for women – when they’re not being woken by the supernatural while wearing shorty nighties, they’re wandering into spooky houses dressed in tight sweaters and hotpants. An American Werewolf In London (1981), while a groundbreaking movie in many ways (special effects, blending humour with horror, Brian Glover telling that shit Alamo joke), but women’s emancipation isn’t one of them.
Not only is she that most obvious of male fantasies – a nurse – but she’s played by Jenny Agutter, who was already established as an objet d’amour for sweaty sci-fi and fantasy fans thanks to her turn as mini-skirted love interest in 1976’s Logan’s Run. A beautiful, vaguely aristocratic face (you’ve got to love that slightly upturned, snooty nose) and a long-limbed, lithe body kept in trim by her lifelong devotion to yoga, it was inspired casting by writer-director John Landis.
This being a male fantasy, Nurse Price – Alex to her friends – falls for David before he’s even regained consciousness. Nurse Gallagher, rough and bawdy scrubber that she is, lewdly announces that she thinks the patient is Jewish because she’s “had a look”. This prompts Alex, being a nice girl, to merely blush – and, from that moment on, every man and boy in the audience is lost to her.
David and Alex’s love story isn’t exactly traditional, although it might make a good country and western ballad. She reads him ‘A Connecticut Yankee At The Court Of King Arthur’, he dreams of her getting stabbed to death by a zombie Nazi. He’s visited by his dead friend and, hearing him screaming, she comes running. He decides this would be a good time for their first kiss and she doesn’t complain. In fact, she doesn’t even bat an eyelid when he tells her, “I’m a werewolf!” Other, lesser women (stinky Nurse Gallagher for instance), might find this off-putting; Alex invites him to stay at her house.
Which brings us to the sex scene. After some soapy nibbling in the shower (David opted not to “watch telly”), they move to the bedroom and get it on to the strains of Van Morrison’s ‘Moondance’ – in its own right, a damn sexy song. That this is regarded by many as five of the most sensual minutes in modern cinema is testament to Landis adhering to the ‘less is more’ dictum, an approach sadly not taken by the makers of Basic Instinct 2.
There’s barely any nudity, just the intimation of writhing bodies and carefully chosen close-ups of David kissing his way down Alex’s body, before focusing on her face. He might have to wait until the full moon before he can lick his own genital but, judging by the ecstatic expression on Nurse Price’s face, he gives hers a good going over.
By being reduced to a mound of quivering orgasmic jelly by our hero, Agutter continues to pander to the lusty male ‘imagination’. Which is what she’s there for, after all. Through Dr. “a small Guinness will suffice” Hirsch (played by awesome British character actor, John Woodvine), Landis announces Agutter’s primary function early on: “Nurse Price will see to your needs…” It’s all ludicrously sexist and yet, somehow, the movie gets away with it.
This is, of course, because Agutter isn’t just a pretty nose. A fantastic actress, she’s able to disguise the fact that most of her lines are absolute dross. When she says, “You put me in an awkward position”, she’s able to transmute what is, basically, a Carry On-style double entendre, into something breathily sexy and subtly flirtatious. And, when Dr. Hirsch tells Alex “there’s a disturbance in Piccadilly Circus involving some sort of mad dog”, the fact that she instinctively shouts “David!” isn’t hilarious, but moving. Well, almost.
It’s essential that we believe David and Alex are utterly in love. In the hands of a lesser actress, this would happen only because the script said it did. With Agutter, bewitchingly posh, coyly seductive, we not only believe it – we feel it. To the sort of guy who watches way too many fantasy movies, it’s the standard by which true love is defined. Ask yourself – if I was a werewolf, cornered by the rifle squad down a dark alley after going on a bloody rampage in the heart of London, is this the girl I’d let coax me into a hail of death-dealing high-velocity bullets? If the answer’s yes, then you’ve found your own Nurse Price. You lucky dog.
This feature was first published in Hotdog Magazine in 2005.